Viola Buitoni grew up in the Umbrian countryside with a family that grew its own ingredients and prepared its own food. She now lives in San Francisco, not a bad food place itself, where she teaches and writes, including the inspiring cookbook, Italy by Ingredient. Having visited Umbria last year and tasted its flavorful food and wine, its clear what has inspired the author.
As the title suggests, this book is organized around Italy’s quintessential ingredients from balsamic vinegar to capers, polenta, parmigiano, cured meats, salt cod, and much more. Each ingredient’s discussion leads to dishes and recipes using it.
As I write this, it’s the end of summer on the East Coast, and the farmer’s market is full of flavorful tomatoes of every type. My mother used to preserve her farm-raised tomatoes in canning jars similar to the way shown by the author, and those tomatoes were the basis for dishes she prepared throughout the cold Wisconsin winter. While her cooking wasn’t nearly as sophisticated as Viola’s, the freshly preserved tomatoes made her dishes shine. If you don’t have the patience to can tomatoes the traditional way as presented in the book, use your freezer to preserve fresh passata, concentrato and polpa di pomodoro to use after the first autumn frost.
The best words to describe the recipes in this book are “inspiring” and “doable”. The dishes are creative and beautifully presented with photos by Molly Decoudreaux that jump off the page. And the recipes are straightforward (i.e., doable) with commonly found ingredients and methods that don’t require a degree from Le Cordon Bleu to master. Viola shows us how extremely appealing dishes can be made simply, if we have high quality ingredients.
Aside from conserving tomatoes, recipes that immediately catch my eye include rice and cabbage soup (minestra di riso e cavolo), lamb shoulder with green olives (spalla d’agnello alle olive verdi), panfried calf’s liver with balsamic vinegar (fegato di vitello al burro all’aceto balsamico), eggs in tomato pulp with feta, olives, and oregano (uova in forno alla polpa pomodoro), and baked calamari filled with bread and spicy Calabrian sausage (calamari ripieni di pane e ‘nduja al forno). Now, the fun part, selecting from the many outstanding Italian wines to go with each dish. If you want help with this, we’ve discussed food and wine pairing in our in-depth, International Wine Review reports on the wines of Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Friuli, Sicily, Umbria, Valpolicella, and the Piedmont. And, of course, don’t forget the many excellent sparkling wines from Prosecco to Franciacorta and Trentodoc.
In short, this is the Italian cookbook that you need. And your friends who love cooking wouldn’t mind receiving it as a gift either. The book is published by Rizzoli and can be ordered now.