Biba's Taste of Italy: Recipes from the Homes, Trattorie and Restaurants of Emilia-Romagna Hardcover – 1 Mar 2001
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"There is no one who can capture the food and soul of Emilia-Romagna like my dear friend, Biba Caggiano. Some of Italy's best fresh pasta hails from this region and Biba shares these and other wonderful recipes in her newe cookbook, "Biba's Taste of Italy. If you love Italy and Italian food, this is a must-have cookbook."-- Lidia Bastianich, author of "Lidia's Italian Table"Reading "Biba's Taste of Italy made me want to jump on a motorbike and explore Emilia-Romagna with Biba. Everything sounds so appealing. I want to follow her everywhere and shop in the markets, meet the cooks, and taste the food."-- Michele Scicolone, author of "A Fresh Taste of Italy"The region, Emilia-Romagna, is blessed with such delectables as prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and balsamic vinegar. Those who can never own too many Italian cookbooks will welcome the familiar fare. These authentic recipes demonstrate why Italian food remains one of the world's most irresistible cuisines."-- "Publisher's Weekly
About the Author
Bolognese by birth and upbringing, BIBA CAGGIANO is the author of the award-winning Northern Italian Cooking and Modern Italian Cooking. She has taught Italian cooking in the United States and Italy, and is the chef-owner of Biba restaurant in Sacramento, California.
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My main regret is that I didn't make more sauce, as I could have eaten twice as much of it. When not devouring the halibut, we were both frantically scooping any extra sauce onto the slices of rustic loaf Italian bread I baked earlier in the day - but that's another recipe.
The only additional item I would like to have seen is a wine pairing suggestion. But, I'm perfectly capable of figuring that out for myself, and rather enjoy the challenge. I chose a high quality light Red Zinfandel (1999 Fiddletown Lot 1 Red Zinfandel from Sobon Estate). Ordinarily it might be considered a little heavy for fish, but it balanced well with the glorious sauce in this recipe.
Ms. Caggiano is a native of Bologna and still has a substantial family living in and around the city, so her recipes have a certain cachet, which may be missing from the average Italian cookbook. Her chapter subjects are very traditional, being:
Savory Breads and Savory Fritters
Risotto, Gnocchi, and Polenta
Poultry and Meat
Cakes, Tarts, Fritters, Biscotti, Ice Cream, and Fruit Desserts
While it may not be an entirely fair comparison, I matched this volume to Lydia Bastianich's book `Lydia's Italian Kitchen'. Although Ms. Bastianich is covering all of Italy, her strength is in northern Italy, as is Ms. Caggiano. Both books have about 400 pages at $30 for Ms. Lydia and $38 for Ms. Biba. The indexes for both books are friendly to both Italian impaired and those who know and relish all the lovely Italian names for recipes. Ms. Bastianich takes the slightly more scholarly approach of having complete duplicate listings with separate listings, for example, of `frico con ripieno di patate e funghi' and `potato and mushroom filling for frico'. Ms. Caggiano gives the Italian name with a reference to the English translation, as in `cacciatora, see hunter-style'.
The two books give almost identical coverage to major topics such as gnocchi. I would give a slight edge to Ms. Lydia for her gnocchi, although I will concede that differences in recipes may be due to regional differences. For some reason, Ms. Lydia includes egg in her potato gnocchi and Ms. Biba does not. To break the tie, I referred to Waverly Root's book on Italian cuisine. He says a very little egg is typically included. Mario Batali's book on Emilia-Romagna gives a potato recipe almost identical to that of Ms. Lydia. Ms. Biba does have some recipes such as cacciatora style dishes, ragu Bolognese, and baccala (salt cod) that are not in Ms. Lydia's book.
In general, I believe Ms. Lydia gives more complete instructions on general topics such as artichokes, although their treatments of fresh pasta seem comparable. I would really like to have both available, as it is clear that both know what they are doing.
Sidebars and headnotes in the two books are equally entertaining, with no overlap. If Ms. Biba's book were the only one available on the cuisine of Emilia-Romagna, I would welcome both books on my bookshelf. At the moment, I know of no other book, which claims to cover the whole province. Mario's book, 'Simple Italian Food' only covers recipes from a single trattoria on the boundary of Toscana and Emilia-Romagna. To those without any Italian cookbook, I would recommend Ms. Lydia's book, as it claims to cover the whole country. To those with a good general Italian cookbook, Ms. Biba provides a delightful supplement.
Emilia-Romagna is famous for such ingredients as balsamic vinegar from Modena, prosciutto di Parma, mortadella, and of course Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. These important regional ingredients are discussed in an early chapter, and then can be found used in recipes throughout the book. The chapters are divided into the usual cookbook categories such as Antipasti, Soups, Seafood etc., but each chapter begins with an introduction of the recipes and ingredients specific to the region. For example, in Antipasti, Biba describes the popularity of serving a platter of cured meats, or affettati, including such meats as prosciutto, mortadella, coppa, and salame to name a few.
The recipes in this book have a home style simplicity, using popular, easy to find ingredients. Many of these recipes are family favorites from Biba's childhood spent in Bologna, while others were collected while visiting small, country tratorie, and family style restaurants. Novice cooks to experienced chefs will enjoy this book, as there are simple recipes consisting of a few ingredients which can be put together in minutes, to more complex, recipes such as the recipe for Minestrone Of Modena which lists over 21 ingredients. Interspersed throughout the recipes, are short paragraphs containing cooking tips, regional facts, and helpful hints.
Since this book has only been recently released, I haven't had the chance to make many of the recipes yet, but the ones I have made were wonderful. The Gratineed Asparagus And Prosciutto couldn't be simpler, yet is perfect as an antipasto or as a vegetable side dish. Biba's Maltagliati con Fagioli, or Pasta And Bean Soup was very tasty, and was even better reheated the next day. The dessert chapter, contains everything from cakes, tarts, biscotti, ice cream and fruit dishes. One of my favorite dessert recipes I tried, was Emma's Pastry Ring, or Ciambella, which was very similar to a family recipe I make every Easter.
This book will go on the shelf with my favorite cookbooks, and I am looking forward to seeing Biba's next book! As someonme who owns more than 150 Italian cookbooks, and shares their own passion for Italian food on my website Italian Food Forever, I would highly recommend this book for anyone interested in Italian regional cuisine, particularly from Emilia-Romagna.