Ok, so I think you've all figured out by now that I am crazy for anything Italian; the food, wine, people, history and culture are a never ending source of fascination and excitement for me. I love to discover new indigenous varietals (there are over 800 by the way...), great regional recipes and I could travel there every year of my life and still not get enough. Did I ever mention that I think I was Italian in another life? Well, that's a whole different post...anyway I've written a lot about my favorite Italian wine bible, Gambero Rosso (see my post Italian Wine, Love at First Sip), that I use when I’m looking for very specific information on a certain wine and its producer. And my other go to book has always been Vino Italiano by Joseph Bastianich & David Lynch that explores each region's predominant grapes, winemaking styles, major producers and the history and culture of the region. Great to curl up with on the sofa with a glass of Italian wine!
Currently I am totally captivated by a new book, introduced to me by another blogger, called A16 Food + Wine by Nate Appleman and Shelly Lindgren. That authors are the chef/owner (Nate) and wine director/owner (Shelly) of the acclaimed A16 restaurant in San Francisco named after the Italian motorway that runs from Naples to Puglia. The restaurant uses the food and the wine of southern Italy as its inspiration and the book beautifully expresses that focus. I can't get of this area, as I find the bold rustic flavors of the south a refreshing change from the more refined popular wines of central and northern Italy
Shelly Lindgren tells the first half of the story as she takes you on a journey through each of the regions south of Rome, including Sicily and Sardinia and talks of their history, key producers, predominant varietals and food pairings. My heart starts to pound faster as I read about the once nearly extinct varietals like Pallagrello Bianco and Coda di Volpe in the Campagnia section while the more familiar Primitivo and Negroamaro highlighted the Puglia chapter make my mouth water for their inky dark fruit.
Nate Appleman takes over in the second half of the book with an intro to the "must haves" of the the Italian pantry, the core ingredients that make these bold, rustic foods shine. And in case you don't have access to these carefully chosen items, he has a resource section in the back of the book. Ingredients like Calabrian Chiles, "00" flour, are discussed as well as recipes for preserved Meyer Lemons, homemade Ricotta Salatta, Brodo (a light broth)and more.
The heart of the book is the recipes made from fresh local ingredients that reflect the essential element of southern Italian cooking: simplicity. The opening page discusses the culinary heritage of the south having been much poorer than the north and that the "la cucina povera" or peasant cooking was born of necessity. "Just as southern Italian winemakers cherish their indigenous grapes, southern Italian cooks are rooted in the past, nearly to the point of obsession with preserving the old ways."
The food chapters are divided by type such as antipasta, pasta, vegetables, seafood, with a heavy emphasis on meat and poultry due to the route the A16 takes through the hilly inland regions. The chapter on Neapolitan pizza is fantastic with great instructions on making the perfect dough, grilling pizza (one of my favorite preparations!), and using sparse, traditional toppings. Recipes like Summer Vegetable Cianfotta (Campania summer stew), Braised Halibut with Pistachios, Preserved Meyer Lemon and Capers, Cavatelli with Ragu Bianco, Wild Mushrooms and Pecorino and Monday Meatballs (pictured above, photo by Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times) are all well written, with easy instructions and most have relatively shorts lists of ingredients. And every recipe comes with a wine pairing from southern Italy, beautifully done!
Gorgeous photography by Ed Anderson, easy to follow recipes, in depth information on wines and their regions and a great resource section for hard to find items, this book is a must have for any Italian food and wine nut! You can order a signed copy directly from their website: A16sf , or from Amazon by clicking here: Amazon.com
Also, if you're like me and still can't get enough, Saveur magazine just did a great piece on Basilicata in their May issue.
Having just poured my self a cool refreshing glass of Falanghina from Campania, chapter on Calabria awaits...