Cooking & Cookbooks

Recommended without reservation:

ingredientiIngredienti: Marcella’s Guide to the Market by Marcella and Victor Hazan, from Simon and Schuster, pre-order for Kindle at $10.99 (USD) or hardbound at $12.94 USD (list price, $20.00); scheduled for release Tuesday, 12 July 2016. (NOTE: Prices are subject to change without notice to Sis; always verify prior to purchase, please.)

Although she died in 2013, Marcella Hazan leaves a legacy to today’s cooks in the upcoming publication of a book based on the handwritten notebooks filled with her thoughts on how to select, and how to use, the very best ingredients for classic Italian cooking.

Her husband and longtime collaborator, Victor, translated these notebooks from her native Italian and finished writing and editing them to produce Ingredienti: Marcella’s Guide to the Market. The book is illustrated with lovely sketches, lively green line drawings of various ingredients.

It’s not the most comprehensive primer on produce, but it is a book that should appeal to both new and accomplished cooks – and both home and professional ones – and some tips and tricks are unique. I particularly appreciate Marcella’s lessons on protecting such ingredients as garlic and onions in an excessively hot and humid climate, lessons that I have not found in other how-to cookbooks written by those lucky enough to live under food-friendly weather conditions.

Ingredienti is not a recipe book. Marcella does describe her preferences for preparing each ingredient, but you won’t find specific quantities or detailed instructions, simply ideas for how to prepare ingredients for cooking – or serving – and most of all for a guide to select each at the peak of perfection.  The writing is casual and very, very personal – as if the “godmother of Italian cooking” were your very own godmother, sitting with you in her kitchen and sharing a lifetime of lessons over cups of espresso.

The result is a book that is a joy to read. Marcella held very strong opinions, some I share and some I do not. I absolutely agree that one must know how to shop before one can know how to cook, but I don’t share her disdain for red and sweet onions. Still, it is her perspective that makes the book so well worth reading no matter how much you do, or do not, know about picking produce and pantry staples and whether you do, or do not, share her likes and dislikes.

Each chapter is essentially an essay on each ingredient, and one that combines both information and instruction. These make the book ideal for a leisurely read . . . but the writing may tempt you to race right through from beginning to end, as I did. Either way, enjoy!featured

Description:  From the inimitable woman who popularized Italian cuisine in America, Marcella Hazan’s simple and elegant manual on how to shop for the best ingredients and prepare the most delicious meals is a must-have for every home cook.

When Marcella Hazan died in 2013, the world mourned the passing of the “Godmother of Italian cooking.” But her legacy lives on, through her cookbooks and recipes, and in the handwritten notebooks filled with her thoughts on how to select the best ingredients—Ingredienti. Her husband and longtime collaborator Victor has translated and transcribed these vignettes on how to buy and what to do with the fresh produce used in Italian cooking, the elements of an essential pantry, and salumi (literally, salted meat).

Before you know how to cook, you must know how to shop. From Artichokes to Zucchini, Anchovies to Ziti, Ingredienti offers succinct and compelling advice on how to choose vegetables, pasta, olive oil, Parmigiano Reggiano, prosciutto, and all of the key elements of Marcella’s classic meals. Organic isn’t necessarily best, boxed pasta can be better than fresh. Marcella’s authoritative wisdom and surprising tips will change the way you cook. Her clear, practical guidance in acquiring the components of good cooking is helpful wherever you choose to shop—in supermarkets, farmers’ markets, specialty food stores, or online.

Based on 60 years of almost daily visits to the market to choose the ingredients of that day’s meal, Ingredienti is a life’s work, distilled—an expression of Marcella’s judgments, advice, and suggestions. Uncomplicated and precise, this volume will be essential to home cooks eager to produce meals in the same delicious style Marcella was the first to introduce to America.

About the authors:  Marcella Hazan (1924-2013) was born in Cesenatico, a fishing village on the northern Adriatic shore of Italy. She studied for a career in the sciences and received two doctoral degrees from the University of Ferrara in Emilia-Romagna. In 1955 she married Victor Hazan, an Italian-born American, and moved with him to New York, where she began teaching Italian cooking classes in her apartment. In 1973 she published her first cookbook, The Classic Italian Cookbook, which introduced Americans to authentic Italian food. Her cooking schools in Italy draw students from around the world. Hazan was the recipient of two Lifetime Achievement Awards (from the James Beard Foundation in 2000, and the IACP in 2004) and a knighthood from her own country. She was the author of five additional classic cookbooks and a memoir, including Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking ($20.99, Kindle, and $20.65, hardcover, both USD), Marcella Cucina ($31.29 USD, hardcover), Marcella’s Italian Kitchen ($19.90 USD paperback) and Amarcord: Marcella Remembers ($12.99 USD, Kindle; $14.47 USD, paperback).

Victor Hazan Marcella’s lifelong collaborator and writing partner, is an authority on Italian wine and food. He is the author of Italian Wine. He lives in Longboat Key, Florida.

NOTE:  Sis received a complimentary advanced reading copy from Simon and Schuster via NetGalley with the expectation that she would write a review reflecting her own opinions and only her own opinions.  And this she has done.

The Gluten-Free Italian Cookbook:  Classic Cuisine from the Italian Countryside 

Recommended without reservation to anyone who needs or wants to cook classic Italian food that just so happens to be gluten- (and wheat-) free.
by Mary Capone, from $24(USD)
by Mary Capone, from $24(USD)

by Mary Capone, 224 pgs., 2nd edition published by The Wheat-Free Gourmet Press in paperback; from $24.00 (USD) at Amazon.com

Mary Capone knows Italian food, and she uses both her heritage as an Italian-American and her training as a professional chef to craft recipes for gluten-free fare that you can easily prepare and serve, to yourself or others, no apologies necessary. She doesn’t make you choose between good food and food that is good for you or your gluten-intolerant family and friends.  Whether you cook without gluten some of the time or all of the time, this is one cookbook that should be in your kitchen.

I purchased the first edition soon after it was released, having sampled some of Mary Capone’s recipes — specifically her oh-so-tender Italian thumbprint cookies — from a free holiday download made available several years ago by the publishers of the magazine formerly known as Living Without.  I’d love to see the newer edition because my family was thrilled from the first recipe I tried to the last.  If my husband had his way, I’d have worked straight through the cookbook from beginning to end, serving him each and every one of the offerings inside.  One day, I promise, I will.  He thought several of the recipes were worth the price of the whole book, and I wholeheartedly agree.

We had been disappointed by so many poor excuses for gluten-free cookbooks, from celiacs who had never cooked (and perhaps never should?) to celiacs who had been on gluten-free diets so long they just didn’t know how food could and should taste.  But, with The Gluten-Free Italian Cookbook, no one has to compromise.  Not on taste, nor on texture. You can prepare any, and every, recipe in the book and serve the result with the certainty that no one has to know that these delightful dishes are gluten-free . . . unless you choose to say tell them.

“My desire was, and still is, to invite the gluten-free palate to sing with flavor,” Mary Capone wrote in the introduction to her first edition.

This is one invitation every gluten-intolerant palate should accept.

The book includes a recipe for gluten-free pasta which I am eager to try — my husband bought me a pasta machine so I can. In the first edition, Mary Capone also listed her preferred brand of prepared gluten-free pasta — the same that an Italian-American friend with celiac siblings had recommended to me — for those who are daunted by the idea of making fresh pasta.  In the years since the first edition was published, newer and even better pastas are available for those who cannot tolerate gluten.  We especially enjoy Barilla’s gluten-free pastasAncient Harvest (quinoa) pastas and, when we can find it, DeLallo’s gluten-free pastas.

Aside from the opportunity to add to any cook’s gluten-free repertoire, this cookbook is also a joy to read and an expert primer for gluten-free cooking of any kind.  Read the introduction.   Read about her struggles to create a gluten-free pasta dough worthy of her late Aunt Carmel . . . and how her aunt, dead some 10 years, provided the inspiration that led to what she considers one of her crowning successes.  Enjoy the photographs, whether they showcase the dishes, illustrate the procedures or introduce you to her Aunt Carmel and other relatives.

This is a book to be savoured, whether you’re reading it in the kitchen or in your favorite book nook.

About the Author:  Growing up in an Italian household filled with restaurateurs and great cooks, Mary Capone learned the foundations of classic Italian cuisine from her family’s boisterous kitchens. As a celiac, she has since reinvented this scrumptious cuisine to meet the needs of gluten-free dieters in her popular book, The Gluten-Free Italian Cookbook: Classic Cuisine from the Italian Countryside. Her articles and recipes have appeared in The Herb Quarterly, Energy for Women, Eatingwell.com, Living Without Magazine, Livingwithout.com, Delicious Living Magazine and Delight Gluten-Free. She is currently the director of The Wheat Free Gourmet Cooking School and has taught over 1500 students from around the world. She lives in Boulder Colorado with her loving family.

 Find the author’s products at Bella Gluten Free.

NOTE:  In response to a recent comment, Sis mentioned that Mary Capone’s GF cookbook is one of her five all-time favorite cookbooks.  It’s not easy to limit the list to five, since she has two, fully stocked bookcases in her kitchen as well as cookbooks which have strayed to other bookshelves due to lack of space . . . and a few on her Kindles.  (Sis really prefers the written page, though, for cookbooks.  Yes, the pages do get splattered since she’s often too impatient to slot the books into those protective stands, but the pages don’t have to be “refreshed” by fingers that first need to be washed . . . and electronic devices are just as prone to splatters and kitchen disasters.)  So, what else is on her list? Here they are, in the order in which Sis acquired them:

Five of Sis's favorites . . .
Five of Sis’s favorites . . .
  1.  Betty Crocker’s Cookbook “New and Revised Edition,” 6th printing, 1981 edition, published by General Mills.  Sis taught herself to cook, primarily using this cookbook.  She received it upon graduating from college, and it was one of the best graduation gifts she could have received.  Her mother seldom cooked, and her father much preferred to dine out — at a time when most families ate all their meals at home.  Granted, this is not the cookbook you expect to find on a foodie’s shelf . . . but it was an indispensable resource for a girl who needed help cooking everything from acorn squash to zucchini.  Sis has a newer edition, but she has yet to see one that would be as helpful as this edition to others who are as clueless in the kitchen as she once was.  It provides basic instructions for each ingredient, from how and when to find the best available ingredients plus basic cooking instructions for each, as well as recipes more suitable for serving guests but still within the scope of a basic beginner.  Sis still uses many of the recipes she found here, but she would caution new cooks to rely on newer books when it comes to preparing some foods. Why? Fashions change in food as well as other things, and pork, in particular, has changed a lot over the last several decades.  The hogs and pigs sent to market today are leaner than those that found themselves in the processing plants way back when, and the cuts therefore require shorter cooking times and even different cooking methods.  In fact, those who did learn to cook at home or who learned to cook long ago should keep this in mind if they’ve been unhappy with the results from old favorites.
  2. The Way to Cook (1989 edition) by Julia Child, 512 pgs., published by Alfred A. Knopf. Sis didn’t get to review this culinary-course-in-one-volume when the newspaper where she was employed received a copy, but she did snag the book afterward . . . and has held on to it ever since. In fact, she still has — and uses — the promotional navy blue canvas chef’s apron that was included with the book. This is another “teaching” cookbook, especially written for those like Sis — and the many to follow after her — who did not learn the basics at home (or anywhere else), much less how to build upon them.  In fact, this is kind of a bridge cookbook that will take you from a rank beginner and teach you how to adapt, create and improvise. You will even find a “master” recipe for mashed potatoes, then suggestions on how to go beyond the basics. The name of this late, great chef has become so strongly associated with classic French cuisine that many of today’s readers, as well as cooks, forget that Julia Child taught cooking on Public Broadcasting Stations long before the debut of Food Network. This one especially resonates with Sis because she also subscribes to Julia Child’s philosophy of cooking with the best ingredients available — including real butter and heavy cream — even if health dictates moderating the indulgence.  And, at last, research continues to validate this philosophy.  Our bodies are better adapted at metabolizing natural foods than those created in a lab.
  3. The Joy of Cooking (1997 edition) by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker, 1136 pgs., published by Scribner (Simon & Schuster). Sis received an earlier edition of this classic cookbook as another graduation gift, and has purchased later editions, but this one is still her favorite.  The first one was simply beyond her abilities at the time, and the format of the newer, 75th Anniversary Edition is not as friendly to Sis’s style . . . though she’s hard pressed to explain exactly what troubles her.  She received this one as her first Christmas gift from the beautiful (and talented) cook who would soon become her beloved mom-by-marriage.  This copy is nearly as battered as the Betty Crocker edition, equally stained with decades of use by her — and by the nephew who learned to cook at her side.  It’s a wonderful resource for those who don’t know as much as they’d like about cooking, but the main reason Sis didn’t find the earlier edition helpful is that the authors rely so much on internal temperatures and do not give even estimated cooking times.  If you know how to cook, you don’t need them.  If you don’t know how to cook, you can’t possibly master the difficulty of getting everything on the table at the same time without guidance that this series does not provide.
  4. Fish: The Complete Guide to Buying and Cooking by Mark Bittman, 544 pgs., 1st edition 1994, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Sis has grown up, and spent much of her life, on the “third” coast of the U.S. — the Gulf of Mexico — instead of the Atlantic Coast, and she takes issue with some of Bittman’s prejudices about particular fish.  He scorns freshwater catfish and farm-raised tilapia, while favoring many fish that will never, ever be available to Sis, fresh, frozen or otherwise.  If you call him a fish snob, she won’t defend him.  But, while he can dig his own clams, Sis can buy shrimp fresh off the boat and catch catfish in her own pond (if she’s lucky, and they are biting). In her opinion, they each have some advantages when it comes to the jubilee from the sea (as well as from the lake, the pond and the river). Sis suggests you take what appeals to you away from this one, and ignore any bias that you don’t share with the author.

Is there a theme here?  Sure.  All of these are basic, teaching cookbooks, not merely compilations of recipes. They provide readers who want to cook with the information they need to get good food from the grocer, the fishmonger, the garden and/or the produce stand and onto the table.  They are useful for those who don’t know how to cook as well as those who do, especially the last four of her favorite five.

Bon appétit, y’all!

By Linda J. Arendt
By Linda J. Amendt, The Taunton Press

Recommended without reservations for: cooks (any level) and other foodies.  Publication date:  28 April 2015, $21.95, paperback.

REVIEW:

If state fairs judged cookbooks as well as canned foods, then Linda J. Amendt would still win blue ribbons.  Meanwhile, both those who’ve never canned and those who want to bring rosettes home from their own fairs will delight in Blue Ribbon Canning: Award-Winning Recipes.  The 275-page cookbook is jam-packed with practical information for the first-time canner, as well as tips for those who are ready to compete for the top prizes.  The recipes range from a few familiar favorites, such as Strawberry Jam, to the truly unusual, like Cantaloupe Jam, as well as from sweet to savory, like Salsa Jam and Red Onion Marmalade.  Interspersed among the recipes are the encouraging and inspiring stories of those who have contributed their own award-winning recipes.  But the vibrant photographs – of jams and jellies, canners and canning equipment, and all things fair, from animal exhibits to dizzying rides – makes this book so much more than a canning resource.  It is simply beautiful.

First-timers will particularly relish the clear, detailed, and easy-to-follow guidelines on safe canning practices.  One of the hardest things I’ve ever done was explain to a well-intentioned relative is why I wouldn’t serve the homemade jams she’d so proudly brought to share with my other holiday guests.  She simply didn’t understand the essential role sugar plays in preserving fruit, and she’d thought she’d been so clever to replace it with an artificial sweetener for the sake of those who had to watch their blood-sugar levels – without adding pectin. The result was food poisoning in pretty glass jars.  You won’t waste your time and effort so heartbreakingly if you follow Amendt’s guidelines.

Those who already know how to can will find plenty of unusual recipes they’ll want to add to their repertoire, from jams and jellies to pickles and vegetables to salsas and soups.  Those who are ready to see how their efforts stack up against their neighbors’ will benefit from a section on tips Amendt learned from exhibiting her goods and from judging others’ – as well as from a directory listing the largest fairs in each state.

Note:  Sis received an advanced reading copy from the publisher through NetGalley in return for her own, unbiased review of this cookbook.  Neither the author, nor the publisher, nor NetGalley has, or has attempted, to influence her opinion or her review in any way. Sis isn’t easily intimidated, and she does enjoy canning.