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Poco Pane, Poco Vino: a little bread, a little wine

Stories and art by Gina Gigli Recipes by Ruggero Gigli

Villa Gigli Presswww.villagigli.com

 poco-pane

After I returned from a recent vacation in Italy a friend pressed this book upon me requesting that I review it for the journal he owns, writes, edits, and manages. Cynicism and skepticism in full flower after having savored the wonderful ingredients and cuisine in Italy, I read the book as an obligation to a friend. Now I owe him a favor for having introduced me to such a great book.

After reading the book in full and being charmed by its every aspect: art, stories and recipes, I tried some of the recipes. Man is endowed with five senses: sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing. This book is a delight for the eyes to behold just for its wonderful drawings. The recipes and text conjure the wonderful aromas one could expect from the tales told, ingredients described and directions given. When cooked, the recipes enchant the nose. The recipes, when tasted, delight the tongue. But perhaps best for the senses and the heart, is eating these foods with others and hearing the appreciative comments of those with whom you share them.

As I understand the Italian approach to food it is something to be enjoyed and shared, not something which tries to attain the perfected essence of any product or ingredient. The point in using wonderful ingredients to their advantage and yours is not to change them. Gigli succeeds, in my opinion, in getting at the philosophy of the Italian table. A plus is that you do not have to shop at markets in Tuscany to achieve those goals.

Mr. Gigli’s recipes use Californian and American ingredients that are readily available. It means, quite simply, that these wonderful recipes can be made without ordering exotic ingredients from far away places at great expense. Sonoma Jack Cheese is recommended, not some hard to find expensive cheese. The wines paired are Californian varieties. California extra virgin olive oil is recommended where appropriate. Produce available in California shops and elsewhere in the United States is included in the recipes.

You do not have to go out and hunt for tagliatelle in some store or pasta shop. There are simple directions for making it at home. And, if it does not work out as as quite well as if you had done it in a restaurant in Bologna or Florence a thousand times, "no problem"--you have just learned how to do it yourself. However, you could also follow the author’s suggestions and buy the "fresh" pasta at your local supermarket. In either event you will enjoy the recipe produced.

Serious and beginning cooks with an interest in making good Italian food can use this book to advantage. I especially like the way the book can be used as a guide for the fundamentals of Italian cooking. Techniques for baking your own bread, toasting crostini, making your own fresh pasta, preparing the sautéed vegetables to go into the soup or stew are all laid out for you to do by the authors. More sophisticated preparations, which combine these and other recipes, are also in the book. The most important lesson is cook and eat well.

As a good friend with some experience with cookbooks said, "The recipes are each on a single page." For any cook that is a great benefit. You just know that was a conscious choice of the authors. This is another way that the book makes it easy for you to make and enjoy great food.

Poco Pane leaves one envious and joyful that this husband and wife have worked together to craft this book with such style. Here is hoping there is more to come.

 

--Reviewer Mike Petersen is an attorney employed at the state capitol who travels whenever he can to try new foods and wines in California and Europe. He especially enjoys cooking and eating Italian, Spanish, French, German and other dishes that he has sampled with the locals here and abroad. Mike is a founder and chair of Mr. P’s Wine Club, a no-load wine club whose members love trying new wines and foods. He also searches for Chicago-style, kosher hot dogs wherever he may be.

The Eclectic Gourmet Guide to Los Angeles, 3rd EditionBy Colleen Dunn Bates

Menasha Ridge Press

ISBN 978-0897322973 www.globe-pequot.com

$12.95

the eclectic gourmet-guide to LA 

California is thought of as the state where seemingly few people are natives. People in California want to enjoy a taste of home, which could be almost anywhere else and probably is. The climate and the work of California farmers produce so many foods that all sorts of plain and exotic foods are available. What is not grown can become available through commerce. Los Angeles with its vast population and numberless restaurants is a great place to taste this treasure trove of food and drink.

Over 15 years ago I came to Los Angeles from Chicago to visit a couple of friends who are Chicago transplants living in Pasadena, a Los Angeles suburb. A few years later I moved to the Pasadena area. Now once again I go to Los Angeles as a visitor. Having dealt with trying to find good restaurants and being limited by the morass that is Los Angeles area traffic I can recommend this book.

Finding the right restaurant in LA can be a daunting task for a resident let alone a frequent visitor or the first time tourist. As Ms. Bates observes, LA offers myriad styles from all over the world—from American diner food to Shanghai-styled Chinese. In what other city can you find a restaurant with Korean flank steak and a selection of tapas?

Ms. Bates has written a guide that displays and encyclopedic knowledge of what is available in LA and where and how you can find it. She makes keen observations and easily appreciated comments about the best dishes and wines. Her wit shines through in asides such as describing the ambience of one place as "Mafia meets your packrat Aunt Mildred . . .," presumably with no offense meant to capos, aunties or the rats.

The author identifies restaurants by name, cuisine, star, price, quality, service, friendliness and value ratings and zone. Areas of Los Angeles and Orange Counties are divided into zones, which are listed in the text and shown on an included map. Each reviewed restaurant’s hours, reservation policy, credit card acceptance, dress, phone and address are listed. Separate lists allow searching by cuisine or zone. With all of that very useful information given you are missing only a companion to dine with and a driver to get you there.

Imagine wanting a steak or a burger or a taco or Sino-Italian food and being able to find them and have a knowledgeable person to tell you how good they will be and how much they would cost. This is a useful book that should help many people make sense of eating well in LA and environs.

 

--Reviewer Mike Petersen is an attorney employed at the state capitol who travels whenever he can to try new foods and wines in California and Europe. He especially enjoys cooking and eating Italian, Spanish, French, German and other dishes that he has sampled with the locals here and abroad. Mike is a founder and chair of Mr. P’s Wine Club, a no-load wine club whose members love trying new wines and foods. He also searches for Chicago-style, kosher hot dogs wherever he may be.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012 17:12

The Fire Never Dies

The Fire Never DiesOne Man's Raucous Romp Down the Road of Food, Passion and Adventure Richard Sterling

Travelers' TalesSan Francisco, 2001

ISBN 978-1885211705285 pages $14.95

The Fire Never Dies 

The Library of Congress summarizes this book as about anecdotes concerning food and travel. OK, but is it? The title teases us. What is that fire? Is it hungering for food? Or is it another primal need? The cover art shows an Asian woman dressed in a red dress that barely holds in her bosom sitting at a table with some plates of food. It is the sort of book cover (and book) that a junior high school boy would have had to sneak into his room to read. The book's cover still caused many people to question a bald guy in his fifties about the book.

Without telling the "best" parts, what is in the book? This book is a collection of essays about Richard Sterling's adventures from military service in Vietnam to a millennial new year's celebration in a remote village in Baja California and covers a lot of places and activities in between. There are mentions and short discussions of food and even some of cooking in the book, but that does not seem to be what the book is about in chief.

The author includes an essay about eating large insects in a restaurant in Cambodia where the only other diners or customers are a French couple. Sterling tells us about the preparation of the local specialty a large insect. However, this story, as it develops, seems not about the food so much as about the showdown between the author and the Frenchman. Will the effete Frenchman eat the insects since his wife apparently finds eating bugs disgusting?

Another story is about feeding rescued Vietnamese who fled their country in April 1975. The Vietnamese, although hungry, would not eat American beef stew provided by the crew of a U.S. Navy ship. Fortunately, someone decides that Vietnamese might prefer rice. At least in this story Sterling gives us some interesting thoughts about how familiar foods are important to our sense of self and home. They are all the more important in times of stress. Consider the reports of increased comfort foods consumption by Americans after the 9-11 slaughter.

But it appears to me that the real focus of the essays in this book is something else. One story is about the specialized male entertainment venues that existed around and near U.S. military installations in the Philippines. I missed the military and the Philippines. Sportsmen and servicemen I know who have been to the Philippines indicate that these entertainment places did exist. The reports by Sterling more than likely are accurate, given their consistency with other stories. But how is this about food or adventure? It seems pretty well known world you could encounter there. The armed services had films about that at least a generation before.

On a ship between Philippines and Vietnam the author has a strange encounter with the woman who is the barber on that ship. In still another essay some locals in Baja help the author and his friends when one of their four-wheel drive vehicles breaks down hundreds of miles from spare parts and mechanics. Sterling drinks beer with the natives in various mostly tropical locales.

Sterling's stories entertain some times, and at other times infuriate. Presumably for most of us, Sterling tells about places and activities that we will not experience. However, the focus of this publication is wine and food. All things considered, that does not appear to be the focus of this collection of essays.

 

--Reviewer Mike Petersen is an attorney employed at the state capitol who travels whenever he can to try new foods and wines in California and Europe. He especially enjoys cooking and eating Italian, Spanish, French, German and other dishes that he has sampled with the locals here and abroad. Mike is a founder and chair of Mr. P’s Wine Club, a no-load wine club whose members love trying new wines and foods. He also searches for Chicago-style, kosher hot dogs wherever he may be.

Friday, 20 April 2012 13:25

Feast, A History of Grand Eating

Feast, A History of Grand Eating

by Sir Roy Strong

 

Harcourt Books

ISBN # 0-15-100758-6

349 pages, hardbound. $35.

 

 

feastWhen most of the world was just eating to survive, some really were eating in grand style.

In Feast, A History of Grand Eating, Roy Strong traces the eating habits of mankind's powerful privileged. The journey runs from the time of Ancient Greece to the early Twentieth Century. The author's treatment is scholarly and thorough.

Strong avoids hewing too strictly to a chronological exposition, but weaves several themes into the timeline. Today the instant celebrity of every television chef means an automatic book contract, but the first cookbook dates to the late Fourth or early Fifth Century.. The Roman Empire inherited an appreciation of cuisine from the Greeks and Etruscans and Apicus included 170 recipes of this legacy in what is presumed to be the first cookbook, De re coquinaria. Much later, collections of the culinary efforts of Careme and Escoffier influenced the evolution of cuisine in the western world.

Social stratification was reflected in—and influenced by—the ritualization of early-day banqueting. Those throwing the parties frequently spoke of the egalitarian nature of their feasts, but seating arrangements and amount and quality of food provided often belied their pronouncements.

Grand eating influenced furniture design as seating arrangements evolved to allow for greater comfort of the diners and greater aggrandizement of the hosts and their most favored guests. Architecture was changed as builders created space for permanent rooms devoted just to the activity of eating. An early consideration was the placement of all dining rooms facing west to catch the ambient light for late afternoon dining. As gas—and later, electrical—illumination of homes became available, dinner hour moved later into the evening.

For readers without a love for food it might be too detailed and a bit slow moving. However, those with professional or avocational interest in cuisine will likely find it fascinating.

 

Editor'a note: Roy Strong, a former director of both the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum, lives in Herefordshire. He received a knighthood in 1982.

 

--reviewed by Dan Clarke