22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
not a cookery course and, arguably, not very Italian,
This review is from: The Italian Cookery Course: 400 Authentic Regional Recipes and 40 Masterclasses on Technique (Hardcover)
This is a big book, too big for its useful content. Its 510 A4 pages contain roughly 400 recipes and a lot of padding, mostly in the form of superfluous pictures and irrelevant anecdote. It is superficially nicely presented, but here and there are fundamental design flaws. In particular, the occasional black text on a dark coloured shiny paper is virtually unreadable in the kitchen environment. Also, the use of a script typeface to simulate hand-writing probably seemed like a twee idea at the time, but it looks odd and is hard to read, adds an unnecessary additional font, and is simply bad design.
The book claims to be a cookery course, but surely that should have some structure that becomes progressively more difficult? In fact, this volume has the organisation of a standard cookery book. Dotted throughout are sections entitled Masteclass; these are often simply focused collections of recipes. Even when they do involve a discussion of technique, their value is diminished because they do not have a separate index or section in the Contents. You can only hope to come across them in your travels.
If you can be persuaded to wade through the endless pictures, however, this is actually a quite good cookbook. It contains an eclectic collection of recipes that are well-written, and representative of great Italian cookery. Although the recipes are pitched at a level appropriate for the experienced cook new to Italian methods and ingredients, they do have a few flaws that only experience can prevent. I shall use the recipe for a chicken casserole with lemon to illustrate possible problems. This suggests putting two lemons, halved, into the stew and cooking for at least an hour. If you did this, the result would be virtually inedible because you would be stewing the pith with its very harsh flavour. Instead, add the juice and zest from the lemons to the mix and then cook. Also, the recipe puts in grated pepper at the beginning. You should never do this in a stew because boiled pepper imparts a very harsh flavour. Always add pepper to a stew after cooking has finished. The recipe contains celery to good effect, but fails to mention that Italians routinely include the leaves from celery in stews. These add a very subtle salty flavour that has to be experienced to be believed. Finally, the recipe fries the vegetable ingredients in extra virgin olive oil. No Italian who knew what he was doing would do this. First, extra virgin olive oil has a smoke point about 70C below that of plain olive oil. This makes it pretty useless as a frying medium since it is too easy to burn the oil and ruin the dish. Given this weakness, and the fact that a good extra virgin olive oil can be more expensive than a good wine, it is better to reserve extra virgin olive oil for dressings where its uncooked flavour will be appreciated.
I amended the recipe for the chicken casserole for the above problems, extended the cooking time by 30 minutes, and the result was utterly delicious. I served it with the parmesan mash, as suggested, and organic green beans - lovely!
So, is this book worth buying? Probably, if you have the confidence and awareness to use the recipes as a starting point, rather than as an end in themselves. I must admit that if it had had half the number of pictures, I would have given it four stars.