I was lucky enough to be able to visit Italy a few years ago. While there, we ate at lots of GENUINE Italian restaurants (imagine that!) in various parts of Italy. I remember one specific trip that we took to a vineyard, where we ate delicious home-made Italian food, followed by a lovely shot of Grappa. And while not a gourmet cook, I could taste enough of a difference so that I KNOW that my little bowl of spaghetti topped with sauce from a jar is NOT authentic Italian cooking.
The solution to eating real Italian cooking in the comfort of your own home? No – don’t move to Italy. Marry a hot Italian husband? Do Italian men know how to cook (seriously – do they?) I have no idea. An easy solution that doesn’t require airfare or a mail-order-Italian-husband service is to simply get a copy of the La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy Cookbook.
I opened up my copy of La Cucina completely naive about Italian cooking, and I was almost overwhelmed by the book. La Cucina is practically an encyclopedia of Italian recipes, with 948 pages and over 2000 recipes. This is the first time that this collection of recipes, which was gathered by the Accademia Italiana della Cucina (Italian Academy of Cuisine), has been published in English, opening the door for Americans to try to bring the delicious tastes of Italy into their own home.
If I’m being honest, I don’t think this is a good cookbook for very beginners. You should have some level of comfort in the kitchen before opening this cookbook because there isn’t any dumbing down or simplifying or “quickie” recipes here. The recipes are divided first into one of eight chapters: Antipasti, Pizza & Sauces; Soups; Pasta, Polenta & Rice; Fish; Meat & Poultry; Vegetables; Cheese Dishes; and Desserts. Within each chapter, the recipes are then sorted by the main ingredient of the dish. Each recipe then has te list of ingredients, the Italian name of the dish (so you can sound fancy), and the cooking instructions. Some of them also have little cooking or serving tips as well.
The book is rounded out by two different indexes so you can search by main ingredient or by the region the dish comes from. I had no idea what types of recipes I wanted to try, or what region they would be from, so I decided to slowly flip through a couple of sections until I found dishes that caught my eye. Here are the dishes I tried to make and what I thought of them.
Risotto with Sausage 2
This recipe I consider to truly be labor of love. Why? Because to correctly make risotto, you have to slowly and patiently stir in the chicken broth 1/2 cup by 1/2 cup, waiting until the risotto fully soaks up all of the broth before adding the next scoop. I diligently stirred my risotto for close to 25 minutes before I finally became impatient and dumped the last cup of broth into the pan all at once. Definitely make sure you use a large sauce pan when you cook risotto. I was amazed at how less than 2 cups of rice became a pan full of risotto.
The final dish was so yummy, I’m pretending that I don’t know how much butter went into it. The risotto is that lovely orange color because they have you mix some tomato paste into the chicken broth beforehand. Considering the number of times a contestant on Top Chef gets dinged for bad risotto, and especially considering that this was my first time making risotto, I was EXTREMELY happy with the dish. It’s the perfect blend of flavors, with a subtle hint of tomato with the parmesan cheese mixed in at the end. I had to use regular store sausage since I didn’t know what kind of sausage is “Italian” sausage.
Potatoes and Pears
I was looking forward to trying this recipe simply because I never, ever thought to combine potatoes with pairs. Apparently the folks in the valley of Gran San Bernardo, where this recipe originated, are very inventive with their fruits and veggies. Of the two dishes, this one was definitely the easiest to make. This dish required cooking the three main ingredients separately, and then combining them all at the end. I had to tweak the recipe a little bit because the grocery store I went to didn’t have pancetta.
After tasting the dish, I decided two things – first that the valley of Gran San Bernardo residents aren’t totally crazy for mixing pears with potatoes and second anything with grilled onions and potatoes tastes awesome! I loved the flavor of the potatoes – boiling them with the bay leaf and meat gave the taters a little extra uumph. I loved the grilled onions. And I was surprisingly pleased with the potatoes and the onions mixed with the pears. Since the pears are so large, you really have to cut them up first to enjoy it with the rest of the dish. It’s probably aesthetically better with the halved pears, but it might be easier to serve if they get chopped up after cooking.
Here’s a shot of the onions because I was so pleased with myself for cooking such a gourmet dish. (Yes…grilling onions makes it gourmet for me.)
After trying these two dishes, I fully expect all of the recipes in La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy to taste authentically Italian and delicious. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t think this book is for the novice cook but it would be a valuable addition to every cook’s library – either as a goal for something to cook or a great cookbook for the experienced chef.
La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy by the Italian Academy of Cuisine is a heavy duty (as in 4 pounds heavy) cookbook that will surely fool your friends into thinking you know how to cook Italian food! It’s available for purchase online at amazon.com and at other bookstores.
If you’d like to try to cook up your own Italian food, you can also enter the WCatDD La Cucina Italian Cookbook Giveaway!
One winner will receive a copy of La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy by the Italian Academy of Cuisine. (ARV $45)
This giveaway is closed.
Three unique winners will be selected at random for this prize.
Giveaway ends at 11:59 PM EST, December 1, 2009.
Visit our Giveaway Rules page for general giveaway rules that also apply to this giveaway.
Disclaimer: No compensation was given for this giveaway. I did receive a copy of La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy to test and use for the purpose of writing this review. This did not influence my opinions.