Book review by Kristina Sepetys
Author Viola Buitoni will appear at Taste of Italy at Rockridge Market Hall on October 14, 2023. Read more about the event here.
Italy by Ingredient: Artisanal Foods/Modern Recipes
By Viola Buitoni
Sit down with Viola Buitoni’s new cookbook, Italy by Ingredient, and you’re bound to learn a thing or two about Italian cooking. I was fascinated to read the life story of this San Francisco–based cooking instructor and food writer, who comes from an Italian family that mechanized pasta production and went on to produce Buitoni, a well-known and well-respected dried pasta brand, no small achievement in a country that consumes massive amounts of pasta. Another notable: Buitoni’s great-grandfather invested in a small candy shop that went on to become Perugina Chocolates, perhaps best known for their distinctive silver-and-blue foil–wrapped Baci.
Growing up in a milieu of such august food entrepreneurship, Buitoni had a ready-made destiny in food. The family lived in a 15th-century former convent in the Umbrian countryside surrounded by olive trees and extensive vegetable gardens. As she describes in her book, “Our lives moved to the clock of food.” Now living in the Bay Area, Buitoni has spent years sharing her deep love of food and extensive culinary experience by working as an instructor to home cooks and through classes and culinary trips to Italy.
Italy by Ingredient describes how to use basic Italian pantry staples in everyday cooking to produce flavorful dishes that are simple enough to be prepared on a weeknight and elegant enough to serve at a dinner party. The book is organized by ingredient with each chapter devoted to a single item, so you find chapters on Parmigiano Reggiano, polenta, farro, cured meats, balsamic vinegar, and many other familiar items. But oh, the things Buitoni tells us about them! She has us roasting pears with melted lardo (a type of salumi cured with rosemary and other herbs and spices) and finishing with hazelnuts and a few drops of traditional balsamic vinegar or making savory little diamond-shaped biscuits from Parmigiano Reggiano flavored with orange zest and smoked paprika. A simple pasta with butter and cheese is made irresistible with marjoram, lemon, a little aromatic cinnamon, and a healthy addition of good-quality Parmigiano Reggiano.
I particularly like the chapter on conserved tomatoes, and while it’s become easy enough to find those dense-fleshed San Marzanos in cans and jars, Buitoni gives us a recipe for preserving our own—tempting right now with all the sugar-sweet Early Girls still heaped in market bins. She also discusses passata, an uncooked tomato purée that’s strained of seeds and skins. Three good weeknight dinner recipes I’ll be trying before tomato season ends are the orange- and ginger-scented tomato soup with carrots and leek cream; the warm dish of eggs baked in tomato pulp with crumbled feta, black olives, and fresh oregano; and cod stewed in cherry tomatoes with sugar snap peas and clipped mint.
Most recipes are built around one high-quality, deeply flavorful ingredient with a few creative herbs and spices or other additions to elevate the dish, and none involve much more than a half dozen ingredients that may already sit in your pantry. For items you might not have, the author offers easy substitutions, like replacing caper leaves with capers.
Italy by Ingredient is filled with engaging, personal stories that come out of the author’s upbringing and lifetime of cooking with these ingredients along with her helpful insight and instruction honed through years as a cooking instructor. It’s a book to be read for enjoyment as well as for good cooking. If you’re like me, you’ll want to cook through all of the recipes.
Click here to reach these three recipes from Italy by Ingredient.