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Thursday 25 March 2010

Book Review: Easy Tasty Italian

Easy Tasty Italian, by Laura Santtini, came out at the end of last year. Claiming to have "its feet the supermarket and its head in the stars,” the book will, apparently, “transform your life in the kitchen.” Whilst these grandiose statements can come across as irritating and pretentious, there's no denying that the author is a talented cook and an eloquent writer.

Her passion for Italian cooking is obvious, and what comes through clearly is her enthusiasm for what she terms “the alchemy of cooking.” Although her recipes encourage readers to be creative and adapt the basic techniques she outlines to create their own signature dishes, this could be a tad overwhelming for anyone expecting a straightforward how-to. The book starts with a useful list of cooking equipment and the ingredients in a typical Italian larder, but if you're not familiar with all of these (and I wasn't), you'll be feeling out of your depth from early on. Despite the book having the word 'easy' in its title, for anyone not already accomplished in the kitchen, it's likely to end up as a seductive but ultimately decorative coffee-table book.

But, if you're already a whizz at whipping up masterpieces, then you're likely to love this. With a foreword by food historian Gillian Riley explaining the book's focus on “the pursuit of the amazing bursts of flavour that Italian cooks have been getting together since the beginning of time, and which have only recently been analysed and diagnosed as umami.” Throughout the recipes, Laura consistently returns to creating these 'flavour bombs,' and for the experienced culinary queen, this is where the gold is; the way to ramp up and transform a familiar dish by cleverly combining a few key ingredients and adding these to tired recipes that you've cooked up a million times before.

Although some of the puns (“Hey pesto!”) made me groan, on the whole I like Laura's writing style a lot. It's quirky and conversational, and maybe because many of the recipes seemed too complicated for the likes of me, I found myself enjoying the lavish photography and occasional anecdotes more than the instructions. My favourite story was this one: “My grandfather believed that if there was no visible action on the stove by the time he left the house at 6am, lunch was not worth coming home for. Wise to this excuse for a liquid lunch, grandmother rose early to fill a selection of pots and pans with water and the odd stick of celery, all of which would be bubbling with false promise by daybreak.”

Easy Tasty Italian is published by Quadrille and can be yours half price from Amazon for £10.

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