It’s summer in England and we have been blessed with dry weather. OK, the sun seems to have been as elusive as ever but at least it’s warm enough for us to indulge in a little al fresco dining. Our tables might well be strewn with Italian dishes, and those tables that are not probably wish they were.
Continental food is, for many at least, the epitome of summer eating. We are driven to wax lyrical about the form and flavour of a ball of mozzarella and we might even cry like an Italian opera singer at the prospect of delicately dressed pasta. 500 Italian Dishes presents us with enough recipes to serve many a Florentine feast or Ligurian lunch.
My regular readers will already know that I am a fan of this 500 series from Apple Press. They are compact volumes but they offer hundreds of pictures to aid the novice, and recipes that reflect both classic and contemporary dishes. In this edition it’s Italian dishes, and there are some favourites as well as some lesser-known delights, both savoury and sweet.
The chapters are divided by course and being Italian there are lots of those. You don’t have to cook six or seven courses but rather mix and match recipes from perhaps three of the chapters and reserve a dinner of 5 or more courses for when the in-laws are over. They will be impressed.
Consider starting with antipasti and then a pasta dish and you’ll want a dessert. Perhaps a different selection of three courses comprising salad, meat, and never leave out the sweets. If you are pressed for time you might only want one course, so go straight for the tiramisu.
Most Italian cooking isn’t complicated or time-consuming. This book reflects our modern need for quickly prepared meals. Not many of us have an elderly black-clad family member at home just cooking all day. We want good food with only reasonable effort. Insalata Caprese is celebrated for being flavourful and fast. It’s a quick classic salad of tomatoes and mozzarella with a sprinkle of basil. It doesn’t sound exciting but the success of the experience relies on the quality of cheese. There is a huge difference between the best and worst mozzarella available in the high street. It might sound a hackneyed phrase but you honestly will taste the difference.
Making salad isn’t really cooking but there are so many recipes here for dishes that are amazingly simple. Pasta alla Carbonara is cooking for those who don’t cook. The sauce is finished before the pasta is. Lasagne al Forno is a celebrated dish because it works well both for family and for those evenings when you want to entertain without fear. This dish, some rustic bread, a green salad and a bottle of Italian red and your guests will think your grandfather’s name was Giovanni.
I have found lots of must-try recipes. Cannelloni al Pesce is a dish of filled pasta tubes. In this case it’s white fish but there is yet another version using Bolognese sauce. There’s a total of five alternatives to the original recipe, which had mushrooms as the stuffing.
Torta di Riso has long been a family favourite and I am pleased to see a recipe included in this book. It’s a cake that’s about texture as much as taste. It’s not difficult to make and it works well as a dinner party dessert, or try a slice with coffee in the afternoon. The Italian version of a teatime treat.
Apple Press have maintained their standard with this, the latest in the 500 series. It’s all a good practical cookbook should be. Great value for money.
500 Italian Dishes
Author: Valentina Sforza
Published by: Apple Press
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018