Review of Alla Fratelli by Barry McDonald and Terry Durack

Alla FratelliOne might be puzzled why an Australian, by way of New Zealand, named Barry McDonald could be qualified to write a cookbook on how to eat Italian. The answer to that query is simple:  McDonald identifies as Italian and is proud of his faux Italian heritage. He loves the food, the wine, thinks "coffee is oxygen, the tomato is a gift from heaven and wine makes life bearable … family is everything" which is a very Italian way of approaching life. It's like the old saying, "There are two types of people in the world, the Italians, and the people who want to be Italians."

McDonald, with his brother Jamie, started as a produce wholesaler at the massive market at Sydney's Flemington providing their products to the best chefs in the city. Spending time visiting the great Italian delis at that market place is where he learned to appreciate the Italian culture. Later when they expanded their business they named it Fratelli Fresh (Fresh Brothers). Shortly after that expansion, a café was opened, Café Sopra. Café Sopra set everything in motion and now there are three Fratelli Fresh stores, five Café Sopras and a Café Nice. The Fratelli way is simple food with high quality ingredients and this philosophy is reflected clearly in his cookbook, Alla Fratelli.

Alla Fratelli has the feel of a homey, yet definitely cool, Italian cookbook. Chock full of photographs of the food and people behind Fratelli Fresh, the book grabs your attention. McDonald's chef, Terry Durack, helped him to pull together the recipes for this title and as all good Italians do, they start with Aperitivi followed naturally by Antipasti. Arancini with Taleggio, Caponata with Pine Nuts, and Zucchini Flowers with Five Italian Cheese whet our appetites. In natural progression, Zuppa follows - Roast Tomato, Fennel and Chickpea Soup and Parsnip Soup with Gorgonzola are a few examples. Grilled King Prawns with Roast Tomato & Basil Butter (I'm so using that basil butter) and Salted Cod with Mussels are covered in Il Primo. The remaining chapters include: the Pasta chapter which includes a recipe for fresh pasta (and many delicious pasta dishes), Risotto, Il Secondo, Contorni (sides), Pizza, Formaggi, Insalata E Verdura, Dolce e Gelati, Conserve Del Padre (jams) and ending with a chapter on Basics.

Alla Fratelli lasagneThere are so many recipes I plan on making that will impress my family but I narrowed it down to the Tiramisu and Lasagna Al Forno for this review.  I've made Bolognese and Béchamel before so I understood the time commitment. The result was worth the effort. My main experience with Lasagna Al Forno was that it took 16 hours to make according to Sophia on an episode of The Golden Girls. Have no fear, McDonald's version takes about two to three hours total and was delicious. The author's instructions are clear and easy to follow. I did have to search for instructions for tomato passata which was easy to substitute with tomato puree as tomatoes from my garden here in Colorado are still green.

Alla Fratelli tiramisuThe Tiramisu was made for a dessert when we had friends over and it was a show stealer. I loved the addition of rum - I have made tiramisu a few times and was the first time I have seen rum added to the mix - it was scrumptious and disappeared.

Very soon I am going to make the Cassata with Candied Orange for a special occasion because that photograph is etched forever in my memory. I truly wish there were enough meals and time to make the recipes from all the books I have grown to love. I've come to love testing recipes for these reviews and do find myself cooking and baking more from new cookbooks instead of resorting to old classics.

Alla Fratelli has recipes for classics with a touch of the Fratelli way sprinkled in with unique and interesting recipes that will intrigue even the advanced Italian cook. It's a keeper.

Photos for test recipes by Jenny Hartin. Jenny is an enthusiastic home cook who lives in Colorado, owns the website The Cookbook Junkies and runs the Facebook group also called The Cookbook Junkies. The Facebook group is a closed group of 30,000 cookbook fans - new members are welcome.

TIRAMISU SERVES 6

It's a classic for a reason. Coffee, booze and mascarpone combine to make one of Italy's most famous desserts.

100 g (31/2 oz) caster (superfine) sugarAlla Fratelli tiramisu
150 ml (5 fl oz) freshly made espresso coffee
11/2 tbsp dark rum
240 ml (8 fl oz) sweet Marsala
3 eggs, separated
750 g (1 lb 10 oz) mascarpone
150 g (51/2 oz) savoiardi biscuits or sliced, stale panettone
20 g (3/4 oz) dark (70%) chocolate, finely grated

To make the coffee soaking mixture, stir 30 g (1 oz) of the sugar into the hot espresso until dissolved, then stir in the rum and 185 ml (6 fl oz) of the Marsala. Set aside to cool.

Use electric beaters to whisk together the egg yolks and the remaining sugar. Add the remaining Marsala, then whisk in the mascarpone until smooth, taking care not to over-beat it. Use electric beaters to whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks, then gently fold into the mascarpone mixture.

To assemble, spread a quarter of the mascarpone mixture over the base of an 11 cm x 23 cm (41⁄4 in x 9 in), 9 cm/31⁄2 in deep plastic, glass or stainless-steel dish or container. Dip the savoiardi biscuits one at a time into the coffee mixture, allowing them to soak up some liquid, then layer six of them over the cream. Repeat this layering twice more with the mascarpone mixture and soaked biscuits, then finish with the remaining quarter of mascarpone mixture over the top. Refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.

Scatter the chocolate over the top and serve.

Alla Fratelli by Terry Durack and Barry McDonald (Murdoch Books). Photography by Rob Palmer. 

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