Book Review: Lidia’s Commonsense Italian Cooking

Lidia’s Commonsense Italian Cooking:  150 Delicious And Simple Dishes That Anyone Can Cook, by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and Tanya Bastianich Manuali

Even when one reads cookbooks that offer a lot of recipes that one cannot or will not eat for whatever reason [1], there are usually at least a few recipes that are of great use, and such is the case here.  It is clear that this author, who has written several other books on Italian cooking that she references here (some of which hopefully include the foods that I prefer eating but were not included here [2]) desires to aim at a wide audience of people who enjoy Italian food, or at least what they know of it, may not necessarily be skilled cooks or chefs themselves, and who are not all that knowledgeable about the geography and the rich diversity within Italian culture.  Those of us who know our own culture well realize that nations have regions with very distinctive cultures and culinary traditions, and such is the case for the author, who happens to be from the area of Friuli, between Venice and Slavic Istria (part of Slovenia and Croatia).  This specific geography has a lot of importance because the author’s frame of reference when it comes to Italian food is not the Italian food that most people would be familiar with, but a type of Italian food that has a lot of connection to the area on the north shore of the Adriatic Sea, with its own unique history and traditions.

The 150 recipes of this book are divided into several sections that roughly follow the courses of an Italian meal.  With a tolerable amount of overlap between sections, the book opens with appetizers, including a large number of very simple dishes including eggs and olives and cheese and fish.  In fact, one thing that could be noted about this book is that relative to the Italian food that most of us are most comfortable eating, these dishes include a lot more seafood–shrimp and anchovies and the like–than most people are used to or wish to eat.  If you like the idea of Italian seafood, this book is for you. If that  thought leaves you feeling cold like a dead fish, this may not be the book for you.  After the discussion of appetizers is a section on salads, some of which sound highly tasty, like the fennel and gargonzola salad or the carrot and apple salad.  What can I say?  I like salads.  After this comes soups, ranging from chicken stock to fava bean soup with dried figs.  A short section of sauces follows before the author discusses vegetables and sides, and then moves on to pastas, polenta, and risottos.  The author spends more time talking about risottos and the technique for making it than I have ever spent in eating that food, it must be admitted.  Two lengthy sections on fish and meat dishes follow (meat here is defined broadly to include chicken, veal, beef, lamb, and a lot of pork).  Of particular interest here for me personally was a lemon guinea hen dish which sounds amazing.  As I am a fan of eating odd poultry [3], this should not be a surprise.  The book closes with a brief discussion of desserts and the fact that Italians do not apparently eat the sort of complex desserts that Americans are most fond of.

What would have made this book better?  Speaking as someone of rather picky tastes for reasons of health, allergies, general fussiness, as well as religious prohibitions, I found the foods included here to be mostly of a kind not suited to my own particular palette.  That said, even where a food may not meet my own standards for good taste, there is definitely something to be said for seeing how regional cooking of a kind obscure for most readers is interpreted by someone who seeks to balance contemporary tastes in eating with traditional recipes and habits and patterns.  This balance is a fascinating one to watch even where one has little interest in partaking.  Even so, this particular book manages to provide at least a few dishes that I am willing to happily eat and some that I am even willing to cook, and given that I can hardly be too hard on such a book.  It met my expectations, even if I was disappointed that it did not include some of the Italian dishes I am most fond of, which ought to remind me perhaps that the cuisine of Friulia is perhaps not my favorite among the many cuisines of Italy.  And that is hardly a bad thing, given that there is so much Italian food that is easy to enjoy.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

[3] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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4 Responses to Book Review: Lidia’s Commonsense Italian Cooking

  1. Pingback: Book Review: The Artisan Jewish Deli At Home | Edge Induced Cohesion

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