This book will be primarily of interest to those who have read and enjoyed the Kay Scarpetta novels, like to cook from scratch, and do not know much about how to make high quality Italian pasta dishes.
I suggest you buy the book for yourself and try it out before giving it as a gift. For many people, this will not be an appropriate choice because of aversions to the death and danger themes in the novels, their own cooking interests, or their current level of cooking knowledge. For example, if I gave this book to my favorite Italian aunt, she would chase me out of the house with a pan in her hand, feeling that I had insulted her wonderful cooking!
If you are like me, you enjoy the stories about Ms. Patricia Cornwell's fictional heroine, Dr. Kay Scarpetta, chief medical examiner of Virginia. While trying to save the lives of Virginia's citizens, her own life and those of her friends and family are often at risk. Where Shakespeare had his clowns and fools to relieve the tension, food helps in these novels. "After Scarpetta puts her hands on death all day, she needs to come home to abundant beauty, wine, and delicious food with family and friends."
Ms. Cornwell reports that "like Scarpetta, I cook intuitively and sometimes whimsically." For example, she found that pizza crust turns out better with olive oil and honey. As a result, she thinks that "people should approach cooking with the heart and not as technicians." "Many of my signature dishes, such as my Scarpetta Stew, never come out the same way twice."
"But I am all of my characters, so I can cook like Lucy and Marino, too." The restaurant recipes come from actual restaurants mentioned in the books. In some cases, the restaurants made up the recipes to respond to requests from patrons who are Cornwell fans. You get the addresses for the restaurants, as well, in case you would like to visit any of them.
This unique cookbook combines several interesting and tasty elements: Excerpts from 11 of her novels referencing food (Postmortem, Body of Evidence, All that Remains, Cruel and Unusual, The Body Farm, From Potter's Field, Cause of Death, Unnatural Exposure, Point of Origin, Black Notice, and The Last Precinct); recipes of dishes mentioned in those books cooked by Dr. Scarpetta, her family or friends, and the restaurants the fictional characters visit; sidebars on how to prepare and store many basic Italian and French food ingredients and sauces; and gorgeous full-color photographs of each dish displayed on beautiful colored plates and printed on fine quality glossy paper. Almost all of the dishes can either be prepared quickly or by using advance preparation, completed quickly. So they are good for a person who wants a tasty meal after working all day.
As an example of how this works together, each book's section opens with two pages of quotes. Unnatural Exposure includes the quote, "A shadow passed over her face as she opened a jar of horseradish." This section has Kay's Stew with Red Wine and Garlic (containing many more ingredients than I would ever have thought of for a stew) which she served Marino for Halloween dinner. This is followed by a lengthy sidebar about tomatoes, describing varieties, buying, storing, and preparing them. Next, is Jumbo Shrimp with Bev's Kicked by a Horse Cocktail Sauce which Kay had during a dinner with Wesley. Bev is the woman who helped Kay pick out the seafood at the store. There's also Bev's Lump Crab Cakes. The final recipe is Lila's Clam Stew (a recipe Lila was selling on the street for 25 cents before dying of smallpox).
So the book has a strong literary flavor, as well as a distinct preference for vivid Continental tastes. The earliest recipes are almost all southern Italian, but then move into northern Italy, and later branch out into some basic French dishes (such as onion soup and Béchamel sauce). There's an English breakfast, a little standard American food, and a couple of Southern specialties (baby back ribs and Jack Daniels chocolate-pecan pie).
There's a heavy accent on using very fresh, high quality ingredients. You are encouraged to make your own pasta (but you are told how to use purchased pasta, if you insist). People who know Italian cooking very well will mainly be interested in the variations here of standard dishes. People who do not know Italian cooking will find an easy and pleasant introduction awaiting them. There are also suggestions for what staples to keep in the pantry, what partially-made items to keep in the freezer, and what fresh ingredients to buy weekly at the store.
I think the most fun way to use this book would be to hold theme dinners with friends, where each person does one dish to make a whole meal. Then, you could light some candles, and take turns reading your favorite parts of a given novel as you sipped some nice wines to complement your meal.
If you want to assemble meals outside of the format of each novel, you will find that the table of contents is also organized by course in cross-referencing the whole book.
Of the dishes here, I was most interested in trying the Veal Breast Stuffed with Spinach Pistou, Pork Loin with Fig and Prosciutto Stuffing, Ravioli with Squash and Chestnut Filling, Lasagna cui Carciofi, Kay's Stew with Red Wine and Garlic, Peanut Butter and Chocolate Pie, and Crostini di Polenti con Funghi Trifolati.
May you enjoy the friendly surprises in these recipes as much as you do Ms. Cornwell's novels!
What other books can you read which will be spiced up by preparing some special food to go with them?