Extra Virgin: Recipes and Love from our Tuscan Kitchen
By Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazar
Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 272 pp., $32.50
Those of us who call ourselves “foodies” are fond of a well-photographed cookbook. The gloriously lit, artfully arranged photos sing to us-- the perfect selection of ingredients invite us to stay. Our favorites among these become our ‘friends’ in that delightfully odd way our favorite novels draw us in; we are invited to the dance, through stories and in this case, recipes, in a way so intimate and intoxicating that we feel under the author’s spell. We take any opportunity to pepper our conversations with mentions of our new friends—we regale anyone who listens with third-person tales of their countryside picnics and al fresco dining among the magic of fireflies. We fall in love again. With food.
Extra Virgin: Recipes and Love from our Tuscan Kitchen, is the lovechild of charming husband and wife team, Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazar, who can be seen currently on the Cooking Channel’s popular Extra Virgin, and the blog Under the Tuscan Gun. Born of a desire to share the culture of food in which Gabriele was raised with their, then, unborn child, the project was ten years in the making, and rhapsodically documents a labor of love, from cover to cover, through food, family, friends, and geography of place. A tapestry of simple, perfect ingredients combined with a little kitchen alchemy-- it weaves that spell, my friends.
For the uninitiated, or beginning cook, the book begins with a chapter on The Tuscan Kitchen Essentials, with recommendations of pantry and freezer staples, as well as kitchen equipment, and even the most seasoned cooks are likely to discover something new—the difference between pancetta and guanciale, perhaps, or the superiority of Italian doppio zero flour for baking. The book is then divided into courses: appetizers, pastas and sauces, risotto, soup, salads, meat, fish, vegetables, pizza, panini, desserts, and drinks. Basic recipes for Tuscan bread, pizza dough, homemade pasta, red sauce, vegetable stock and more, mingle among the more ambitious dishes such as the Livorno-style Mixed Fish Stew with its 1 pound octopus, cleaned and beak removed.
Though there are the occasional projects, most of the recipes are simple, with manageable ingredient lists that serve to showcase the main characters, rather than overwhelm. Inspired by the book to share the bounty with friends, I prepared the unanimously well-received Peach and Fennel Salad, p 125, alongside Grilled Endive with Gorgonzola and Sage Oil, p. 186. The recipes delivered, and then some. Basking in the glory of a meal well-enjoyed, they made this cook look like she really knew what she was doing. The instructions were easy to follow, and each dish lived up to its promise—universal praise around the table. As we gathered, the early summer evening filled with mmm’s, aaah’s, and ohhh’s, the clink of glasses, forks spearing bites straight from the serving dishes. There was laughter and culinary delight among notoriously discerning palates, a scene not unlike those imagined while leafing through the book’s 120 recipes, many destined to take up residence as cooks’ favorites, illustrated by evidence of a chef’s passion, amid scenes of enviable domestic bliss.
That evening, there may have been fireflies.
Portions of this review can be found in the online edition of the Austin Chronicle.