Comments: We can't imagine the challenge Nancy Verde Barr and her agent had convincing a major publisher to put out one more all-encompassing Italian cookbook. The field is packed, and almost without thinking you can rattle off a half-dozen names of authors whose books have been perennial best sellers Hazan, Bugialli, Bastianich, Esposito,
De' Medici, Caggiano, and that new kid Batali.
What Italian soil was Ms. Verde Barr going to till that the other authors have overlooked?
Her goal is to translate generations of Italian grandmothers' "pinch of this," "cook it until it looks right," and "that's enough" into a cookbook that anyone can use teaching us through a book the tastes and techniques of Italian cooking that were always handed down from generation to generation in the kitchen. She want us eventually to rely on books and recipes less and less, and more on our own growing understanding of what constitutes Italian cooking.
Her book follows a model that Julia Child uses presenting a master recipe and following it with related variations. (This may not be a surprise, as Verde Barr worked for Mrs. Child for years helping her prepare for various television programs.) The method is valuable and efficient, for if you can learn to sauté a veal cutlet, why can you not do the same if all you have in the refrigerator is a pork tenderloin or a package of chicken breasts? You can, and Verde Barr provides dozens and dozens of traditional variations related to other traditional dishes.
The book starts out with a section entitled, "Flavors that Say 'Italian,'" including a lengthy section on essential Italian ingredients and how to use them, and recipes for basic sauces and stocks. Recipe chapters include soup; pasta, pizza, risotto & polenta; meat & poultry; seafood; vegetables, frittatas & salads; and desserts. Each chapter or section also starts out with a substantial amount of text intended to bring you up speed on the cooking processes involved, the ingredients in question, or other pertinent facts. There are also charts throughout the book to show you how Italian cooks make best use of major ingredients allowing you to skip the recipes entirely.
This is an Italian cookbook for people who are not put off by reading. There's a lot to read, but if you work your way through it, you will surely have a much better understanding of how to prepare Italian food.
The cookbook-printing trend of using different-colored inks for different sections of the recipes is fine, as long as each color is equally legible. We find a couple of the color choices reduce legibility a bit.