Title: Gluten-Free Italian
Author: Jacqueline Mallorca, 2009
228 pages; Softcover $18.95 US/$24.00 CDN
Publisher: Da Capo Press, Life Long Books, Cambridge, MA
Reviewed by, Chef John Vyhnanek, 2009

The review--- Thinking of Italian cuisine automatically brings the thought of pasta to my mind. Ah, an al dente cooked durum wheat spaghetti tossed with olive oil and then a rustic Tuscan whole wheat bread! To thousands of people who have celiac disease or an allergy to wheat gluten, it's the farthest thought from their minds. To enjoy Italian cuisine, particularly pasta, they must eat ones made with different flours, most of which are pretty darn good. The same for bread: reformulated recipes, taking out wheat flour and adding ingredients like rice flour, corn flour, potato starch and flax meal are used. I've had some good bread made this way. One of my students has a wheat allergy and bakes her own bread; she brought in a loaf for me to try and I proclaimed it to be excellent. It was chewy, moist and flavorful with a nice crust and appropriate graininess.

Now there is help for the gourmet with celiac disease or a gluten allergy, especially if you love great Italian recipes. Gluten-Free Italian by Jacqueline Mallorca, the author of The Wheat-Free Cook, has just been published by Lifelong Books. There are over 150 recipes for soups, sauces, pastas, poultry, fish, meats, vegetables and deserts, all wheat-free!

I tried the following recipes with great results: Chicken Breast Skewers with Quinoa Risotto, page 107. Oxtail with Pine Nuts and Raisins over Creamy Polenta, page 153, and Tortoni (Amaretti Ice Cream Cake), page 191.

The chicken was really good because of a real Italian secret, the use of marjoram as a seasoning! Many Italians prefer marjoram, a cousin of oregano, in their dishes. My Italian friend Bruno says that oregano is Greek and is used when no marjoram is available. Well it made the chicken that was wrapped in your choice of coppa (cured and air dried pork shoulder) or pancetta so delectable. The rich and creamy risotto flecked with parsley and the grape tomatoes skewered with the chicken set everything in balancevery satisfying!

The slow cooked oxtail, about 4 hours of cooking, was out of this world delicious! Red wine braised with mirepoix and finished with raisins and pine nuts; every bite was heavenly! The soft creamy polenta was the perfect accompaniment. I don't dare to think how many calories are in a serving of this really rich dish!

Tortoni is basically a frozen whipped ice cream in layman's terms, with rum and hazelnuts between layers of crushed almond cookies. After freezing, it is cut into squares and served with cherries. The recipe is easy to follow, tasty and a treat. I suggest that you plan ahead and make it the day before, so it is totally frozen for better cutting with a warm knife.

The bottom line is that the book has really good recipes, although there are only a few color pictures in the paperbound book. There is a section early in the book about the different gluten-free flours and other ingredients used in the book, including a description of celiac disease. I'm sure that anyone would find this to be a good cookbook, celiac disease or not, and at a reasonable price of $18.95 US.

One of the Recipes tested---

Chicken Breast Skewers with Quinoa Risotto
Ideal for casual summer entertaining, spiedini (kebabs) cook fast, look appetizing, and taste wonderful. Start with the quinoa as it has to dry before cooking. (For different ways to cook quinoa, see page 89.)
Serves 4

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the quinoa, and cook uncovered until just tender and the white germ rings show, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain well, spread out on a baking sheet, and let dry for at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the chicken chunks and chopped marjoram in a bowl, add the olive oil, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Turn the chunks to coat them with the oil and let them stand for 20 minutes. Wrap the chicken chunks in strips of coppa and thread onto 8 skewers alternately with the tomatoes.

Warm the butter in a large skillet over moderate heat. When it foams, add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring often, until softened but not colored, about 5 minutes. Add the quinoa and stir well to coat. Add the wine and let it evaporate. Stir in the broth and simmer for a further 5 minutes. Add the cream and parsley and heat through. Add the Parmesan. Taste for seasoning and add salt and/or pepper if needed.

In the meantime, heat the broiler. Place the chicken skewers about 3 inches from the heat and broil until just cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Spoon the quinoa risotto onto a heated platter and top with the chicken skewers. Serve warm, not blazing hot.

Quinoa Risotto

Fine sea salt
1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped 1/4 cup dry white wine,
such as Pinot Grigio
1/2 cup gluten-free chicken broth
4 to 6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 ounces (about 1/2 cup) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Chicken Skewers
1 pound chicken breast meat, boneless and skinless,
cut into 1-inch chunks
1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram or oregano
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 thin slices coppa (available vacuum-packed in many supermarkets and sliced to order in Italian delis) or pancetta (or unsmoked bacon [salt pork]), each cut into 3 strips
3/4 pound small red grape tomatoes