Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Smart and Stylish!

Easy Tasty Italian

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a wonderful event - A Literary Lunchtime -at the High and Ham festival. It was a ''conversation" with three fabulous ladies of the food publishing world, writer Claudia Roden, and publisher/writers Judith Jones and Jill Norman. Food writer Victoria Prever, who hosted the talk, got the ladies to reflect on their experiences and insights into the world of writing about food.
Judith Jones has years of experience of publishing some of the best ever food writers. She was the young editor who brought Julia Child's first book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking into publication - her character appears in the recent film Julie and Julia. (See Judith's wonderful blog here.) Judith made some comments on what makes a good cookery book and I have been reflecting on her thoughts while I am reading a new book by Laura Santini. Back to that thought in a moment...

I've always enjoyed reading Mrs Santini's etiquette column in Waitrose Food Illustrated magazine because I love her spiky observations on modern manners and witty words of advice. I was delighted to receive an advance copy of her new cookery book Easy Tasty Italian (Publication 2nd October 2009). The gist of the book is how to "add some magic to your everyday food" so there is an emphasis on intense flavours and stylish little touches. Just like her column, it's a great read, with her characteristic wit and panache.

The format of the book is a bit different from the standard, in the way it breaks down the sections and dishes. Laura puts a focus on to the intense flavours can transform simple dishes into something special. So she has an extensive section, with a detailed explanation, on the "fifth taste" called umami - an element found in foods like parmesan cheese, anchovies, marmite and miso. Other opening sections highlight basic techniques and preparations - sauces, butter, flavourings, elixirs and potions. These elements are then the building blocks that go into the recipes throughout the rest of the book. The book is peppered with amusing titles and quirky imagery - again a bit different from the many books with emphasis on "food porn" imagery. (I hate that term - must find a better one..) I like Laura Santini's book a lot, and it is really packed with instruction and recipes. It is more of a book that you have to concentrate on rather than idly flip through for inspiration.

So back to Judith Jones' comments on cookery writing. She said that a good book is one that empowers the reader - as I understood her, that gives the reader some knowledge that she can internalise, build on, and put to use the next time around. Not just a collection of recipes, but a deeper understanding of the process, akin to the practice and skill needed to develop any artistry. Sometimes that means longer or more complicated recipes, as opposed to the quick and easy. I believe Laura Santini does aim to give this background - this element of teaching - in her book. So actually, the reader has the job of learning these techniques and understanding flavours before they can really access the "easy" part in the title of the book. Great food for thought!

Thanks to Quadrille Publishing for the opportunity to review Easy Tasty Italian.

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