Make it Italian . . . But how to achieve the genuine Italian flavor that we Americans love so much?
According to Nancy Verde Barr, author of the incomparable We Called It Macaroni, the secret lies in knowing one’s ingredients and how to cook with them; it is a birthright that is passed down through generations of Italian families. She learned by watching her grandmother, Nonna, and now, in this wonderfully instructive and warmhearted book, she translates that hands-on experience into a primer of techniques and tastes that will become our Nonna in the kitchen.
First she introduces us to the Italian cupboard -- essential ingredients that give Italian dishes their distinctive flavors. Then, for each category of food, she gives us a Primary Recipe, detailing the right cooking techniques, timing, seasoning, and finishing touches to achieve the perfect balance of taste and texture. Countless variations follow, enabling us to put into practice all we have learned.
For example, once we have mastered Penne and Marinara Sauce, we can confidently whip up Linguine with Tuna and Pea Sauce or Rigatoni with Eggplant Sauce or Ziti with Sausage and Peppers.
The perfect formula for making Veal Scaloppine with Lemon and Parsley invites us to use pork, chicken, or turkey, or to try rolled, stuffed, and breaded versions.
Fresh fish and seafoods are roasted, sautéed, steamed, or braised according to what is the best for each species. The detailed instructions for Roasted Whole Red Snapper can be applied to small stuffed sardines; the formula for Sautéed Tuna Steaks with Prosciutto and Tomatoes works beautifully for Sautéed Monkfish Medallions with Pancetta and Cream.
The same principle applies to vegetables, the glory of the Italian table. The right cooking techniques bring out the best in each seasonal offering, from Roasted Green Beans to Smothered Broccoli Rabe.
The desserts she gives us are her own favorites, homey and simple to make -- light Semolina Pudding, “cooked creams” like the classic Panna Cotta, tender sponge cake (and its reincarnation in her version of Tiramisù), some fruit delights, and the formula for crisp biscotti.
There are charts throughout to guide us in creating our own recipes out of the lessons we have learned.
For Nancy Verde Barr, Italian cooking is musical and diverse, and recipes should be inspirations, not inflexible instructions. Now, with the tools she has given us, we can confidently reproduce that genuine Italian flavor.
About Nancy Verde Barr
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Published November 1, 2002