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Italian vs. "ethnic Italian"
on 5 August 2011
This is a charming book, which is full of the youthful spirit and the enthusiasm of an upstart in professional food writing. It comes through in all areas of this book how close to Giada's heart the topic really is.
Despite its name, this is not a book about Italian food (which I've heard many Americans now call "ethnic Italian"). It's a book about Italian-American food, the dishes that Americans over many generations have come to know and label as "Italian." I've tried a few dishes and found the food tastes a lot nicer than its reputation suggests. So what's the difference?
Lots of meat and/or dairy have been added, because they suddenly had become affordable and abundant; chicken, formerly almost unused in southern Italian kitchens, has taken over from veal; instead of either tomato or cheese (exception: Pizza Margherita) now both are united on every pizza together with an abundance of other topping ingredients; pastas and meat or fish are served on the same plate, where they would've been served as separate courses in Italy.
And of course, some dishes that exist on the North American continent are unknown in the whole of Italy: Stuffed Shells, Baked Ziti, Manicotti, Veal Marsala, and Veal Parmigiana are just a few examples in many. But the most famous of them is Spaghetti with Meatballs, which has during the past two decades even made its way to Italy... maybe, to cater the taste of home to American tourists? :)
Giada also includes some of her own creations: Roasted Pork Loin with Fig Sauce is an extremely delicious addition to this book that does not hide the Californian influences; Seared Rib-Eye Steak with Roasted Pepper-Arugula Salad; Endive and Frisee Salad with Blood Oranges and Hazelnuts...
The list goes on, and all of them fit well into the theme of Italian-American cooking, which could almost be called a cuisine in its own right. This book is what I was looking for, and alongside the chapter on the Italians in Arthur Schwartz's "New York City Food" this is the best elaboration on Italian-American food I've come across. (Sorry, Lidia!)
I've got two complaints though. The ratio of Giada pictures to food pictures is maybe a bit unfavourable for those who buy this book just for the food, but that's typical for Food Network books. The other is that Giada suggests so many shortcuts. Some of us just like to make things from scratch, and I am one of them. That's not enough for me to deduct from the rating, though.