Book Review: Tasting Italy

Stars: 4.5/5

Location: Italy

Sub-genre: Cookbook

Publication Date: 2018

This is not just a coffee table book or a cookbook. I got Tasting Italy thinking it would be a combination of these things, and was happily surprised by the narrative in each chapter. The authors introduce each of Italy’s 19 regions with a brief lesson in geography and history—both of which directly influence the country’s regional cuisines. There are good sidebars and short pieces about different ingredients (i.e. truffles, Pecorino Romano cheese) and foods (i.e. pesto, polenta) for further insight. I’m a sucker for maps, and the various maps add a lot as well. As the authors write, “The secret to Italian cooking isn’t a particular recipe; it’s the backstory of that recipe: the geography, the agriculture, the history, and the culture of a place and people.”

A bowl of pasta with walnut sauce (pasta con salsa di noci)
Pasta with walnut sauce (pasta con salsa di noci), from Liguria.

I tried five recipes, and all were well-explained with a good balance of authenticity and practicality. The pasta in walnut sauce was a perfect meal on a rainy, fall day and just as good as I remembered from when I had it in the Cinque Terre. I also made spaghetti with cheese and pepper which was simple and and tasty; the milk-braised pork roast, which took much longer than I thought but still pretty good; and bread salad (panzanella) which might become a new go-to for me. I slightly overcooked the hazelnut cake (proof I am a traveler first and cook second perhaps), but the torta was still a hit with my roommates.

Cut Italian bread and a tomato salad prepared to make panzanella.
Preparing bread salad (panzanella), from Tuscany.
Dinner of pork, panzanella, wine, and the book.
Dinner of pork roast, panzanella, wine, and the book.

Perhaps the best part of making recipes from this book is that it forced me to take the time to cook and savor the food. Nothing like a beautiful book to make sure that my food matched—taking my own food photos was part of the fun.

A piece of chocolate-hazelnut cake (torta gianduia)
Chocolate-hazelnut cake (torta gianduia), from Piedmont.

Recipes seem to vary widely in time and skill it takes, so cooks-to-be be warned to read the recipe thoroughly to see if you’re up for it. You can make your own stuffed pasta or throw in some cheese with dried pasta in 20 minutes. The authors would have done well to add in time estimates on the recipes but these unfortunately are not included.

Dare I say, Tasting Italy has more meat than a coffee table book, but gorgeous enough for just flipping through on a cold winter’s day and dreaming of the Mediterranean. This is not a comprehensive guide to Italy or a travelogue and doesn’t try to be, but for a country whose history and landscapes are so interwoven with its food, you’d do worse than Tasting Italy to prepare for a trip to Italy. Better yet, bring a little taste of Italy into your own kitchen.

I received a free copy of this book via TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

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