Polpo is the Italian word for octopus, and it's also the name of a restaurant located in London's Soho district that serves rustic, simple Venetian bar food. I have never been (to POLPO or to Venice), but after looking through this cookbook from POLPO's owner Russell Norman, I want to hop a plane right now and visit both. Given that we're still under the shadow of tax season here in my household, I will have to content myself with cooking from this gorgeous book, which believe me, will be no hardship.
The exposed binding.
• Who wrote it: Russell Norman
• Who published it: Bloomsbury
• Number of recipes: 120
• Recipes for right now: So many! Beetroot Salad with Rocket and Walnut Pesto; Braised Scallops, Pancetta, and Peas; Broad (Fava) Bean, Mint, and Ricotta Bruschette; Asparagus, Taleggio, and Speck Pizzetta; Grilled Fennel and White Anchovy Spears; Elderflower Lemonade; Panna Cotta with Blackberries.
• Other highlights: The physical appearance of this book will give you a clue to its culinary intentions. With beautiful, sparse layouts on thick, cream-colored paper, the feeling is one of refinement and simplicity but without pretensions. The photographs are lush and deeply hued, but also casual. My favorite element, besides the octopus on the cover, is the binding. The cover has been stripped away, revealing the red threads of the binding and the word POLPO stamped directly on the exposed paper. This playful element is practical as well, as it allows the book to lay very flat when opened, which hopefully it will be frequently!
Since POLPO's menu is inspired by the small wine bars frequented by locals in Venice, the recipes in this book are simple and based on seasonal market ingredients, with an emphasis towards what comes from the sea.
"The menu in POLPO is uncomplicated, and the carefully researched dishes are all made with relatively few ingredients. There is no show-off cooking or complex technical artistry," writes author and POLPO owner Russell Norman in the introduction. "We have a rule that a dish is ready to be put on the menu only when we have taken out as many ingredients as possible ... Most of the recipes have only three or four ingredients (not counting stuff you would already have in your larder) and some require no cooking at all; they are easy but delicious exercises in assembly."
• Who would enjoy this book? People who love and miss the simple bar food of Venice, people who like to have guests over for small plates and cocktails, people who appreciate good friends, good food and the good life wherever they can find it. This is not a complicated book but it still inspires a lush, celebratory approach to dining and entertaining that is deeply appealing.
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