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The Gaza Kitchen

30 Apr

GK_2ndPrt__94234.1360079498.826.1280It was with an open mind and a touch of sadness that I read the riveting, and sometimes provocative, new cookbook, The Gaza Kitchen, written by Laila El-Haddad and Maggie Schmitt. I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. El-Haddad at her book party launch last month in New York at the sublime restaurant ilili – whose Lebanese cuisine is a distant cousin to the flavors, aromas, and politics found in the Gazan kitchen. Ms. El-Haddad, who is a social activist, blogger and author of Gaza Mom: Palestine, Politics, Parenting, and Everything In Between, felt like an old friend. After all, there was a time, long ago, when it was possible for Jews to have Palestinian friendships in the Old City of Jerusalem and share meals, and the culinary history, which has existed between us for thousands of years. Now there is a wall, both literal and metaphoric, that shields us from the realities of everyday existence in Gaza, where home kitchens are prey to the exigencies of conflict and deprivation: sporadic electricity, unaffordable ingredients that were once kitchen staples, and the rationing of food and fuel.

While I know the food of Israel well, having served as the unofficial spokesperson for Israel’s food and wine industry for years, and also as one of a delegation of “Four Women Chefs for Peace” on a culinary mission to Israel in 1996, I was fascinated to learn about the cuisine of Gaza, a tiny strip of land (25 miles long and 2-1/2 to 5 miles wide) sandwiched between the desert and the sea. What immediately jumped out was the presence of fresh dill and dried dill seed, the use of fiery hot chilies, and a totally new ingredient to me “red tahina.”

Red tahina, made from roasted sesame seeds, is to Gaza what pesto is to Genoa. It is virtually impossible to get it anywhere and I have asked a friend from Israel to try to find some and bring it to me when she comes to New York at the end of the month. How to use it if you can’t find it? The authors suggest adding a bit of dark sesame oil to the more familiar blond tahina to approximate the taste in several of the book’s recipes.

The cuisine of Gaza is Palestinian (home to 2 million people) “with its own sense of regional diversity,” according to author and historian, Nancy Harmon Jenkins, who wrote the forward to the book. In Gaza, she points out, stuffed grape leaves are uniquely flavored with allspice, cardamom, nutmeg and black pepper, and that chopped chilies, both red and green, and verdant fresh dill make Gazan falafel both personal and unusual.

Food there, no less than here, is a passionate subject. The cooks at home are always women while the cooks in restaurants and outdoor stalls are always men. But it is the zibdiya that unites them in the preparation of their lusty cuisine. According to the authors, “a zibdiya is the most precious kitchen item in every household in Gaza, rich or poor.” It is simply a heavy unglazed clay bowl accompanied by a lemonwood pestle used for mashing, crushing, pounding and grinding. Made from the rich red clay of Gaza, in larger forms they are also used as cooking vessels.

Their cuisine may lie at the intersection of history, geography and economy, but in The Gaza Kitchen, one is made acutely aware of how geo-political struggles find themselves revealed in a single dish. It’s hard not to swoon over the description of the “signature” dish of Gaza called sumagiyya, a sumac-enhanced meat stew cooked with green chard, chickpeas, dill, chilies, and red tahina, or not to be curious about fattit ajir, a spicy roasted watermelon salad tossed with tomatoes, torn bits of tasted Arab bread, and a lashing of hot chilies and yes, fresh dill. It is a repertoire of dishes that feel like a secret…but no longer.

Now only if there was a recipe for peace. One can always hope.

Cookbook Nirvana

17 Jan

conferenceNirvana – a place of bliss – is my word for a cookbook conference taking place in New York City next month.  If you are a lover of cookbooks, like I am — a writer, or simply an avid user — this may be just the weekend for you.   The conference promises a tantalizing array of panels (from “Give Us This Bread: Christianity in Cookbooks;”  “In the Night Kitchen: Why Write Cookbooks for Kids;” Trendspotting in the Food Space;” to “Publishers and Food Bloggers — Creating a Productive Partnership”); distinguished guests (Amanda Hesser, Arthur Schwartz, Molly O’Neill, Mollie Katzen), and illuminating workshops (from “The Wild World of Self Publishing” to “The Way to Look: How To Do Research with Cookbooks”), all under one roof at the Roger Smith Hotel on Lexington Avenue.   And if that is not enough to whet one’s appetite, I’m told that the food served at last year’s conference, thanks to chef Daniel Mowles, was very good indeed.

But cookbook aficionados do not live by food alone and judging by the erudition of this year’s panelists, the real sustenance is about ideas, culinary history, process, and politics.

According to the conference organizers the event is an “eclectic gathering of those who publish, write, edit, agent, research, or simply buy and use cookbooks.”  In other words, there is something for everyone — even collectors, who might enjoy a panel entitled “Cookbooks as Works of Art.”

Andrew Smith, the conference founder, charmingly takes “credit (or blame),” for launching the idea last year.  He teaches food history and professional food writing at the New School for Social Research in New York, and is the author and/or editor of 23 books.  His latest works include American Tuna: The Rise and Fall of an Improbable Food, and Drinking History: 15 Turning Points in the Making of American Beverages.   And while he has never published an actual cookbook, Professor Smith uses them constantly in his own research and wanted to explore the vicissitudes of the field.  Because “cookbook publishing is changing so rapidly – self-publishing, printing on demand, blogging, online cookbooks, websites filled with recipes, and culinary apps,” Mr. Smith said that he didn’t understand what was underway – or where the genre was headed.  After talking with many cookbook writers and publishers, he concluded that no one else did either, “although many had insights and opinions.”   After last year’s triumphant conference, Mr. Smith felt his teaching and research methods had improved simply by attending the event and feeding off the vast culinary brain trust that had gathered.

To find out more about the conference, go to www.cookbookconf.com and save a place for yourself!  You’ll find me in the “Night Kitchen” – talking about the challenges of researching, writing and publishing books for children with moderator Laura Shapiro – one of the finest minds in the culinary world.

Why does this conference matter?  After all, we seem to have shifted from a cooking society to an eating society, so is there any real point to the annual tsunami of cookbooks being published?  My answer is without a doubt.  We are a nation obsessed with food, but the rules of the game are changing.

Cooking Light Bonanza

27 Oct

This month’s double anniversary issue of Cooking Light magazine (November 2012) looked good enough to eat.  The headlines, scattered all over the chocolate-hued cover, were obviously meant to delight.  “The Best Fast Meals Ever,” “Best Recipes of Our First 25 Years,” “The Most Delicious Desserts” and more.  Hard not to fall in love. I write a column for Cooking Light called Radically Simple and in this edition are three stunning starters meant expressly for your Thanksgiving table.  There’s a tri-colore salad (endive, watercress, radicchio) with an addictive bacon-cider-maple dressing; a creamy pumpkin-red pepper soup thickened with sweet potato and perfumed with five-spice powder and rosemary, and phyllo cups filled with ricotta, chèvre and fresh thyme.  Looks like you cooked all week.  Yet the recipes, in keeping with the column’s intention, are radically simple to prepare.

But this special issue has had me devouring each of its 296 pages and  inspiring me to cook so many OPR!  (Other People’s Recipes!)  Want an idea?  There’s Creamy Lobster Pappardelle, Cavatappi with Browned Brussels Sprouts and Buttery Breadcrumbs, Scallion Pancakes with Korean Dipping Sauce, Fiery Chicken Thighs with Persian Rice, Soy-Citrus Scallops with Soba Noodles, and Fresh Ginger Cake with Candied Citrus Glaze,

And I was totally wowed by the food of 13-year old Flynn McGarry, the culinary avatar to the mesmerizing talents of pianist Lang Lang when he was of a similar age.

To the list of most important Italian cookbooks of the last 25 years, however, I would stand up and add the delicious and encyclopedic tome Naples at Table, written by renowned Italian cooking expert, historian and teacher, Arthur Schwartz.

Best of all (and I love to learn new things every day), was a word I stumbled upon in the ingredient list for a winter citrus-and-escarole salad.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I had never heard the word before!  Pomegranate arils!   Apparently, it’s a popular crossword puzzle word.  Look it up!

Here’s my recipe for Creamy Pumpkin-Red Pepper Soup.  Enjoy.

Creamy Pumpkin-Red Pepper Soup

Hands-on time: 30 min.
Total time: 60 min.

The soup can be topped with a variety of things: I love Parmigiano-Reggiano and rosemary, but savory sprinkles like chopped smoked almonds or toasted pecans would be lovely. This tastes even better the next day … or the day after.

3 cups chopped peeled fresh pumpkin
2 1/2 cups chopped red bell pepper
1 1/2 cups chopped peeled sweet potato
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1 teaspoon five-spice powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
3/8 teaspoon salt, divided
5 cups no-salt-added chicken stock (such as Swanson)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon rosemary leaves (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Combine first 8 ingredients in a large bowl. Sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon salt; toss well. Place vegetable mixture in a single layer on a jelly-roll pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or until tender, stirring once.
3. Combine vegetables, stock, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 5 minutes. Place half of vegetable mixture in a blender. Remove center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape); secure blender lid on blender. Place a clean towel over opening in blender lid (to avoid splatters). Process until smooth. Pour into a large bowl. Repeat procedure with remaining vegetable mixture. Stir in butter. Top with rosemary, if desired.

Serves 6

Two Veggie Summer Reads: Dirt Candy and Welcome to Claire’s

17 Aug

Dirt Candy Cookbook: Flavor-Forward Food from the Upstart New York City Vegetarian Restaurant, by Amanda Cohen & Ryan Dunlavey (Clarkson Potter Publishers, 2012)

I’ve always wanted to go to New York City’s provocatively named restaurant “Dirt Candy” (I mean who wouldn’t?) but have yet to do so. Instead, I am experiencing the darling, Michelin-recommended vegetarian dining destination in a more vicarious way… with chef-owner Amanda Cohen’s new book. It is a deliriously ebullient graphic novel-style trade paperback and it landed on my kitchen table just this week. Generally, I take cookbooks immediately to bed, but this one I decided to read in front of my refrigerator, just in case I got the urge to try a recipe on-the-spot. Sometimes I get urges like that.

Amanda Cohen, who is one smart gluten-free cookie, has written, with super-cool artist Ryan Dunlavey, what appears to be the first graphic novel cookbook. With its comic-strip line drawings and bubble thoughts, it is not necessarily a form meant to compete with Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It might, however, get a new generation of young acolytes cooking. But do not misconstrue: The recipes are totally savvy and mouthwatering. Cohen’s advice, including the realities and vicissitudes of opening your own place, is professional and instructive, and sometimes very funny.

I love what Ms. Cohen, the first vegetarian cook to be invited to compete on Iron Chef America, has to say about her approach to flavor-forward food. “Anyone can cook a hamburger,” she declares,” but leave the vegetables to the professionals!” Brilliant. Her compelling recipe line-up includes Fennel Salad with Candied Grapefruit Pops & Grilled Cheese Croutons; Smoked Sweet Potato Nicoise Salad with Fried Olives & Chickpea Dressing; Asparagus Paella with Grilled Vegetables & Yellow Tomato Saffron Broth; Stone-Ground Grits with Pickled Shiitakes and Tempura-Poached Egg, and Red Pepper Velvet Cake with Peanut Brittle and Peanut Ice Cream. She even makes dehydrating look easy. The recipe for her $10,000 prize-winning Portobello Mousse alone makes the book worthwhile.

With the sustainable food movement going strong, and farmers and compost becoming new symbols of virility and virtue, the associations of “dirt” with all good things is an interesting one. Check out “Chocolate Dirt: Is It Art or Is It Dinner?” and just the other day at a friend’s glamorous birthday party, catered by Great Performances, we were served freshly dug radishes in a pot of pumpernickel crumb “dirt.”

I understand it takes up to three months to snag a reservation at Dirt Candy: The Restaurant, located on Manhattan’s Lower East Side (9th Street.) Now with Dirt Candy: The Cookbook, maybe you don’t need to try. But I mean, who wouldn’t want to go? (Dirt Candy, 430 East 9th Street Manhattan, NY 10009, www.dirtcandynyc.com)

Welcome to Claire’s: 35 Years of Recipes & Reflections from the Landmark Vegetarian Restaurant, by Claire Criscuolo, (Lyons Press, 2012)

Claire Criscuolo is the much-beloved “Maven of New Haven.” Iconic and eponymous, Claire’s Corner Copia has been feeding foodies just outside the gates of Yale as well as servicing an entire community of vegetarians for decades. Her fourth cookbook, Welcome to Claire’s: 35 Years of Recipes and Reflections from the Landmark Vegetarian Restaurant is flying off shelves as fast as her Lithuanian Coffee Cake is flying off the brightly polished counter at her bustling café. Claire, a certified culinary professional and registered nurse fulfills a promise and a dream. Her recipes are healthy and healthful, vegan and kosher! She provides a home-away-from-home for almost anyone who lives to eat. I was one of those lucky ones this summer — as we visited our daughter who was in a teen program at the university and ran to Claire’s as often as we could for her classic Tomato-Barley Soup, fabulous oatmeal-blueberry-pecan-buttermilk pancakes, and great coffee. The book, chock-a-bloc with 350 recipes, each marked with helpful symbols — GF (gluten-free) and V (vegan) has a vast array of offerings. Artichoke, Basket Cheese, and Parmesan Risotto caught my eye as did her Quesadilla with Caramelized Onions, Quince Preserves and Cheddar with Horseradish. Anyone looking for themes and inspirations for preparing tofu and tempeh, will also be smitten.

All roads lead to Claire: Her commitment to local and organic sourcing grows exponentially (including growing her own vegetables are herbs in her backyard) as does her outreach to the community. And it all began 35 years ago when she used her engagement ring as collateral for the loan to open her restaurant with her husband Frank. (Sadly, Frank passed away this year.)

Tonight, I will make her organic Arugula Salad with Lemon, Honey and Goat Cheese, and in the Fall I look forward to making her aptly named Fall Renewal Soup — made with split peas, garlic, kale, cauliflower, broccoli, basil and flax oil). You can taste the love. (Claire’s Corner Copia, 1000 Chapel Street, New Haven CT 06510, www.clairescornercopia.com)

Food for Thought: Two Lovely Books for Summer

10 Jul

Here are two wonderful summer reads about food and family from exotic climes: One is a memoir, the other, a cookbook. Pomegranates and Grapes by Nuray Aykin, is the autobiography of a young Turkish woman, turned PhD, who finds love in America while holding onto her heritage — especially her cuisine. Her personal journey, punctuated, or defined by obstacles, perseverance and an enduring love of food, is told through taste memories that make you hunger for more. Sally Butcher’s cookbook, is a lovely companion to Ms. Aykin’s evocative food tales. The New Middle Eastern Vegetarian: Modern Recipes from Veggiestan, is a treasure trove of authentic recipes, bursting with flavor and sense of place.

2012-07-09-183197814697874979991Pic.jpgPomegranates and Grapes:
Landscapes from My Childhood

By Nuray Aykin (iUniverse 2012)

Nuray Aykin, author of the charmingly titled Pomegranates and Grapes, emerges as a masterful wordsmith, connecting readers to her story even though we don’t know her, or her name. We learn about a remote upbringing in towns scattered across the landscape of Turkey and are moved by a solo journey to Buffalo, New York, to secure a doctoral degree amidst years of illness and “foreign-ness.” We commiserate after the breakup of her marriage, and enjoy the success that comes after hardship and strife. The food of her country anchors her adventures and evokes a Mediterranean way of life that buoys her spirit throughout.

Yet strikingly, the story is not really meant for us at all. It is, instead, a retrospective diary of sorts to her 18-year old son who is leaving for college. Lest the past go unremembered, Ms. Aykin uses the word avlu, a greeting or entrance area, to welcome her son into her life’s story, in order for him to better understand his own.

The cuisine of her childhood plays a starring role: She writes,

“We would sit under the shade of a walnut tree and eat our lamb chops in cool weather. At the houses we visited, they would serve sikma, made by filling bazlama (bread dough) with feta cheese, onions and parsley. After you wrap the hot bazlama around the filling you need to squeeze it with your hands, almost leaving imprints of your fingers on it to warm up the fillings. We would drink ayran (a salty yogurt drink.) The foam of ayran would fill half of our glasses, just like beer, and leave a white mustache every time you took a sip. We had an abundance of fruits and nuts — apples, pears, plums grapes, black and white mulberries, almonds, walnuts and pistachios.”

The images are delectable.

With a PhD in industrial engineering, Ms. Aykin has a rare gift of combining laser intelligence with motherly passion. Her story is a cultural and emotional “dig” into the archeology of nuclear and extended family relations, stereotypes of grandparents and women, and the exquisite simplicity that binds us through food and love — whether we are in Istanbul or Buffalo; whether we are child or parent, leaving or left behind.

But where Ms. Aykin teaches us about her native cuisine in prose, I craved the immediacy of first-hand experience. Enter: Ms. Butcher’s cookbook.

2012-07-09-thenewmiddleeasternvegetarianmodernrecipesfromveggiestan.jpg
The New Middle Eastern Vegetarian:
Modern Recipes from Veggiestan

By Sally Butcher (Interlink Books, 2012)

It’s rare for me to read a cookbook cover to cover, but a trip to Veggiestan (a fictional region including Turkey, the Levant, and Middle East) while sitting in bed with a cup of mint tea, was irresistible. I longed to “taste” the food of places I had not yet been — Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Greece and Lebanon, to name a few — and so this evocative romp would have to suffice for now. Immediately I turned to the recipes from Turkey as Ms. Aykin had whetted my lips for aryan (recipe below), and more. In Ms. Butcher’s engaging book she boasts about the Turks’ impressive array of bread. “Unsurprising,” she says, “if you study a map of the country. It extends in all directions: south to the Mediterranean, north to the Black Sea, permeating ever easterly. Its cuisine reveals a huge number of influences,” and she has included recipes for the two most intriguing and versatile breads: yufka and pide. The former is soft and chewy and made with yogurt; the latter, is a “wrap” of sorts and thin as a wafer.

Knowledgeable as all get out, Ms. Butcher is a London-based food writer who, with her husband, runs the renowned Persepolis — a Middle Eastern food store where, according to fans, her enthusiasm and tenacity is in no short supply. This comes bursting through the pages of her new book — transforming scholarly authenticity into joy. And while you will find many vegetarian recipes from Turkey — including the populist red pepper paste, olive oil-drenched egpplants, everyday beans, and lahmacun (a kind of Turkish pizza), the array of recipes from elsewhere in Veggiestan is dazzling in their scope and in their use of exotic (but findable) ingredients: orange flower water, turmeric, saffron, rose petals, barberries and pistachios. Swooning, yet? Ms. Butcher has a gift for recipe titles: Melons with Wings; The Soup of Ezo the Bride; Palestinian Upside-Down Rice, Burghlers (you can guess what these are), Persian Magazine Spinach Balls, and Black-eyed Pea and Lemon Hotpot. A recipe for Sweet Hummus, made with date syrup, cinnamon and cardamom, intrigues.

As promised, here’s her recipe for aryan: A perfect drink for these sweltering days of summer. Enjoy.

“The Strange Phenomenon of Salted Drinking Yogurt”
Makes 4-1/2 cups

2 generous cups plain yogurt
2 generous cups cold water
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons dried mint

Whisk (and I do mean whisk) the yogurt and water together. Add the salt and the mint, and chill well. Serve over ice.

How I Bought 3,500 Cookbooks and Got 6,317

10 Feb

You may recall that when Gourmet Magazine was abruptly shut down in December 2009 there were 3,500 cookbooks on their library shelves that would have great value as a single collection — but they were on the verge of being broken up or, worse, sold off by Conde Nast for just $4 a book. With some well-timed phone calls, a bit of luck, and surprise approval from my family, I shelled out $14,000 to buy them all.

But not for myself. Instead, I donated them, down to the very last recipe, to New York University in honor of my Hungarian mother, a vivacious cook who was more Zsa Zsa than Julia.

I’ve just discovered that I’d purchased not 3,500, but in fact 6,317 titles. For a moment, I fantasized that the books had bred amongst themselves and that these bonus babies represented a new form of “fusion cuisine.” The more prosaic answer came from Marvin J. Taylor, director of Fales Library and Special Collections at NYU. “It turns out that there were boxes and boxes of smaller pamphlets that pushed the numbers up.”

What’s more important than the numbers is that almost two years to the day the collection is now available for research and for posterity. Financed by a grant from Les Dames d’ Escoffier, “We have just completed the cataloging of the Gourmet library,” reports Taylor. For all of us in the world of food, that’s exciting news. The collection is now ready for use by historians who live in research libraries and for the rest of us who’d just as soon troll through a cookbook as read a novel.

To that point, I’m eager to read The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman. It is a novel not about cookbook collecting, but whose premise serves as a metaphor for the substitutions we make in our lives when we can’t find what we’re looking for, i.e. reading cookbooks instead of actually cooking, collecting instead of living. My mother wisely noted that I enjoyed puttering in the kitchen rather than working on my master’s degree in psychology. So that I wouldn’t cook instead of work, she encouraged me to become a professional chef at a time when women were anathema in the kitchen. I’m proud that the woman who inspired and nurtured me is immortalized by having her nameplate in each book in the Gourmet collection.


Gourmet magazine made the world of food possible for many of us: We ate and drank its dreams. Its images and words shaped our aspirations, made us thirsty, piqued our curiosity, cajoled us to travel, and steered us to ancient hungers. We grew inquisitive as we sat at its table and became sophisticated at its knee. Few institutions can help us journey inside ourselves at the same time as we journey to the four corners of the world. The Gourmet library is so important because it means something unique to each of us.

Gourmet was where I had my first job interview after I graduated from college. I lived downstairs from their elusive photographer Luis Lemus. I didn’t get the job, but years later I wrote for them, and was eventually written about and featured on one of their covers. No doubt, each of you reading this has your own special story — even Nora Ephron, who said, “Every time I get married, I start buying Gourmet.”

According to Taylor, the Gourmet library, consisting largely of volumes published within the past 30 years, was discerningly put together. “It really represents what the editors saw as the best of the best,” he said. “It is fascinating because you can see the various trends Gourmet covered. There are shelves of Cajun books and many Mediterranean books. And there’s a very large Asian selection.”

NYU reportedly has the largest assemblage of cookbooks and other culinary miscellany in the country and I am happy that the collection will be available to chefs and food professionals forever and will keep Gourmet in everyone’s heart.

And I raise a glass to Ruth Reichl, Gourmet‘s editor-in-chief, whose spirit guided the magazine so well.

Lidia’s Italy in America

22 Dec

Lidia Bastianich is one of my personal heroes and, in a moment’s notice, I would lead the campaign to make her our next Ambassador to Italy. (Mr. Obama, are you listening?) Nothing, of course, against our current Ambassador, but I can think of no one who is so recognizably respected. Lidia has all the makings: savvy business acumen, formidable intelligence, and the perfect demeanor fitting such a position. And I love the notion that political prowess may actually begin in the kitchen.

Lidia has introduced us, through her seven cookbooks, television shows, and as doyenne of a handful of Italian restaurants in America, to the complexities of Italy’s culture and to the simplicity of Italy’s authentic cuisine. For decades we have accompanied her on journeys across the culinary landscape of Italy and now, in her newest cookbook, Lidia takes us on a culinary exploration of Italian cooking in America.

And while you’d think there’s nothing left to say about Italian-American food given the thousands of magazine articles and dozens of cookbooks that have scrubbed this particular gastronomical cupboard clean, nugget after nugget of good food and delectable ideas pop out of the recipes and stories lovingly told by Lidia and her daughter, Tanya Bastianich Manuali, in Lidia’s Italy in America (Alfred A. Knopf).

Lidia Bastianich, who by most reckoning must be Our Lady of Italian Cooking, traveled the country, revisiting places where Italian immigrants originally settled and where, even today, there’s great resonance. From Arthur Avenue in the Bronx to San Francisco and California wine country, with stopovers in robust Italian enclaves like New Orleans (think muffuletta sandwich), Philadelphia, Federal Hill in Providence, Chicago (think chicken Vesuvio), Baltimore and Boston, she adds places and faces to what certainly is America’s favorite “foreign” cuisine.

I put the word “foreign” in quotes because, by and large, we eat domesticated versions of true Italian food here and in many cases we eat Italian dishes that never existed in the old country. Many of the dishes — spaghetti and meatballs and veal parmigiano –were invented here by immigrants who made good and creative use of products then available to them.

Most of the time-worn dishes in this book no longer appear on menus of trendy, upscale Italian restaurants. After all, when was the last time you went out for lasagna or veal marsala or chicken tetrazzini? — dishes that have been co-opted by the likes of Olive Garden. So you won’t find sea urchins or burrata or guanciale or lardo here. You will find perfectly clear recipes of all your old favorites along with some interesting twists.

She notes that, contrary to most recipes in Italian-American cookbooks, the steak in bistecca pizzaiola should be cooked separately from the sauce so that both retain their distinct identities; most recipes have the meat simmered in the sauce. She has the same advice for those old standbys, sausage and peppers and veal marsala: cook the meats separately from the vegetables, then toss together at the very last moment.

Lidia theorizes that pasta alla puttanesca soared to popularity here in the 1970s because authentic Italian ingredients such as cured olives and cured capers were just becoming available, so the dish delivered what she calls a “wallop of flavor” that keeps people making it right up to today. She explains that even though Thomas Jefferson had a macaroni-making machine and served his baked pasta doused with cheese, maccheroni al formaggio also has an Italian rendition, hers with sage, grated fontina, cheddar and parmesan cheese.

Although they’re authoritative, many of these recipes are nostalgic because they require an ingredient many of us no longer have: time — time to make and fill ravioli with sausage and ricotta, or to assemble the various components of a first-rate lasagna, or to pound thin, stuff, roll and braise braciole. Where are our grandmothers now that we need them again?

There’s one very up-to-date recipe for brined turkey breast, from the New York restaurant Torrisi Italian Specialties, in which the bird is cooked very slowly in a quasi-sous vide plastic pouch, then smeared with a fabulous paste of garlic, oil, honey and vinegar and broiled until the skin crisps.

I asked Lidia which recipes best represent the Italian-American kitchen. She chose Fried Marinated Artichokes, Clams Casino, Penne Rigate in Vodka Sauce, Spaghetti with Meatballs, Chicken Cacciatore, Sausage and Peppers, and Almond Pine Nut Cookies as the “stellar expressions.”

I’m up for any of these dishes — or for her voluptuous eggplant parmigiana — next time Lidia plans to spend an afternoon at the stove.

The soulful pictures of Italian-American chefs, cooks, fishermen and butchers are almost worth the price of this lovely book. Ambassador Bastianich has a nice ring.

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