As someone who reads cookbooks the way other people read romance novels, my affections change frequently. I have the standbys—Moosewood Cookbook, The Joy of Cooking, The Smithsonian Folklore Cookbook (for its ultra-simple bread recipe), James Peterson’s Vegetables and so forth—but find myself occasionally so overrun by cookbooks that I weed a few out by giving to friends or donating to a worthy cause.
One way I can tell if a cookbook is destined to join my permanent staff is the number of times I flag a recipe when I first read the book. I am happy to tell you that my new favorite cookbook was so oft-flagged, it looked as though I had given it a Post-it fringe. I think this one is here to stay.
It’s the Quick from Scratch Italian Cookbook (Food & Wine Books), edited by Judith Hill. If Judith got to taste all these recipes before she put them in the book, she was one lucky editor. I like the “Test-Kitchen Tips” in the front of the book, with useful information on such items as what to do if your Parmesan dries out, how to store fresh basil or steps to making perfectly cooked risotto, and the handy-dandy list of Italian wines, with a list of foods they dance well with; and a list of Italian cheeses with descriptions of what we can expect of them (“starts out mild-mannered, sharper flavor with age, becomes quite provocative after about a year”).
But it’s the recipes that made me happiest. All live up to the book’s title “Quick From Scratch”—none seemed complicated, all look as though you could go from ingredient to table in a half hour or so, and the few I’ve tried so far bear out that assumption. This would be a good cookbook for an inexperienced cook, but those of us who’ve been around the kitchen a time or two will find plenty to appreciate in its simple, delicious flavors.
My favorites thus far are:
• Roasted Peppers with Caper Dressing, which I gussied up with a little chopped basil and a can of tuna and called a meal;
• Grilled Zucchini with Fresh Mozzarella, which is simple and scrumptious and answers the age-old question, “What am I supposed to do with all this @#$@ zucchini;”
• Sausage and Mushroom Soup, which I made with a delicious local Italian sausage and shiitake mushrooms and which is now my new favorite soup;
• Braised Chicken Thighs with Olives and Basil, which is so inexpensive you won’t believe it and tastes like it cost a bundle—great for impressing the socks off dinner guests without breaking the budget.
And I haven’t even gotten to the desserts chapter yet. I’m looking forward to Pineapple Carpaccio with Lemon Sorbet and Candied Zest; Ricotta Ice Cream with Honey and Almonds, and maybe a little Cherries Poached in Red Wine with Mascarpone Cream.
The recipes are healthful, if you can resist the allure of seconds. However, I am not responsible for your waistline if you use this book.
Go on, feed my addiction. Turn me on to your favorite cookbook!
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