Cookbook Reviews:

Simply Tuscan : Everyday Pleasures Inspired by  Italy's Most Intriguing Region
"A year of  Tuscan menus, with recipes for living the good life."

by Pino Luongo
ISBN: 0385492901
Doubleday/ $35.00/ 292 pages

In my experience, most cookbooks fall into two categories:  beautiful or useful.  This cookbook is one of the exceptions -- both a feast for the eye and tempting to the palate.

Initially drawn to the book because of its exquisite, full-color photography,  I continued reading because of the fabulous descriptions, intriguing menus and incredible recipes.

Chapters are organized according to  the four seasons, each chapter containing twenty complete, simple-to-prepare but indulgent menus that include seasonal holidays and special occasions.

Reading through the book was like spending an evening with one of our foreign exchange students.  The author's chatty writing style weaves poetry, childhood memories of Tuscany and culinary commentary into a fascinating introduction to all things Tuscan.
"I wish I could drive you here from the big city of Rome," writes Luongo, " so you could see for  yourself how magical it is when modern civilization falls away leaving only the  vastness of Tuscany -- the endless, soft hills and deep, dark woods of this region -- in its place. It's very fantastic and intense, and if, as we are driving, you  ask me what that perfume is that's blowing into the car, that sweet aroma  that's invigorating your senses and makes you want to get out and go running  through the fields as soon as possible -- it's the scent of mimosa in the air."

To be Tuscan, Pino says, "is to honor all your senses."  And this book can help you do just that.  The celebrations bring together good food, family, and friends and the pleasures of the seasons.

The recipes span a wide range of skill levels and complexity.  The typically Tuscan, hearty cuisine embodies the best in hospitality and generosity.  This cookbook is the next best thing to visiting Tuscany!

Order Simply Tuscan

hardcover  $26.25

 Sample Recipes:

Baby Chocolate and Coffee Truffles
from 'A Cooking Party' Menu (Fall)

11 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 short espresso (brewed strong, with less water than usual)
7/8 cup sweetened cocoa powder

Cut the chocolate into small chunks.  Melt the chunks in a double boiler (a bowl set over a pan of simmering water).  When the chocolate has melted, about 10-12 minutes, remove the bowl from the pan.  Add a little cream to the unsweetened cocoa and mix with a spoon to make a paste, then thin the paste by adding the rest of the cream, mixing continually with a whisk.  Add the cocoa cream to the melted chocolate and blend thoroughly.  Let the mixture cool in the refrigerator until cold, about 1 hour.

Beat the espresso into the mixture with an electric mixer or an egg beater, keeping the bowl cold by setting it in an ice water bath.  When it is well blended, smooth, and creamy, dust your hands with the sweet cocoa powder and use them to form the mixture into small (1/2-inch) balls, keeping your hands dusted the whole time and placing the balls in little paper confectioner's cups.

Makes 24 little truffles.


Black Olive and Zucchini Tart
From 'Late Summer Buffet' Menu

For the dough:
4 cups "))" flour (see Note) or use all-purpose flour as a substitute
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced, at room temperature
1 egg
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 cup warm water

For the filling:
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 leek, white and light green parts only, carefully washed and sliced thin
3/4 pound zucchini, rinsed and cut into 1/4 inch thick rounds (if the zucchini is very large, cut it in half lengthwise before slicing)
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
6 leaves fresh basil, torn roughly by hand
1/2 pound ricotta cheese
1 whole egg, plus 1 egg yolk
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup pitted black oil-cured olives
1 Tbsp. chopped Italian parsley leaves
butter, for greasing the pan

Note:  this high-gluten flour proofs extremely well.  Purchase it in specialty stores or Italian markets.

Make the dough:  On a clean work surface, mound the flour and make a well in the center.  Place the remaining dough ingredients in the well and mix everything together with your fingers just until a dough forms.  Wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Make the filling:  In a sauté pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil.  Add the leek and cook until soft, about 4 minutes.  Add the zucchini and sauté until it's just cooked through, about 5 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper, then add the basil.

Place the ricotta in a mixing bowl and stir in the zucchini mixture, the whole egg, the Parmesan, olives, and parsley.  Mix thoroughly.  Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Divide the dough into 2 pieces, one a little bigger than the other.  roll both pieces into circles with a thickness of 3/16 of an inch.  Grease a 12-inch tart pan (it's best to use a 2 piece tart pan, with a removable bottom) with butter and line the bottom and sides with the larger circle of dough.  Spread the filling evenly inside, then cover it with the smaller circle of dough.  Seal the bottom and top crusts together with your fingers and mark the edge with the tines of a fork.  Make an egg wash, using the yolk and half an eggshell of water, and brush the crust with it.  Poke steam holes in the crust with a fork.  Bake for 40 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.

Let the tart rest until it is just warm so that it sets firmly enough to slice.  If you are not using a 2-piece tart pan, you'll need to turn the tart over onto a plate, and then turn it back right side up onto a serving plate.

Makes one 12-inch tart


Three-Color Fusilli with Four Cheeses
from "Lunch for Children and Their Friends" Menu - Spring

1 pound tri-color fusilli
3/4 cup diced butter, warmed to room temperature
1/2 cup very finely diced Gruyere cheese
1/2 cup very finely diced fontina cheese
1/2 cup very finely diced provolone cheese
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.  In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until it is al dente.  meanwhile, put the butter and the cheeses in a large ovenproof casserole.  When the pasta is done, drain it and immediately toss it with the butter and cheeses.  When everything is thoroughly mixed, bake in the preheated oven for 5 minutes, until all the cheeses have melted.

Serves 6 children