Thursday 29 October 2009

Easy Tasty Italian - Laura Santtini

Glancing at the cover, I thought to myself Laura Santtini, now there's an authentic Italian-sounding name, I bet this book will be full of rustic peasant Italian food. But then she goes on to explain that she's "half Italian, a quarter Persian, a pinch of Sephardic and the rest is English-Irish, the genetic equivalent of a Molotov cocktail" ! So maybe, despite the uninspiring plain black cover, we're in for a few surprises after all !

What I immediately noticed about this book is that the author is very present. Through her funny stories, descriptions and explanations, we get a very real sense of who she is and her personality becomes a vital ingredient in all of the recipes she presents to us. I love her self-deprecating look around her kitchen - "more car boot than Domestic Goddess" ! - and the conclusion that the reader can "be safe in the knowledge that everything in this book can be, and has been, cooked with the sorry collection of tinker's trinkets listed above". The book promises to "transform everyday ingredients into sublime dishes" and this is clear when Laura admits that although she makes her own mayonnaise to go with poached fish and shellfish, she prefers the quicker and lighter alternative of a jar of Hellman's as the basis for several quick and tasty sauces. How refreshing and approachable to find a recipe-book writer that we can relate to !

Then the homely, down-to-earth principles get swept aside as Laura passionately extols "the power of umami, the most recently identified flavour component", which she defines as "the intensely savoury things that make you go 'mmmmm' ". Given the Italian theme, it is rebaptised "U-mamma" in this book ! This is what helps Laura make her "masterly flavour bombs" that "add to the simplest dishes to make them unforgettable". Adding Flavour Bombs is described as "the process of mixing explosive flavours with detonating tastes that ambush the taste buds with dangerously delicious results".

And that defines the recipes in the book - simple dishes with a cheeky twist and quirky added ingredients, such as the surprisingly widely-used edible gold-leaf, guaranteed to give the most basic food a bit of bling-bling wow-factor ! Recipe names like "Aglio e Olio (garlic and oil sauce : hardcore punk version)" and strange mixtures like "Vitello tonnato (cold veal in a tuna sauce)" can't help but have us feeling intrigued.

Desserts are a bit thin on the ground, with only ten pages attributed to Quick & Easy Desserts - but those that are included are very daring. Anyone for parmesan ice cream with balsamic strawberries and black pepper ? How about chilli chocolate orange mousse ? Oh wow, I think I'll go for Great Balls of Fire - watermelon that has been soaked in vodka for a couple of days and sounds absolutely lethal !

The book is divided into two sections, Easy-Tasty Know-How, explaining the basic procedures and preparations, then The Elemental Recipes subdivided into Air (I was raw), Water (I was cooked), Fire (I was burned) and Earth (I am tasty). This new-agey mystical theme is continued in the headings "Elixirs and Potion Notions" and "The Alchemic Larder". So much for Italian peasant food !

Visually, the book offers an eclectic mix of quirky images - lips dusted with gold leaf, French maids and a pink machine gun to name but a few ! The print size of the actual recipes could have done with being slightly larger as it is sometimes a bit hard to read. Many of the recipes do not have photographs of the finished dish - this seems unusual given the current trend for "food porn" books that are as much artistic coffee-table books as actual recipe books for cooking.

It's an interesting collection of tweaked classic dishes with enough humorous tales and unexpected pictures to keep you reading from cover to cover. Laura Santtini seems to be a very likeable, multi-faceted persona and I look forward to seeing what else she will come up with next time !

As she says in a video on Amazon, "learn the rules then break them - become the wizard or the wizardess in your kitchen" so that you can "Jackson Pollock in your kitchen with total confidence". Now there's a challenge and a half !

star rating : 4/5

Hardcover: 192 pages
Publisher: Quadrille Publishing Ltd (2 Oct 2009)
ISBN-10: 1844007553
ISBN-13: 978-1844007554

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