Title: Ciao Italia Five-Ingredient Favorites
Author: Mary Ann Esposito, 2009
150 pages; Hardcover $29.99 US/$38.00 CAN
Publisher: St. Martin's Press, NY, NY
Reviewed by, Chef John Vyhnanek, January, 2010

The review--- Recently there has been a profusion of books, not just cookbooks, where just about anything can be done in 5 steps. I recently read about the 5 steps of taping dry wall and another on the 5 steps for tasting wine. For some topics this works and for others it doesn’t, but in this case, it works for me!

Mary Ann Esposito’s new cookbook, Ciao Italia Five-Ingredient Favorites, will be looked at as a godsend by many cooks who see cooking as drudgery. Five items to slice, dice, measure, cook and serve just might bring the family back to the dinner table. All of the ingredients in the book are readily available in supermarkets and easy to find at natural food markets too.

Most of the recipes are new and not the classic recipes that you see in most Italian cookbooks. Spaghetti Carbonara is a true 5-ingredient Italian classic that has been around well before the “5” trend came about. On the other hand Pistachio Dust Pork Chops is not. So what’s new and exciting that you can fix for your next family meal, now that you only have to assemble 5 ingredients?

I tried three recipes; Scallops and Fried Tomatoes, Cheesy Stuffed Meatballs and the Chocolate, Hazelnut and Banana Tartlets. Planning ahead and having my ingredients ready is important. I put my cooking skills to the grindstone and had all three ready to serve in 35 minutes; granted that cooking is my profession and I have a lot of experience with it. I feel that a home cook could also achieve a rapid finish with these recipes. I made sure that all ingredients were cut, measured and ready on a single tray for each dish. I first made the dessert and set it aside so it was ready to serve. Then I made the meatballs and while they were cooking and during the last few minutes before they came out of the oven, I cooked the scallops. The result was as planned. The meatballs came from the oven just as the scallops finished. I plated the scallops, then the meatballs, which had had a chance to cool for 2 minutes, and simply placed them on the table to serve. Moments later, after sampling the dishes, all I had to do was serve the tart, it was really as simple as that!

All three recipes worked and in my opinion they will be agreeable to almost everyone. I would like to see cookbooks give an approximate amount of salt and pepper for each recipe instead of just saying salt or pepper. Younger cooks and even experienced home cooks like to know in advance where to start when it comes to seasoning. Most often cooks are afraid of salt and tend to underseason, leaving the final dish a bit flat. This aside, the scallops were as simple and delicious as I hoped they would be. Deglazing the pan with wine is important, the alcohol cooks out of the wine and the juices that are browned on the bottom of the pan are released to flavor the pan sauce. A technical point about deglazing though: the scallops, or whatever you are cooking, should be removed from the pan before the wine is added because the liquid and the deglazing will tend to toughen the item a little. I would then add the scallops back to the pan juices just to warm them slightly, if needed, before plating. The meatballs were good, but I missed some ingredients like an egg, cooked minced onions, chopped parsley or dried oregano, but then if they were in the recipe, it would be with 9 ingredients. So leave it be and enjoy!

The Chocolate, Hazelnut and Banana Tartlets were enjoyable and so easy to make, using one of my all time favorite ingredients Nutella! Nutella is a spread like peanut butter, made with hazelnut paste and chocolate. It is nutty, chocolaty and mildly sweet, it’s just delicious and one of the best products that comes from Ferrero, the Italian makers of Ferrero Rocher chocolate truffles. In making the tart, first go out of your way to buy an all butter frozen puff pastry, sold in stores like Wegmans, Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. Common puff pastry sold in most supermarkets is made with vegetable oil or shortening that gives the pastry a waxy taste. After securing the puff pastry, it’s a home run, mix Nutella with Marscapone, place it in the tart shells, and top with the slice bananas.

The book is pretty with a nice color picture on the cover and with a dozen or so more inside. Pictures are always nice because it gives the cook a point of reference for how the finished dish should look. The recipes aren’t long and they are easy to follow: they should be with only 5 ingredients. The red and white front cover and the green text that appears on the rear cover hits the Italian note of patriotism: the same colors as the Italian flag!

Good Cooking likes this book and highly recommends it for easily bringing Italian cooking to your table. Ciao ItaliaMolto Bene!
Scallops and Fried Tomatoes, Cappesante e Pomodori Fritti, one of the Recipes tested---!

Serves 4
Beware when purchasing scallops, the best ones are diver or day boat scallops. Diver scallops are collected by hand by divers and they are the largest size-perfect for grilling. Day boat scallops are those that are harvested in a day rather than the traditional method of dredging for up to ten days at sea. Do not buy scallops that are water injected. You will pay for unnecessary weight due to the water, and water-injected scallops will never brown.

Sixteen large diver or day boat sea scallops
Fine sea salt
Fresh ground black pepper
1 cup stone-ground
2 large beefsteak tomatoes, thickly cut into
4 round slices
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons)
unsalted butter
1/2 cup dry white wine

Dry the scallops on paper towels. Transfer the scallops to a dish and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Season the cornmeal with salt and pepper. Place it on a plate, and coat each tomato slice on both sides with the mixture.
In a large saute pan, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium-high heat. Brown the tomato slices on both sides until nice and crusty. Transfer them to a dish and keep them warm.

Wipe out the saute pan. Melt 1 tablespoon of the remaining butter in the pan, and increase the heat to high. Sear the scallops on each side for about 2 minutes, or until they are nicely browned. Add the remaining butter, gently toss the scallops in the butter, and cook about 3 minutes, turning the scallops frequently. Pour in the wine, and cook for about 2 minutes, scraping up the bits from the bottom of the pan.
Stack 2 tomato slices in the center of each of 4 plates. Place 4 scallops on top of the tomato slices, and spoon some of the pan juices over them. Serve hot.

From Ciao Italia Five-Ingredient Favorites by Mary Ann Esposito. Copyright 2009 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press, LLC.