A Little Taste of Italy, Sophie Braimbridge and Jo Glynn

256 pages; Color Photographs. Softcover
Murdoch Books, Sydney and London, 2003
Reviewed by Patricia

The review---

If I were an amateur home cook looking to purchase a cookbook on the cuisine of Italy I would certainly gravitate toward A Little Taste of Italy. At first glance this book captured my attention with its vibrant colors and its cover photograph of fresh, grilled vegetables. My impressions of Italian food run the gamut of heavy dishes like chicken parmigiana to lighter courses of thin crust pizza margarita so I was intrigued and excited when I saw a vegetable dish representing this cookbook. However at a closer look most of the dishes are heavy on meat and pasta, making the cover deceiving.

As I further examined the recipes within A Little Taste of Italy I notice interspersed essays on different locations one could experience food in Italy. The pizzeria is the first two-page description given and recipes for different types of pizza appropriately follow. However, the remaining essays touch on the trattoria and the restaurant among others. I did not find a direct correlation between the topics of discussion and the recipes that then followed which I found a bit confusing.

Overall I would recommend A Little Taste of Italy to someone interested in buying their first cookbook on Italian cuisine. The ingredients are straightforward and easy to find in your local grocery store. However, salt and pepper are not listed as ingredients in most of the recipes. I would recommend to always taste for seasoning in order to enhance the final dish.

Below are two recipes that I tested, both that I would expect to find in a cookbook on Italian food: Bucatini all amatriciana and a basic tomato sauce. Both include a predictable ingredient list and again, test for seasoning.

A Little Taste of Italy

Available through Amazon UK

Bucatini all amatriciana

1 tablespoon olive oil
150 g (5 1/2 oz ) guanciale or pancetta, in 2 thick slices
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
teaspoon dried chili flakes
600 g (1 lb 5 oz) tinned chopped tomatoes
400 g (14 oz) bucatini
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
grated parmesan cheese

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Trim the rind and fat from the pancetta and add them to the pan. Cook over medium-high heat until the fat is crisp, to extract the liquid fat, then discard the crispy fat and rinds. Dice the pancetta, add to the liquid fat in the saucepan and cook until lightly browned.

Add the onion and fry gently for about 6 minutes, or until soft. Add the garlic and the chili flakes and cook, stirring, for 15-20 seconds, then stir in the tomato. Season with salt and pepper.

Simmer the sauce for about 15 minutes, or until it thickens and darkens.

Meanwhile, cook the bucatini in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until al dente. Stir the parsley in the sauce, drain the pasta, toss together well and serve with parmesan.

Basic Tomato Sauce

120 g (4 oz) plum (Roma) tomatoes
3 basil leaves
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

Core the tomatoes and puree in a food processor with the basil leaves (or chop the tomatoes and basil very finely and stir together). Stir in the garlic, paste and olive oil and season well. Leave for at least 30 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to blend. Use on pizza, toss through pasta or serve with arancini or spaghetti. Makes 185 ml (3/4 cup).