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Review: Make It Italian

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Make It Italian
By Nancy Verde Barr
ISBN: 0375402268
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Publication date: Nov. 2002
Format: Hardcover
List price: $29.95 (Canada, UK)
Type: Ethnic & Regional: Italian
Sample recipe: Linguine with Shrimp Sauce
intended audience: novice advanced beginner good home cook gourmet professional
apparent goal: stocking stuffer sampler coffee-table comprehensive biblical stature
competition: outclassed also-ran midrange strong challenger leads the pack
# of recipes: <50 <100 <200 <300 >300
practical recipes: <20% <40% <60% <80% >80%
# of ingredients: <3 <6 <9 <12 >12
ingredient hunt: 7-11 pantry supermarket online airfare required
recipe complexity: baby steps simple medium intense professional
instructions: inadequate bare bones full figured educational verbose
time conscious: outright lies speed of light fairly quick takes time takes all day
photos/drawings: skimpy decorative generous instructive glorious
recipe results: dorm food casual food family meals fancy food fit for royalty
flavor quotient: disappointing fair good delicious exceptional
layout: ick cluttered clean a pleasure work of art
legibility: microscopic challenging adequate clear brilliant
production quality: cheesy questionable average years of service gift-quality
value: ouch! a little pricey worth splurging on the money excellent
Ease of Use
page numbers: invisible hard to find spotty adequate obvious
table of contents: missing pointless frustrating fine helpful
index quality: none tragic adequate good excellent
page flipping: infuriating tedious acceptable rare never
writer: hack committee cook turned writer writer turned cook celebrity/auteur
cooking heritage: unknown self-taught non-restaurant chef celebrity
overall rating: fair good above average excellent Ochef Top 100
Comments: We can't imagine the challenge Nancy Verde Barr and her agent had convincing a major publisher to put out one more all-encompassing Italian cookbook. The field is packed, and almost without thinking you can rattle off a half-dozen names of authors whose books have been perennial best sellers — Hazan, Bugialli, Bastianich, Esposito, De' Medici, Caggiano, and that new kid Batali.

What Italian soil was Ms. Verde Barr going to till that the other authors have overlooked?

Her goal is to translate generations of Italian grandmothers' "pinch of this," "cook it until it looks right," and "that's enough" into a cookbook that anyone can use — teaching us through a book the tastes and techniques of Italian cooking that were always handed down from generation to generation in the kitchen. She want us eventually to rely on books and recipes less and less, and more on our own growing understanding of what constitutes Italian cooking.

Her book follows a model that Julia Child uses — presenting a master recipe and following it with related variations. (This may not be a surprise, as Verde Barr worked for Mrs. Child for years helping her prepare for various television programs.) The method is valuable and efficient, for if you can learn to sauté a veal cutlet, why can you not do the same if all you have in the refrigerator is a pork tenderloin or a package of chicken breasts? You can, and Verde Barr provides dozens and dozens of traditional variations related to other traditional dishes.

The book starts out with a section entitled, "Flavors that Say 'Italian,'" including a lengthy section on essential Italian ingredients and how to use them, and recipes for basic sauces and stocks. Recipe chapters include soup; pasta, pizza, risotto & polenta; meat & poultry; seafood; vegetables, frittatas & salads; and desserts. Each chapter or section also starts out with a substantial amount of text intended to bring you up speed on the cooking processes involved, the ingredients in question, or other pertinent facts. There are also charts throughout the book to show you how Italian cooks make best use of major ingredients — allowing you to skip the recipes entirely.

This is an Italian cookbook for people who are not put off by reading. There's a lot to read, but if you work your way through it, you will surely have a much better understanding of how to prepare Italian food.

The cookbook-printing trend of using different-colored inks for different sections of the recipes is fine, as long as each color is equally legible. We find a couple of the color choices reduce legibility a bit.

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