`Antipasti, Fabulous Appetizers and Small Plates' by veteran San Francisco cookbook writer and chef, Joyce Goldstein is a welcome addition to books which put classic cuisines within easy reach of amateur chefs, let alone the foodies among us. I often think of Ms. Goldstein as a Paula Wolfert Lite, which is no small compliment, as I consider Ms. Wolfert to be today's foremost cookbook writer on regional cuisines. It may be more complimentary to consider her a Mediterranean version of Patricia Wells, who happeds to do recipes for trattoria as well or better than Ms. Wells. Ms. Goldstein covers about the same part of the world, focusing on Italy and Shephardic Jewish traditions, as well as the Mediterranean in general.
Ms. Goldstein's book covers both `la cuisina classica' (traditional dishes) and `la cuisina creativa' (modern dishes in the style and spirit of traditional Italian cuisine). One may give a moment's pause over buying this book if you are a compulsive Italian cookbook buyer, and have shelves groaning under the weight of works by Lydia Bastianich, Marcella Hazan, Giuliano Bugialli, Lynne Rosetto Kaspar, Mario Batali and Ms. Goldstein herself, as she has already done a very nice little book on `Enoteca' or the cuisine of Italian wine bars (very similar to the Spanish practice of the tapas bar). I would say that if you have already mined these volumes for a nice collection of recipes which work for you, Ms. Goldstein's latest effort may be guilding the lilly. If, on the other hand, you rely on them exclusively for pasta and veal recipes, you may want to consider Ms. Goldstein's book. I compared her recipes in this book with `Enoteca' and found no exact overlap, and if you choose between the two, `Antipasti' is better for home entertaining.
If you have no Italian cookbooks, and no books on Mediterranean dishes or tapas from the Western Mediterranean and Meze dishes from the Eastern Mediterranean, and you happen to do a fair amount of entertaining (more than twice a year), this book may be an invaluable resource for you.
The single most important chapter may be the 10 page introductory `Shop and Serve Antipasti' which contains no `recipes' per se, but dozens and dozens of brief suggestions on how to prepare dishes or platters of food with no more `cooking' than a little work with a knife and bowl. This chapter demonstrates the immense genius of modern Italian cuisine, which even more than their French cousin (which comes in a close second) has created a universe of shelf stable products which are truly delicious with no more than a bit of preparation. The heart of this miraculous pantry is their pasta, cheeses, breads, cured meats, vinegars, olive oils, and wines. In fact the second most valuable aspect of the book is the addition of a wine recommendation accompanying each dish for which there is a full recipe.
The chapters of full recipes are:
Eggs and Cheese with 8 recipes
Savory Pastries with 6 recipes
Grains with 7 recipes
Vegetables with 14 recipes
Fish and Shellfish with 19 recipes
Meat and Poultry with 8 recipes
The chapter I like best may be the Eggs and Cheese chapter, as it not only gives recipes for both stuffed eggs and a frittata, but it presents these as archetype recipes where the same concept can turn virtually any stuffed egg or frittata into an antipasti.
I confess that when you get to the Fish and Meat recipes, many of them start to look like main course dishes, especially classics such as Vitello tonnato (Veal with tuna sauce) and stuffed squid. I remember making a stuffed squid recipe several years ago and it took so long my fiance gave me an ultimatum about getting us into complicated recipes and burning up the better part of a Sunday afternoon. But that was before my knife skills matured. Now, it would only take me 3 hours to do such a dish.
I especially appreciate the way Ms. Goldstein writes a recipe. She may not give it the full court Julia Child treatment, but she really knows how to wordsmith food preparation (I just wish she had not picked up on the latest hackneyed culinary writing expression which talks about `signature dishes'.)
All in all, Ms. Goldstein adds value to our ways of preparing a cold buffet, even if you already have a big library of Italian or Mediterranean cookbooks.