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4.7 out of 5 stars36
4.7 out of 5 stars
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61 of 63 people found the following review helpful
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.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 2 August 2004
I am really fond of Italy and italian food; as I lived there for a year, I had the opportunity to try many italian specialities, and was looking for a book that was both easy to use, concise, and very good, so I am happy that I found this book from Claudia Roden which is really good. All the recipes I tried were exactly what one could expect, and often I was surprised that despite the few ingredients ( the osso bucco for example) the dish is still very tasty.
Thanks to this book, I can prepare a very decent lasagne bolognese, a tasty osso buco, a very good foccaccia bread, a nice panna cotta and many more. I am very enthousiastic about this writer and have also bought her book about mediterranean cooking, which is also very genuine.
(By the way, I am a real mediterranean, so I should know these things ;-) )
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 20 November 2010
I was shown a copy of this book by a friend at work who new I was on the hunt for pumkin recipies as my allotment provided an abundance this year. She recomended this as it had some tasty pumkin dishes inside and described it as the most authentic source of Italian recipies she had read - and she herself is Italian so that carried some weight. Just a short read and I fell in love with it, not just its recipies but taking Italian cuisine region by region is an education in both culture and history of this facinating country. This must have been a first edition judging by copyright page info, dated 1989 - and I doubted I would find a copy for myself so I photocopied some pages and gave it back. She did not want it out of her shight or risk losing it and I could understand why.
Imagine my excitement when I not only found many second hand copies available from Amazon and other sources, but new copies as well reprinted after more than 20 years. For a book to remain in print for so long must indicate it's quality and calling it a classic would be no understatement. Some my bemoan the lack of pictures or illustrations of the dishes described, but this is a book that takes its subject seriously and is to be used to make glorious food, not to rest on a coffee table and rarely see the inside of a kitchen.
Clauia Rosen does not only write accurate and interesting recipies, but her introductions to each region, and little descriptions, memories and tips throughout are a delight to read. It baffles me that anyone would let go of a book like this and put it on the second hand market. Move aside Jamie Oliver, this is the real Italy on a plate.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on 2 August 2002
Is this book a classic ? Its a book I turn often to read for pleasure and use for cooking. Ms Roden writes about the food of each region in a clear and unfussy way. There's background on regional cuisuces and wines thrown prefacing each chapter. Most of the ensuing recipes are winners - easy to make; ingredients can be sourced without a trip to Italy(!); and results for me have been delicious ! The index lists dishes by type which is very handy indeed if you fancy a bowl of pasta but don't want to trawl though each region's recipes.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 31 October 2000
This cookery book contains a spectacular choice of Italy's varied and delicious regional cuisine, interspersed (naturally) with subtle details and vignettes which build up the cultural background to the food. Look up where she got her olive flat bread recipe from to see the depth of her credentials...
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on 24 July 2011
Last year I had a frozen shoulder preventing me going to music school in the summer. Instead I enrolled in a summer school in Italy, that offered four parallel tracks: Italian cookery, Italian language, water colour painting, and hedonism. The concept for the cooks was that we would be instructed hands on in the kitchens of the four best restaurants at San Piero in Bagno, an unspoilt provincial backwater in Emilia-Romagna. The long suffering chefs, practicing a mixture of riot control and accident prevention, coached us to produce authentic meals to feed the linguists and artists, and confound the hedonists. On return, browner and fatter, I invested in Claudia Roden's book, thinking it would fill out the theoretical underpinning that the cookery school had omitted.
The book admirably filled this need. Ms. Roden systematically visits each region of Italy, and provides a geographical and social background for the produce and recipes for each region. Therefore you understand why one region cooks rice, another flavours the food with truffles, why our Emilia-Romagna kitchens instructed us in pasta, pasta and pasta - and your mouth waters as you read. The recipes are approachable in that the majority only require a manageable number of ingredients, and most ingredients would be available anywhere, or a substitute is suggested. It is often the combination that makes the recipe uniquely Italian - see e.g. broccoli on page 265 - rather than the inclusion of a particular item whose absence might prevent you making the dish. There are no illustrative photos, but in fact the writing is so lively, you can easily imagine the finished effect. There are small line drawings to decorate the pages.
My warning in the title comes from polenta on page 125. Here the salting for a serving for 4, employing 300 g of polenta (I used yellow maize flour from the Turkish grocer), is suggested as one TABLESPOONFUL. This produced a mix so astonishingly salty, it ended on the compost heap (where the Iberian slugs seem to be eating it with no adverse effect). I can assure you that one goodly teaspoonful is plenty so annotate the recipe NOW. Then following Ms. Roden's recipe slavishly, I produced delicious polenta, toasted crispy brown on top, creamy and tender inside. Absolutely foolproof.
So: buy the book, enjoy reading about Italy and planning your cooking. Go through the recipes carefully, keep your critical faculties awake and taste as you go along.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 28 September 2011
No book on Italian cookery I've bought in the past decade, no matter how good and authentic some of them are, did ever manage to make Claudia Roden's work redundant. Too many recipes in this book proved impossible to find elsewhere (e.g. Vermicelli alla Siracusana and Maccheroni al forno), and many others have been given a uniform appearance in more contemporary books, regardless of regional differences in preparation (e.g. Peperonata alla Veneta).

This book is organized by region, which I welcome very much. It used to be a common thing to do this in cookbooks printed in Italy, and has recently seen a renaissance. Italy is a country where regionalism is still going strong, including culinary regionalism. There are neighbors peeping over the fence as there are elsewhere, but differences between ingredients and cooking styles have always been huge (don't be fooled by ingredients lists as a dish tastes different when using different pasta shapes, or preparing it a different way even if ingredients are similar).

The chapters are preceded with Claudia's trademark journalist style of writing and research. She presents us with a historical background for each region as well as providing insight in the landscapes and typical produce: vegetables, meat, cheeses, wines. It helps to better understand why certain dishes have developed in a certain region.

There is a section at the beginning where Claudia explains how to prepare fish, shellfish, and vegetables for cooking, which is helpful if for example you have never handled a whole squid (and I still haven't had the chance). The book has two indexes: one in alphabetical order, and another by course.

The cooking instructions are a bit more compact than is customary in cookbooks nowadays, where authors often go to great lengths in explaining how to roll dough around. Maybe this is because back in the 1980s, when this book was originally published, the focus was less on take-outs and ready-meals, and the knowledge of how to do certain things in the kitchen was still stronger. I really don't know. Except for absolute beginners maybe, they should still be sufficient for everyone (they were for me). Also a "heritage" thing is that the book comes without food photography.

If there is anything I could try and fault Claudia with it is that she lists dishes for a region according to personal preferences, not where a dish is most common and widespread. But then again I am interested in Italy's food history and regional styles; for others this may not be of such importance.

It's a shame that the hardcover version is out of print, but the paperback is surely as good. Get it while you can, this one's a timeless classic.
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on 3 June 2014
If you love Italy and its fresh in-season approach to food, you will love this book. No recipe is complicated, instructions are easy to follow, photos are mouth-wateringly sumptuous and if you only possessed this one cookbook in your kitchen you would never tire of it. Another plus, my husband loves this book too and can't wait to get into the kitchen and try a new, mouthwatering recipe. Provided your ingredients are of the very best quality, and preferably seasonal, and you follow each recipe carefully, you would not find these dishes were any better in a top Italian restaurant than you can prepare at home. Claudia Roden's books never disappoint.
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on 23 October 2013
This is a wonderful book which I picked up on Amazon cheaply (the original brilliant Sunday Times mag series of the 80s(?) with even more great photos I kept in cuttings for years).. Claudia Rosen went all over Italy responding to the different regions with her enthusiasm, curiosity and search for authenticity. The research prompted working recipes full of love and knowledge and taste. For example: 'chicken with peppers', she tags as an old Roman recipe, taking you back centuries. Recipe has simple ingredients, is easy and very delicious. This book is THE star on my shelf of Italian cookbooks. PUblishers should re-issue.
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on 11 July 2014
If you like Claudia Roden, you will love this. For those who don't know her, expect lots of writing on a country's history, culture, people, before getting to the recipe section. Not for someone who wants to chuck everything in a pan and see what happens, not for someone who is a beginner learning to cook without thinking -- recipe cards from supermarkets, or Jamie Oliver's Italy may serve better for that purpose. For anyone who's passionate about Italian food and culture, this is a nice addition.
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