Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Adventures of an Italian Food Lover

I will travel to Spain at the end of next month, with plans to visit numerous wineries and fine local restaurants. In the near future, I will visit Italy, with the same intentions, to seek out fine wine and food. When I do visit Italy, the book I have just read may be of special benefit. I do wish there had been a similar book for Spain as well.

Adventures of an Italian Food Lover: With Recipes from 254 of My Very Best Friends ($32.50) by Faith Heller Willinger is published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House. Adventures is a hardcover book with 256 pages. It is a combination of travel guide and cookbook, a fascinating mix which is sure to keep your interest.

The book is separated into three sections based on the geography of Italy, including Northern & Central Italy, Tuscany, and South Italy & the Islands. Each section contains descriptions of restaurants, wineries, food artisans and much more. After each specific description, there is a recipe derived from that place. There are over 100 recipes in this book.

As for the place descriptions, the author has travelled to all of the places she mentions. She fills each description with personal, insider information. You feel as if you are being let in on the secrets of Italy, the best and most interesting places to visit. The descriptions make for a fascinating read. Each description also contains detailed contact information. If you are traveling to Italy, you are sure to find places that you will want to visit.

You can read about Mauro Lorenzon, a sommelier skilled with using a saber to lop off the tops of sparkling wine bottles. Or a hotel bar in Venice where Walter Bolzonella creates superb Bellini cocktails. You might learn of Tuscan cheesemakers, Guido and Giulia Pinzani, who make San Gimignano, a saffron-flavored pecorino. Or even Armando Manni, maker of Italy's most expensive extra virgin olive oil. I learned of Bettina Rogosky who makes wines from Caberlot, a hybrid of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. And a brother/sister chocolate makers, Alessio and Cecilia Tessieri who specialize in single-country cru chocolate from Venezuela and other countries. There is so much more to read about, from gelato in Rome to a fish market in Catania.

What about the recipes? Generally these recipes range from easy to medium to prepare and most cooks should not have problems preparing most of the recipes. A few of the recipes do call for more specialized ingredients but the book provides information on acquiring such ingredients. The recipe are generally easy to understand. I have found a number of recipes that I would definitely like to try. These include such dishes as the Sweet and Sour Chicken Bites, Fusilli with Chicken Bone Sauce, Chianti "Tuna" Pork, Tuscan Brownies, Smoked Mozzarella Cutlets, and Lucia's Walnut Cake. There are recipes that should appeal to a wide audience, from appetizers to desserts.

The author's sister, Suzanne Heller, has illustrated the cookbook with her watercolors. Though these watercolors are very nice, none of them depict any of the recipes in the book. And that is the book's only failing, a lack of pictures or photographs of the recipes. Most readers seem to want at least some pictures/photographs in a cookbook, especially of the more complex recipes. That will keep some from buying this book.

I still recommend Adventures though. It is interesting to read, would be excellent for those traveling to Italy, and has some intriguing recipes as well. I certainly would like to see more travel/cookbooks like this for other countries.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this cookbook from Random House. I was not under any obligation to actually review it. And if I did review it, I was under no obligation to say anything specific about this book. Everything was solely at my discretion.

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