Food trends come and go, but we will never waver in our devotion to Italian cuisine. And we absolutely love cookbooks like this recent one from Laura Santtini that give us our beloved Italian pastas and braises in a fresh new package.
In Easy Tasty Italian: Add Some Magic to Your Food, Santtini approaches Italian cuisine with a touch of whimsy and a dash of chocolate-chili-gold stardust powder. Hold on to your pasta-makers, folks, this is definitely not your nonna's cooking.
At its heart, Easy Tasty Italian is just a whole lot of fun. And how can you not have fun when you're playing with gold dust powder and pinot grigio butter?! Every recipe and every mouthwatering photo is an invitation to dive in, forget mise en place, and just see what happens when you start mixing things together.
The book opens with Santtini's signature arsenal of Tasty Transformations. These are the pastes, powders, infused oils, and marinades that she uses to heighten flavors and give classic dishes a little twist. You'll find recipes for everything from orange mayonnaise to chili-shrimp relish and furikake stardust to rose-pomegranate-mint paste. Many of the recipes in this section are as much about making dishes look pretty as they are about flavor. Flakes of gold glitter on the top of a braised rib while soft purple lavendar buds make a salad pop visually.
The recipes in the rest of the book are divided into four sections that follow the elements: air, water, fire, and earth. Air covers raw preparations like tartare and carpaccio. Water goes into soups, pastas, and risottos. Fire covers grilling and baking, while earth follows up with braises and slow-cooking.
The recipes in these sections will be familiar to anyone who loves Italian cooking. There's pasta e fagioli and linguini in clam sauce, along with osso buco and roasted lamb. What makes them interesting is how she incorporates those Tasty Transformations from the first section. A marinade with rose petals to infuse flavor at the beginning or sprinkle of chili stardust to finish bring the dishes alive.
This book is a look into the mind of Laura Santtini, a celebrity chef in the UK that would give our Mario Batali a run for his money. (In fact, that's an Iron Chef match-up we'd love to see!) She encourages our creativity and gives us permission to break away from the recipe.
For the Mocha Chili Barbecue Marinade 1/2 cup strong-brewed espresso coffee 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar 1/2 cup runny honey 1 cup tomato ketchup 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard 2 tablespoons ground cumin 1 tablespoon grated 100% cacao chocolate 1 teaspoon chili flakes, or more if looking for real heat 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce 1 tablespoon water
To Serve Chocolate chili stardust (below) sprinkling of gold
1. Make the marinade well ahead, preferably the night before: mix all the ingredients together in a small heavy-based pan and bring to a boil over a high heat. Turn the heat right down and simmer for 15–20 minutes. Remove from heat and leave to cool. Blend.
2. When the marinade is totally cool, place the ribs in a shallow dish, add the marinade and make sure each rib is well coated. Leave to marinate in the refrigerator for at least a couple of hours, preferably overnight, turning occasionally to make sure all the flavors sink in.
3. Bring the ribs back to room temperature before cooking. Preheat the oven to 350°F and spread the ribs across a shallow roasting tray, leaving surplus marinade in the dish.
4. Roast for 30 minutes. Place the leftover marinade in a pan and bring to a boil.
5. When the ribs are browned, sizzling, and cooked right through, remove from the oven and drain any fat from the pan. Pour the remaining marinade over the ribs and mix well. Return to the oven and cook for a further 20 minutes.
NOTE: If at any time the ribs look as if they are burning, cover with foil but remember to give them the final blast uncovered; otherwise they will be soggy and not finger-lickin’.
6. Before serving, test that the ribs are cooked right through to the bone–there should be no pink meat.
7. Serve on a large platter topped with chocolate chili stardust. I also like to give them a sprinkling of gold for special occasions.
Chocolate Chili Stardust
1/2 ounce 100% cacao dark chocolate 1 teaspoon dried chili flakes 2 long strips of orange zest 1/2 teaspoon Mexican cacao powder
Dry the orange zest on a baking tray in a cool oven, until crisp but not burned. Blend with the other ingredients. VARIATION: I love to add gold flakes to this blend for mystery.