Congratulations to the winner of our Cookbook Giveaway – Amy Hunsberger! Courtesy of Chronicle Books and Colman Andrews, Amy will receive an autographed copy of The Country Cooking of Italy. Thanks to everyone for your fabulous comments!
I wonder if Colman Andrews, the internationally acclaimed food, wine and travel writer, ever gets tired of the long C.V. with his introduction. Founder of Saveur magazine in 1994 and editor-in-chief from 2001-2006, restaurant columnist for Gourmet, author of eight cookbooks and co-author of three others, recipient of EIGHT James Beard Awards, now the Editorial Director of the The Daily Meal and he’s such an expert in Catalan cuisine that he was awarded the Creu de Sant Jordi which is the highest civil honor granted by the government of Catalonia. Plus this doesn’t include his music and entertainment industry work in the ‘70’s nor his wine and architecture publications in the ‘80’s. Yeah, I’m thinking he doesn’t tire of this at all, nor should he…and to top it all off, he’s a really nice guy.
I had the great pleasure of speaking with Colman over coffee about The Country Cooking of Italy, his collection of 230 recipes from 40 years of travel to and living in Italy. It’s a stunning book, a big book; more than a cookbook – and for me, it’s part reference book and part travel guide. The spectacular photography by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton transport you to Italy as you absorb the words and images. Not only will you be inspired to cook so many of these fabulous dishes, you’ll be Googling the towns and villages to see where they’re located.
Filled with food history and recipe narrative, Colman said about the book, “There are some very familiar dishes that I tried to give the real version of, that may not be well-known and then there’s a lot of obscure stuff and since it’s country cooking I was able to stay away from obvious urban dishes.” You won’t find the standards in this book, but what you will find are authentic recipes like Goat with White Beans from Liguria, Rabbit and Potato Casserole from Tuscany and Scapece di Vasto, fried fish which is then preserved in vinegar from Abruzzo in addition to offal and game preparations. As Mario Batali writes in the Foreward of the book, “It certainly isn’t tourist fare”.
We spoke a bit about authenticity and the genuineness of the recipes. Colman said, “What may be authentic to someone else is not authentic if we try to recreate it. A big example I use is original Genovese ravioli. The meat stuffing included spinal marrow, brains, a couple of other animal parts and ground up udder. If we want to make authentic Genovese ravioli do we go out and find all those things, which are probably illegal to sell, or even if they’re not you have to go through this big production of finding them. It may be authentic in the recipe but violates the spirit of it which is this is the junk that they threw away, let’s grind it up and put it inside the ravioli. What’s more authentic-to make the ravioli with ground turkey because that’s what you have left over?”
The recipes come from all over Italy and I asked Colman what his favorite region is. “Emiglia Romagna is richest in terms of food. So much of what we think of Italian food comes from there or is made best there. Other than that, I really like Rome, I’ve always liked Rome…a lot.” Agreed! And wine? “I think probably for red wine, Tuscany; I like Piemontese wines, Southern wines I’m beginning to like, but overall Tuscany for red and Friuli for white.” He also loves Soave and Garganega and mentioned an interesting fact (at least to me) – each of the 20 administrative regions of Italy produces wine.
And his favorite recipe in the book? “One of the ones that’s so unusual is Ripiddu Nivicatu which is Sicilian dialect. Ripiddu is like volcanic slag and nivicatu means snow-covered. So it’s a black risotto made with cuttlefish ink, tomato sauce on top and then ricotta …which is very unusual to have cheese with seafood. It’s a crazy recipe,” he said, “but so good”.
This gorgeous book might seem a bit intimidating for the not very experienced cook since there are recipes you might never have heard of, but do not be deterred. A few pages encompass notes on terminology and ingredients and the recipes are in US and metric measurements. Online sources are listed if some of the ingredients aren’t available in your local market.
Colman spoke about how cooking isn’t a science and how you can in fact develop a feeling for cooking. The more you cook, the more skill you develop in the kitchen – and he says, “You don’t need to put a timer on to know when the onions are soft. You look at them, you smell them, you can even hear them.” And like most Italian cooks, he doesn’t measure olive oil (and never has) and notes that Italian cookbook recipes often include “q.b.” which means “quanto basta” and translates to “enough”. Thankfully he doesn’t use q.b. in The Country Cooking of Italy but the recipes leave room for some cooking individuality…if you have an extra ¼ of an onion, use it.
I keep this book on my coffee table because it’s that nice, and I’ve bookmarked quite a number of recipes. Since winter is here, I’ve been thinking a lot about soup, the ultimate “poor” food as noted in the book. There are several hearty soup recipes and since I had some Borlotti beans from Arthur Avenue in the pantry, I decided to make Sguazabarbuz, a bean and pasta soup from Ferrara which means “beard (or chin) splasher in Ferrarese dialect. A great choice as it was easy to prepare, really wonderful tasting and made plenty so my freezer is now stocked with comforting bean soup.
I’m also partial to the simple Lemon Risotto recipe which comes from Lake Garda and quite taken with Lamb with Olives and Artichokes from Liguria. Pasta is divided in two chapters, fresh pasta and store-bought dried pasta, with intriguing sauces and fillings along with notes on how to properly cook and dress pasta.
But more than just recipes, the book is full of lore, background and food history along with Colman’s storytelling of the people he’s met and the places he’s visited throughout the years. It was a real treat for me to sit down with Colman to talk about this incredibly well researched book and his travels through Italy.
And yes, thanks to Colman and Google I’ve just added a few new places to visit on my next trip to Italy.
I’m not just enthusiastic about travel—I live travel, each and every day. From plotting out my clients’ next great escape, to logging airmiles on my own adventures (I always have a suitcase packed and at the ready!), travel drives me in everything I do.
I’ve learned a few things along the way, and I’d love to share them with you. Learn a bit more about my journey to founding my own travel agency—it involves quite a few glasses of Italian wine!
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