Top positive review
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A glorious book that has changed my life
on 17 March 2004
I have always been a keen fan of Italian cookery, but found some of the more trendy modern cookbooks a little too River Cafe, with recipes asking you to buy all manner of obscure ingredients and drizzle them about. Not so this book by Claudia Roden, which I discovered in 2000 as an out of print item in my local library and had out on almost permanent loan. Imagine my delight when it reissued in late 2002.
What I loved about this book was the author's real feel for the country. The author spent a year travelling round Italy in 1989 from top to bottom and has themed the book in a regional manner starting with the Piedmont region and gradually working her way down the country to Sicily and Sardinia. In the original edition, it could be a little confusing if you liked to find your recipes by starter or fish / meat etc as the regional theming cut across looking in this way, However, the new edition has a very clear listing early on in this format so that you can easily find recipes by type of food as well as region.
Where to start - my personal favourite sections are those which concentrate on the more earthy peasant food of the far South and Sicily. The Vermicelli alla sirucusana on p231 is a gorgeous mix of flavours - aubergine, yellow peppers, olive oil, garlic, anchovies, tomato, olives, capers (important, they must be the ones stored in salt), basil etc. Simple, flavoursome and amazing food.
If you have a local market where you can buy fresh produce this book is great. For vegetarians there are plenty of options, with stuffed vegetables taking predecence. Recipes for stuffed mushrooms and peppers are good. Plenty of fresh soups are there for the making as well as vegetable side dishes.
The basic recipe for pizza dough and associated tomato sauce makes some of the best pizzas I have ever tasted, whether at home / abroad or in Italian restaurants. You need to buy decent flour and get your oven really hot, but it is well worth it.
Meat and fish are well represented, with some exotic recipes such as Wood pigeon with Wine and Herbs, Hare in wine sauce or some great swordfish recipes to try.
Puddings have never been anything I get around to when eating Italian, but I would heartily recommend the Torta di Mele (Apple and Nut Cake) from the Trentino region. One of the most delicous cakes I have eaten, though you must be very careful with the quantities.
All the obvious dishes are there for anyone wanting an Italian cookbook, usually though not always involving minimum prepation and clean simple flavours.
More generally, as well as being a book stuffed full of delicious recipes, this books serves as a brilliant introduction to the history / culture and foods of all the different regions of Italy. I would recommend it to anyone who likes cooking, anyone who likes reading about cooking even if they don't cook much.
It is a beautifully researched book with recipes that you instinctively know come from real places in often remote places, and none the worse for not being by a celebrity chef or linked to a TV series. Honestly, this is without a doubt my favourite Italian cookbook, and while it might seem expensive really is not once you start cooking from it.