Italian cookbooks

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Verdura: Vegetables Italian Style

Viana La Place, Grub Street, £12.99

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Grub Street publishes an esoteric mix of books, from cookery to military aviation history. It also reprints books which have become kitchen shelf favourites but are no longer widely available.

‘Verdura’, first published in 1991 in the US, is one such classic to be given a new lease of life in a dense incarnation as a text-only edition, unadorned with imagery but reworded for the British market.

As the title suggests, this is a book about vegetables done the Italian way. The only time meat features is in recipes for stock.

La Place grew up in California but has dedicated her life to exploring Italian food. She has released numerous cookbooks, each of them united by cuisine and a pared-down approach to cookery. Her many trips to Italy, staying with relatives, inspired her to write this book celebrating the country’s appreciation of vegetables in all their variety and seasonal abundance.

When the book was first published, many of the vegetables featured were less commonplace than they are today; artichokes, fennel and rocket required more introduction.

Though such produce today seems less exotic, this book is still very relevant, especially with the burgeoning awareness that our diets are more meat-heavy than is healthy or environmentally sound. The recipes are largely straightforward and undemanding.

Chapters are split into courses, with one devoted to store-cupboard recipes. There’s also a page of menu ideas for various occasions and a glossary of ingredients.

Many of the recipes focus more on assembling ingredients than cooking them; if they are less than perfect, the resulting dish will not be as exciting. Tomato and peach salad is ambrosial if both components are lusciously ripe, but potentially disappointing otherwise.

The cauliflower salad recipe drenched with emulsified lemon dressing turned out piquant and creamy, enlivened by the addition of fresh parsley and peppery radish. Herby frittatas, cooked thinly to be served as crêpes, were complemented by a warmed ricotta stuffing and a garnish of hot olives.

Produce available in the UK has come a long way since Verdura was first published, and this charming book continues to show how to make the most of it.

Zoe Kamen, Time Out London Issue 2083: July 22-28 2010

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