Thursday, November 8, 2018

Tasting Italy: A Culinary Journey (Book Review)

Title: Tasting Italy: A Culinary Journey
Author: America’s Test Kitchen
Publication: National Geographic, hardcover, November 2018
Genre: Cookbook/Travel
Description: Explore Italy, region by region, and recipe by recipe with stunning photography and mouth-watering recipes.  The experts at America’s Test Kitchen in Boston and National Geographic bring Italy’s magnificent cuisine, culture, and landscapes–and 100 authentic regional recipes–right to your kitchen – or your armchair.

Featuring 100 innovative, kitchen-tested recipes, 300 gorgeous color photographs, and 30 maps, this illustrated guide takes you on a captivating journey through the rich history of Italian cuisine, region by region. Rich excerpts feature the origins of celebrated cheeses, the nuances of different wine growing regions, the best farmer’s markets in Venice, and more. Intriguing prose illuminates key ingredients, from olive oil and how it’s made to the various pasta shapes of Northern Italy. In every region, the food experts at America’s Test Kitchen bring it all home, with foolproof recipes for standout dishes as well as hidden gems: Piedmontese braised beef in lustrous red wine sauce, crispy-custardy chickpea flour farinata pancakes from Genoa (achieved without the specialty pan and wood-burning oven), and hand-formed rustic malloreddus pasta of Sardinia that we are assured is not difficult to make.

Audience: People who have visited or yearn to see Italy (which, I think, is virtually everyone); fans of Italian food and/or cultural history

My Impressions: It would take many hours to fully enjoy this book and even after an hour or two I have barely scraped the surface.  But the great thing about a cookbook is dipping into it.  When my brother lived in Italy, I visited several times but reading a book that examines the country by region makes me realize how much of the country I didn’t see!  The book is perfect for armchair cooks as well as armchair travelers – well, almost perfect – the first two recipes I picked out contain something I never heard of called guanciale, which turns out to be cured meat made from pork jowl.  (apparently, you can substitute pancetta).   My former roommate Jeanmarie got me hooked on Pasta with Amatriciana Sauce when I lived in NYC, so here is Tasting Italy’s version:

8 ounces guanciale
½ cup water
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
¼ cup red wine
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese grated (1 cup)
1 pound dried spaghetti
1 tablespoon salt

Slice guanciale into ¼-inch thick strips, then cut each strip crosswise into ¼-inch pieces.  Bring pork and water to simmer in 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat and cook until water evaporates and guanciale begins to sizzle, 5-8 minutes.  Reduce heat to medium low and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until fat renders and guanciale turns golden, 5-8 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer pork to bowl. Pour all but one tablespoon fat from skillet into second bowl and reserve.

Add pepper flakes and tomato paste to fat left in skillet and cook, stirring constantly for 20 seconds.  Stir in wine and cook for 30 seconds.  Stir in tomatoes and their juice and guanciale and bring to simmer. Cook, stirring frequently, until thickened, 12-16 minutes. While sauce simmers, smear 2 tablespoons reserved fat and ½ cup Pecorino cheese together in bowl to form paste.

Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot.  Add pasta and salt and cook, stirring often, until al dente.  Reserve 1 cup cooking water, then drain pasta and return to pot.
Add sauce, 1/3 cup reserved cooking water, and Pecorino fat mixture, and toss well to coat.  Serve, passing the remaining Pecorino separately.  Not too hard, right?  Even I should be able to make it without disaster. . .

Source: I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher and TLC Book Tours for review purposes. You can visit other stops on the tour and read the reviews by clicking below.

Off the Blog: I think everyone in Massachusetts (if not the country) is electioned out so Italy was looking pretty good!  It was nice to do something non-political thing; tonight I attended a book party for Dr. Terry Murphy’s book of short stories, Forty Steps and Other Stories.  Stay tuned for a review!

October 31st: Bryanna Plog

November 5th: Always and Forever 
November 6th: Kahakai Kitchen
November 6th: Wining Wife
November 7th: Getting On Travel
November 12th: bookchickdi
November 14th: Man of La Book
Recipe and images copyright to the publisher