Culinaria Italy: A Celebration of Food and Tradition, edited by Claudia Piras, features the diverse regional cuisine of Italy with hundreds of recipes and photographs throughout its 380 pages. In addition to the amazing food, this book also offers an in-depth look into the historical background of its people, local ingredients, and culture. Some well-known dishes (Bellini, Risotto all Milanese, Panna Cotta, Pesto alla Genovese, Lasagne al Forno, Spaghetti alla Carbonara, Tiramisu) are highlighted along with others that are lesser known such as Petto d’oda in Crescione (Goosebreast with Watercress), Cobelletti (Sweet Crust Tart), Cotechino in Galera (Stuffed Steak), Maritozzi (Raisin Buns), and Spezzatino di Maiale (Pork Goulash). The most recent edition was released on August 15, 2015. Check out my other Culinaria reviews: Culinaria Greece, Culinaria Hungary, and Culinaria Spain.
Claudia Piras is an editor, author, and translator. She studied philosophy and literature and currently lives in Munich, Germany.
Chapters are divided based on region: Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Veneto-Venezia, Trentino-Alto Adige, Lombardia, Valle d’Aosta, Piemonte, Liguria, Emilia-Romagna, Toscana, Umbria, Marche, Lazio-Roma, Abruzzo-Molise, Campania, Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria, Sicilia, and Sardegna.
As with the other books in the Culinaria series, I love the division of chapters based on region. You will learn about the products each area is famous for, the history, and fun facts. Friuli’s Trieste is known as the “town of many peoples” with influences from Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, and Croatia. You will get a glance at Carnevale customs in Venice and other holidays. While a part of Italy, the people of Valle d’Aosta are semi-autonomous and speak a Savoy dialect. Piedmont cuisine focuses on first class, flavorful ingredients as a base for simple, wholesome cooking. The Umbrian capital of Perugia is nicknamed the City of Chocolate and is home to the event, Eurochocolate. Romans started the tradition over 2,000 years ago of reserving cold food for home and venturing outside for a hot meal. The cuisine of Abruzzo and Molise is often seasoned with chili powder. Puglia is known as Italy’s breadbasket and has carefully irrigated plains that are home to durum wheat and a variety of vegetables. Calabria has access to both the Tyrrhenian and Ionian Seas. The Arabs introduced citrus to Sicilia between the 11th and 12th centuries. While Sardegna is surrounded by ocean, seafood did not become a part of Sardinian cuisine for a long time due to threats from invaders coming from the sea. Traditional, mountainous cuisine had more of an impact on the region.
A closer look at specialty ingredients such as cheeses (including the delicacy Casumarzu, the Sardinian maggot cheese); rice varieties; wine; cuts of beef, pork, and lamb; limunciel (limoncello); peperoncini; culinary festivals; ice cream; polenta; Grappa; and truffles are featured throughout the pages. Those new to working with seafood will benefit on the guides for picking out fresh fish plus step by step photos on preparing seafood such as squid, shrimp, lobster, spiny lobster, sea urchin, and spider crab. Visual guides are also included for the different types of panini, seafood, cheese and sausage varieties, pasta shapes, Tuscan breads, antipasti, lettuce, herbs, spices, tomatoes, pizza, melons, and citrus.
The striking photography is provided by Ruprecht Stempell. Photographs in a variety of sizes feature ingredients, people, and beautiful Italian scenery. Many of the recipes include a photo of the finished dish and a handful even have helpful step-by-step instructions.
Measurements for the recipes are provided in US Customary and Metric. The name of the dish is listed in Italian and English. The recipe index at the end of the book is divided in an easy-to-use manner according to course: Antipasti (Starters); Bread; Dolci (Sweet Desserts, Cakes, and Pastries); Drinks; Fish and Seafood; Fruit; Game; Meat; Pasta, Polenta, Dumplings & Co.; Poultry; Rice; Salads; Salsa, Sauces and Ragù; Soups and Stews; and Vegetables.
This book is a great choice for those who love Italian food or want to learn more about the background of the cuisine. There is a little something for everyone. Pasta lovers will enjoy the abundance of pasta and sauces from dried to homemade and even filled pastas such as Pansoti, Ravioli, or Tortellini Romagnoli. Cheese enthusiasts will learn all about local Italian cheeses. There are also plenty of seafood, meat, and recipes for vegetarians. Most of the ingredients will be easy to locate for the average American cook. A few will benefit with having access to a specialty cheese/deli shop and a seafood market. Some of the more difficult to locate ingredients include certain pasta shapes, corn schnapps, truffles, snails, and a few types of cheese. Recipes range from from the incredibly simple to the more impressive and complicated.
Strascinati con la Mollica, from Puglia, is a simply dressed pasta using a handful of pantry staples. The pasta is lightly tossed with toasted breadcrumbs seasoned with anchovies and olive oil.
Strascinati are pasta squares named after the process of dragging them over a grooved pasta board to create a rough side to each piece. You can also use orecchiette, dried or fresh.
Don’t skip the anchovies. The dish won’t taste overly fishy. They just add an extra depth of flavor to the otherwise plain breadcrumbs. Toast the breadcrumbs well, until a deep brown color, before tossing in the pasta.
If desired, top the finished pasta with a little fresh parsley.
I also made Scaloppine al Limone (Veal Cutlets with Lemon Sauce), Zabaione (Zabaglione), Pizza alla Parmigiana (Pizza with Parmesan), and Punch al Miele (Honey Punch).
Scaloppine al Limone is made by marinating thinly sliced veal cutlets in a lemon olive oil sauce, then lightly pan-frying. After cooking, the original marinade is cooked down into a sauce with a bit of butter. They were perfect paired with a salad for a light meal.
Zabaione is a frothy, custard-like dessert that is made my whisking together egg yolks and sugar, then seasoning with cinnamon, Marsala, and rum. It is cooked over a low heat until smooth and frothy. I served it in dessert glasses with fresh berries and a little grated chocolate. Zabaione is also delicious served with ladyfingers.
Pizza alla Parmigiana (Pizza with Parmesan) is one of the twelve pizza toppings listed to accompany the basic pizza dough recipe. I made the pizza dough, divided it into four pizzas and topped them with diced tomatoes, parmesan, ricotta cheese, and olive oil. The toppings paired perfectly with the crisp crust. My daughter in particular was a huge fan. Other toppings include Napoletana (Neapolitan), Cipolle (Onions), Margherita (Tomatoes, Mozzarella, and Basil), Aglio Olio e Peperoncino (Garlic, Oil, and Peperoncini), Prosciutto, Formaggi (Four Cheese), Rucola (Arugula), Salsiccia (Sausage), Calzone Ripieno al Forno (Folded Pizza), Vongole (Clams), and Cozze (Mussels).
The Punch al Miele (Honey Punch) from Basilicata was perfect for a cold winter’s day. Eggs are beaten until frothy, then mixed with honey, heated milk, and a little nutmeg. It was incredibly easy to make, but very warming. Honey lovers will also enjoy the Miele e Ricotta (Honey with Ricotta).
Disclaimer: I received this book from H. F. Ullmann Publishing in exchange for my honest review. All opinions and statements are my own.
Strascinati con la Mollica (Pasta with Breadcrumbs)
Adapted from Culinaria Italy: A Celebration of Food and Tradition
2 salted anchovies
14 ounces (400 grams) strascinati or orecchiette pasta
4-5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 1/2 cups (150 grams) breadcrumbs
Freshly ground black pepper
Wash the anchovies, scale them, then finely chop.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, just tender. Drain.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, drizzle olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped anchovies and the breadcrumbs. Season with pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the breadcrumbs are deeply toasted. Toss in the drained pasta until coated. Finish with a little more olive oil if desired.