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A Tuscan in the Kitchen: Recipes and Tales…
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A Tuscan in the Kitchen: Recipes and Tales from My Home

by Pino Luongo

Other authors: Angela Hederman (Author), Barbara Raives (Author)

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In one of the chapters of Anthony Bourdain's autobiographical book Kitchen Confidential, he references a book and chef/author that sounded familiar to me, A Tuscan in the Kitchen: Recipes and Tales from my Home by Pino Luongo. I checked my stack of books in my kitchen, and sure enough, there it was. I don't remember buying it or ever really looking at it very closely, but this book is an example of why I and many people I know have such a compulsion for accumulating books--we will pick up a particular book and inherently know that we will love it and that even if we don't read it immediately, some day, when the time is right, we'll get to it. Last week after finishing Bourdain's book, I felt lost without hearing his voice in my head--which often is what happens when I'm particularly taken with a strong narrative voice. I missed Bourdain's brash tone and wandered aimlessly through a book or two, searching for a narrative personality that could compete. I found it when I picked up Luongo's book, which I immediately read cover-to-cover, straight through.

"Um, Patricia," you're thinking, "isn't A Tuscan in the Kitchen a cookbook? ... You read a cookbook straight through?" Oh You! You're thinking that a cookbook shouldn't be read all at once, that there ought to be days, weeks, months even, that go by as one attempts the various recipes, right? P-shaw. At least I say P-shaw when it comes to this particular recipe collection. While A Tuscan in the Kitchen isn't your usual cookbook, it does have absolutely mouthwatering recipes that I will attempt; for example, the Frittata di Carciofi (Artichoke Frittata), the Petti di Pollo al Funghetto (Stuffed Breasts of Chicken wiht Mushroom Sauce), the Spaghetti al Filetto di Pomodoro (Spaghetti with Fresh Tomato Sauce), and the Spaghetti alla Maremmana, spaghetti with a sauce that combines Italian sausage, a variety of fresh mushrooms, eggplant and peas with freshly grated caciotta or pecorino cheese are all very enticing. One of the primary ways in which this recipe collection is different is Luongo's approach to cooking, which is to provide a list of ingredients separated into 3 catagories: Pantry, Cold-Storage, and Market, but the quantity of ingredients, for the most part, is left for the cook to determine. Luongo suggests that one start with an appropriately sized pot for the number of people who will be sharing the meal, and then to look to the name of the dish as an indication of which flavor(s) should dominate. He gives an idea as to how long a particular dish should cook and what the ultimate texture of the dish should be, but these are understood to be estimates, guidelines--everything is fluid, so-to-speak.

The book is co-authored with Barbara Raives and Angela Hederman, who admit to being a bit shocked by this approach, but when they questioned Pino, asking what they should do if they had cooked the sauce down too far, for example, Pino told them to add liquid. "What kind of liquid?" they asked, "Wine, Water? Broth?" Pino responded by saying "How can I answer that? What do you want to taste more of? It's a free country" (3). What's so nice about this is that it is a reminder, an encouragement of the basic philosophy for, not only cooking, but pretty much everything in life: here are the basic ingredients and some guidelines, you decide what to do with them. Sometimes it seems like we don't want to make an attempt unless we are certain of success, but more and more it seems to me that life's so much more fun when there are, at times, risks of failure. Too much of one flavor in the sauce this time? Adjust the dish next time.

Another charming aspect of this book is that interspersed amongst the recipes are Luongo's memories of Tuscany--stories of his family and of his heritage. What emgerges from these stories is the fact that many of the dishes are the result of taking the fairly prosaic ingredients that are available and learning how to use them to make them sing. Often this means there's no planning ahead, but instead one goes with what's fresh at the market and/or available in the area on any given day. There are also no elaborate presentations suggested by glossy depictions of the final dish, no building up of the various components to make a food tower and no squeeze-bottle dots or smears of sauces. The true art of the dish lies in the simplicity of the ingredients. In fact, none of the pictures in Luongo's book are really of finished dishes; rather, the pictures offered are either turn-of-the-century, grainy, homespun images of the region or sepia-toned pictures of the basics: bottles of olive oil, baskets of mushrooms, a country deli with the wares identified by hand-painted signs of wood or cardboard, all of which nicely reinforce the overall attitude of the book. This attitude is summed up by Luongo when he says, "You dont' need a prescription for cooking food; you're the person in charge. Don't be afraid to follow your feelings. Be flexible, be creative--abandon your inhibitions and have fun. When it looks good and feels right, you'll know it. Trust yourself-- ... One day you'll have the pleasure of making something so good you'll know it's a triumph that came from your imagination and not some rule or formula" (9). Sometimes when I look around me, it seems like many forms of communication exist to coerce me, subtly and overtly, to adhere to a formulaic life, one that includes a particular vehicle, a more advanced degree, a higher income, a spouse, a polarized political stance, an attitude of greed, a religious attitude sanctioned by a supposed majority, a cell phone, a spray tan, and the proper medication to allow me to accept to this formulaic existence. During these times that I can see how easily we can be led to believe in this prescriptive existence that ensures consistency (and conformity) in almost every aspect of our lives, Luongo's old-school, basic approach to cooking--and I would add to life-- becomes advice that is particularly refreshing and appealing to my palate. ( )
  patrisha | Jul 29, 2008 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Luongo, PinoAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hederman, AngelaAuthorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Raives, BarbaraAuthorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0517569167, Hardcover)

This exuberant, delightfully unconventional cookbook is a warm, personal collection of recipes and reminiscences of the author's native Tuscany and a guide to a spontaneous way of cooking based on good taste and common sense rather than rigid rules.

In A Tuscan in the Kitchen, Pino Luongo, the creator of New York's successful Il Cantinori restaurant, presents 140 of his favorite recipes, from soups and antipasti to salads and desserts. The recipes include such tempting dishes as trout with balsamic vinegar, peasant-style risotto made with sausage and peas, roasted quail with tarragon, spaghetti with sea bass sauce, radicchio and orange salad, and baked peaches stuffed with walnuts and chocolate. Interspersed throughout in a spirited narrative are tales of his adventures as well as stories of family celebrations and the local traditions of the people who live in Tuscany's dries, hill towns, and fishing ports.

Mr. Luongo shows us how to cook the Tuscan way, using a small repertoire of ingredients and a few basic techniques to create dishes that taste delicious and can be endlessly varied. The ingredients in each recipe are broken down into a three-part list: pantry staples, like olive oil, pasta, and canned plum tomatoes; cold storage items such as eggs, butter, and cheese; and a handful of market foods that need to be purchased fresh. In the recipes, he gives basic instructions and guidelines for making each dish but does not give exact quantities. For instance, a recipe for tagliatelle with fresh garden vegetables suggests a variety of vegetables and herbs; the cook decides how many and how much of each to use, according to taste. Mr. Luongo teaches us the kind of flexibility good cookshave always practiced and encourages us to create our own personal style of cooking -- and have a wonderful time in the kitchen, too.

Filled with warmth and an irrepressible enthusiasm for life's pleasures, A Tuscan in the Kitchen is an original and inspiring cookbook.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:27 -0400)

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