Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

Last week my cousin Sal asked me to recommend a good Italian cookbook that he could give as a birthday gift to a friend. My first reaction was to choose from the books I have featured on this site. There are some excellent ones like The Silver Spoon and Italian Family Dining. But, as I thought about it more I realized the one Italian cookbook that I would want if I could only have one was conspicuously missing, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. Published in 1992, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking is actually two earlier works of Hazan’s from the 1970s combined into one volume and updated. Essentials literally is an essential resource for anybody cooking Italian food at home, whether a beginner or expert. Hazan includes clear recipes for many great Italian dishes as well as tremendous detail on techniques for doing everything from rolling handmade pasta to cutting and pounding veal scallopine. I find myself referring to this classic time and again. When I got home after touting the book to Sal, I took it out to leaf through and was inspired to try a recipe I hadn’t tried before,  Baked Crespelle with Bolognese Meat Sauce. After making these crepes stuffed with Bolognese Sauce and Béchamel, there was no doubt I made the right...

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

A few years back I was doing a lot of bread baking. I worked my way through a good portion of The Italian Baker by Carol Field and the Italian bread recipes from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread by Peter Reinhart. I made a mean Pane Pugliese. As much as I enjoyed the process and especially the results, baking bread at home is something you have to make time for and 2 children later that time is harder to find.   When I saw Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois in the bookstore I was intrigued but skeptical. The thought of being able to make good bread without setting aside an entire morning was pretty exciting so I decide to pick the book up. I had it sitting on my shelf for a couple of months before trying the master recipe, but I am really impressed by the results of my first attempt.    The concept behind the book is making a large batch of high moisture dough (enough to make four 1-pound loaves), mixing it just enough to form the dough, no kneading.  The dough is then covered and left to rise for two hours before being stored in the refrigerator for up to 14 days. When you want to bake a loaf you cut off a piece of dough, shaping it quickly, again no kneading, and let it rest for 40 minutes. Then you pop it into the oven and bake for 30 minutes and you have hot fresh-baked bread.   While five minutes a day is a Barnum-esque claim (it actually refers to active...