As an author and humorist, Reid Champagne is known for his absurd & sophomoric observations of everyday life. While the story of how Reid met wife Carol (after being widowed late in life) is so sweet it belongs on Hallmark, his family would argue his inept & smart-ass tendencies belong on a 2020 reboot of Grumpier Old Men.
Carol and I have been talking about our next train trip to Europe, and we’ve already agreed it would be Italy: Her to visit a friend in Tuscany, and me to continue my pursuit of the Best Lasagna in the World.
And so comes National Geographic Books’ Tasting Italy, A Culinary Journey, a gorgeously illustrated (no surprise there) volume that may have booksellers scratching their heads whether to display the book in their travel department or their cookbook section. (My suggestion: stack ‘em in both.)
As I perused the book (readers will note that “perusing” is about as close as I get to “research,” I could see at once how Tasting Italy is both setting my appetite and my antsiness to reprise last year’s solo trip through the country, only this time with Carol along to help me count calories. (We’re planning to count tons of them.)
Take the recipe for Tiramisu for example. I’ve made it with ladyfingers for crying out loud and it was great. The America’s Test Kitchen version (the popular cooking combine is responsible for truing out all one hundred recipes in the book) calls for a combination of dark rum, cocoa powder, grated semi-sweet chocolate, heavy cream (in addition to the mascarpone) along with strong brewed coffee AND espresso powder. According to the accompanying text, tiramisu is Italian for “pick me up.” It may also be a medical term for “adjust your pacemaker.”
Tasting Italy is neither a book for the faint of heart nor the diet-conscious. (I’ve already bookmarked my copy on the the page featuring Stuffed Veal Cutlets With Prosciutto and Fontina.) While a weak case might be made for balancing the recipes with a brisk walk through the countryside depicted in the book’s sumptuous landscape and architectural photography, you’re really only kidding yourself. The best approach is simply to stop thinking about your waistline and enjoy la dolce vita laid out before you in this mouth and eye watering tome.
In my next life, I’d like to be an Italian (a time and grout man, to be specific. I’d like to experience what it’s like to have a practical skill.) While I await that blessed event (and Carol is eyeing me darkly right now), I will content myself with the knowledge that I now have at my fingertips all the pleasures that Lucchese olive oil, Parmigiano Reggiano, peperoncini, pancetta and basil pesto can bring. And I will dream big, really big: Orecchiette with Sausage and Cream, Green Lasagna with Meat Sauce and Pasta with Bolognese Sauce.
Forty maps put the whole blessed hip boot of Italy at your doorstep as well, and it’s been a thrill to see that after nearly a month traveling through Italy, I’ve still seen almost nothing of it. Tasting Italy will occupy a cherished place alongside my other favorite Italian cookbook: The Mafia Cookbook by Joseph “Joe Dogs iannuzzi.
As Lidia Bastianich would say, “Tutti a tavola a mangiare!”
About Tasting Italy
• Hardcover: 384 pages
• Publisher: National Geographic (October 23, 2018)
The experts at America’s Test Kitchen and National Geographic bring Italy’s magnificent cuisine, culture, and landscapes–and 100 authentic regional recipes–right to your kitchen.
Featuring 100 innovative, kitchen-tested recipes, 300 gorgeous color photographs, and 30 maps, this illustrated guide takes you on a captivating journey through the rich history of Italian cuisine, region by region. Rich excerpts feature the origins of celebrated cheeses, the nuances of different wine growing regions, the best farmer’s markets in Venice, and more. Intriguing prose illuminates key ingredients, from olive oil and how it’s made to the various pasta shapes of Northern Italy. In every region, the food experts at America’s Test Kitchen bring it all home, with foolproof recipes for standout dishes as well as hidden gems: Piedmontese braised beef in lustrous red wine sauce, crispy-custardy chickpea flour farinata pancakes from Genoa (achieved without the specialty pan and wood-burning oven), and hand-formed rustic malloreddus pasta of Sardinia that is a breeze to make.
Purchase Tasting Italy here