Friday, April 16, 2010

Making book

When you share a house with 600 cookbooks, it is not uncommon to be asked for recommendations. Christmas is the high season, of course, but birthdays and even anniversaries have gained some momentum, which likely says more about the crowd I run with than any book buying trend, regional or otherwise.

You did not ask, I know. But... Well... Hm...

Okay, I got it. Patriots' Day. Coming up Monday. Best get your honey ("homey," you say; that works too, I guess) a good book to curl up with. (AccuWeather puts the low for the day around 37 here in Portland; I'm just sayin'.)

The tome I'm so hot to pimp here is Giorgio Locatelli's "Made in Italy, Food & Stories" (Ecco, $60). It's just a really good book that you gotta check out.

It's a freaking joy is what it is -- and I mean to read.

Fact, if all you're looking for in a Patriots' Day gift (Growing on you yet? No, me neither, give it time, might catch on.) is recipes, then it might be best to move along. Locatelli's recipes are top notch, don't get me wrong; I've prepared many, and with great success (the classic risottto alla lodigiana was perfection). And there are plenty of recipes, from antipasti to dolce, to explore. Here's the man himself, by the way, making tortellini (we are nothing if not a multimedia shill operation here).

But the big reason I so shamelessly promote these 620-plus pages of pulp is what happens in between the recipes. As the title suggests, Locatelli offers colorful stories, of growing up in Italy, becoming a chef, and all that. But his true mission is to explain, to teach. And in fulfilling this calling he is at once thorough, patient, fiercely intelligent, inquisitive and, yes, loving.

Before making the risottto alla lodigiana (basically just rice with butter and cheese; go figure), I spent the better part of an afternoon reading Locatelli's thoughts on the various types of riso I might consider using (superfino carnaroli in this case); stocks (chicken here) and how they help determine a dish's outcome; cooking techniques (there are many steps to making a great risotto, each one important); even a four-page treatise on the parmesan cheese that's stirred into and shaved on top of the dish.

The risotto, with veal breast.

The pasta section is similarly exhaustive. Before getting to the first recipe, spaghetti al crudo, there are more than twenty pages of damned good reading on such topics as how milling flour impacts pasta quality to when to add salt to your pasta water and why. And that's not including the ten or so pages of smart instruction in making fresh egg pasta.

Locatelli is based in London, where he owns the restaurant Locanda Locatelli I've never been, and a trip to London anytime soon isn't likely. Too bad. He's one of the chefs I'd really like to chow down with.

The book will just have to do.

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