"Our mother made us, but our grandmother raised us. She taught us these things when we were very young: to go and put wood on the fire, to hand roll the pasta, to help with the bread or the slaughter. It's a lovely and natural thing to learn to cook first by the side of one's grandmother"
Title & Publisher: Cooking with Italian Grandmothers, by Jessica Theroux. Published by Welcome Books, 2010.
First impressions: This is a substantial book at 296 pages, measuring a sturdy, square 9" x 9". Like all of the lush offerings from Welcome Books, the production quality is topnotch, with heavy satiny pages and a thick paper jacket over a hardbound binding. Throughout the book there are lovely full-sized photographs of the people, places and food of Italy.
The angle: Chef Jessica Theroux was interested in documenting the food traditions of Italy so she set out with her camera and a short list of contacts to see what she could discover. A year later she had travelled the length of the country, met dozens of people, ate countless meals and captured on film and in notebooks the world of Italy's (mostly) rural Grandmothers. Luckily for us, she is sharing her journey though this book and four short films, each which features one of the women she learned from. You can view one of these films here.
Strengths: This is more than a cookbook, it's an invitation to take a journey to discover and preserve a way of life that may soon be obsolete. For that reason, this book will appeal to armchair travelers and cooks, as well as people already passionate about Italy and Italian culture. But even better, the recipes offer a wide range of posibilities as Ms. Theroux makes her way through Italy's many foodsheds, gathering recipes and stories along the way.
Recipes for right now: There are 150 recipes in this book. One of my favorites is Chicken Bone Broth which is nothing but a chicken carcass (hopefully including some feet and heads and backs) and half a lemon simmered for hours and hours until the broth is rich and slightly thick from the gelatin in the chicken feet. Amazing stuff, this. I started the broth last night, went to bed with the flame on low and woke up with my whole house smelling deliciously and strangely (in a good way) of chicken soup. Ms. Theroux offers a recipe for a soup made with this broth which is enhanced with garlic and a poached egg. I can't wait to try it.
You will also find classic offerings such as Pumpkin Tortelloni with Brown Butter and Sage and Risotto alla Milanese with saffron, as well as Carluccia's Chard-Sesame Balls with Red Onion Jam and Fennel-Roasted Rabbit with Pancetta.
Recommended? Buy this book if you or someone you love is interested in Italy, traditions, cooking, travel, discovery. Buy this book if you can picture yourself reading it propped up in bed at night and bringing into the kitchen the next day to take the lasagna recipes for a spin. Buy this book if you appreciate well made books, with quality paper and sewn bindings that allow pages to lie flat. Buy this book if you feel our elders have something important to offer us, or if you believe that there's something worth preserving in the oldways.
Bonus Features from the website: Be sure to check out the publisher's interview with Jessica Theroux and browse the entire book on the book's website. Also, in celebration of the book's release, several restaurants across the US will be offering special dinners to celebrate and highlight local, sustainable, slow food from October 11-17, and beyond. Ms. Theroux will be present at several dinners. The event is called A Slow Taste of Italy and you can find more information here.
• Buy the book: Cooking with Italian Grandmothers by Jessica Theroux, $28.80 (Amazon)
More 2010 Book Reviews
• Immortal Milk by Eric LeMay
• In the Green Kitchen by Alice Waters
• The Modern Vegetarian by Maria Elia
Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. However, the manufacturer did give us the product for testing and review purposes.