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Skipping a step

 ipad

Recipe instructions run the gamut from sparse to confusing to insanely detailed. But no matter how specific the instructions, there are seven steps that Tommy Werner at Epicurious always skips. These instructions either waste time or actually do more harm than good. Washing chicken falls into the latter camp. While it may remove bacteria from the skin, it can also splash those same bacteria all over your sink and counter top, so it's best to just skip that step entirely.

Several of the steps that Werner doesn't bother with involve peeling various foods. Ginger generally doesn't need to be peeled if you are grating it or making a paste from it. The thin skin won't be noticeable in these applications. If you are using a garlic press (whether a press is good or bad is a discussion saved for another day), you don't need to peel garlic, either.

Sifting flour is another mostly unnecessary task. You can usually just use a whisk to blend dry ingredients and remove any lumps. Werner saves the sifting for special applications like making angel food cake, "where properly sifted flour can guarantee a light, springy texture."

One thing that I often forego is a complete mise en place. Professionally-trained chef and popular TV cooking show host Sara Moulton backs me up on this, noting that in the home kitchen, fully completing all prep in advance can cost a lot of precious time. What recipe steps do you usually skip?

Soda science

 gingersnaps from Serious Eats

When you inspect almost any cookie recipe other than shortbread, you'll probably find baking soda in the ingredient list. Most people generally understand how baking soda works to make cakes rise, but why do cookies need this pantry staple since they don't really rise that much? Stella Parks at indexed blog Serious Eats has the scoop and explains the multi-faceted role of baking soda in cookies.

It turns out that leavening isn't the only effect soda provides; it "also raises the dough's pH, and that's a pretty big deal. Creating an alkaline environment slows protein coagulation, which gives the dough more time to spread before the eggs set. This promotes a uniform thickness from edge to center, helping the cookies bake more evenly," says Parks. Additionally, the alkalinity of the soda impedes gluten formation, which helps tenderize the cookies. But wait, there's more! Baking soda even speeds up the Maillard reaction, causing the cookies to brown faster and develop more flavor. That's a lot of work for one simple ingredient.

Parks illustrates the different roles for soda using a gingersnap recipe. She changes the amount of soda from none to a full teaspoon, noting the changes to the cookies after each tiny bump. Since even a small change to the amount of soda can have a big impact, Parks warns not to go overboard when making changes to any cookie recipe.

Many times when cookies or cakes fail, stale baking soda is often blamed. Chances are that the baking soda is not the culprit, as it can last almost indefinitely at room temperature in most climates. It would have to be held at high temperatures and/or at very high humidity levels for extended periods for it to significantly diminish in quality. So if your soda is past its "expiration" date, it's probably still good to use.

Photo of The best gingersnaps from indexed blog Serious Eats

Review of Summer Berries & Autumn Fruits by Annie Rigg

Summer Berries, Autumn FruitsAnnie Rigg is a freelance food stylist and a prolific cookbook author. Her latest endeavor, Summer Berries & Autumn Fruits: 120 Sensational, Sweet & Savory Recipes appears to be the most beautiful of her collection, in my humble opinion. I have a few of Rigg's previous titles and this one seems to be a larger body of work and the selection of recipes are more varied. It may very well be that I need to pull out her titles and refresh my memory.

This title is a page turner - as I was reading it I found myself looking forward to the next recipe or beautiful photograph. Each page has a dish more fabulous than the last. The whole combination of sweet and savory with regard to berries and fruit dishes is appealing to me. I've always been a fan of brightening up a main course with citrus or adding fruit to bring another flavor to a protein entrée.

Recipes are organized by variety of fruit utilized starting with Citrus; Berries & Soft Fruit; Stone; Tropical; and Orchard, which is almost seasonal in nature. Selections vary from the usual suspects of cakes, cookies and pies but also include curds, marmalades, jams, bitters, salads and savory dishes.

From the first recipe, Bergamot and Mandarin Mini Financiers, I was taken with the different flavors she employs as well as the gorgeous photography by Tara Fisher. By the third recipe, Chocolate Orange Delice, which looks like it could be in the window of a French pastry shop, I knew this book was a keeper.

Orange Scented Churros with Caramel Orange Chocolate Sauce, Portuguese Lemon Tarts, and Lemon and Almond Roulade with Red Currants and Raspberries are a few of the dessert variety of recipes. Examples of savory recipes are: Lamb Kofte with Cherries, Turkish Pide with Lamb and Pomegrante Seeds and Green Papaya Salad with Crispy Fried Beef are standouts.

Ruby Grapefruit Curd, Seville Orange Marmalade with Whiskey and Ginger (a personal favorite of the author), and Pickled Redcurrants are tasty ways to preserve nature's bounty and enjoy a favorite flavor out of season. Rigg's recipes spark inspiration and I look forward to playing with more flavor combinations in my cooking.

I tested two recipes in this title - the Portuguese Lemon Tarts and the Lemon and Poppy Seed Madeleines. Portuguese Tarts have been on my culinary bucket list to make for quite a while and I welcomed the opportunity to mark that task as completed.

The dough for the Portuguese Lemon Tarts is very similar to puff pastry and while it takes a few hours of hands-off chill time - it was easy. I've made rough puff pastry before but this was my first attempt at a laminated dough. This is not a humble brag - this is an out and out full fledged brag: I made puff pastry and it was fabulous. Over the last few years, I have conquered pie and pastry crust and I never thought I would make homemade puff pastry but thanks to Annie Rigg - I can check that off my list as well.

The lemon custard for the Portuguese Lemon Tarts was a breeze. I wish the authorPortuguese lemon tarts would have specified an estimated time for thickening the custard. In my case it was about 15 minutes, but for someone who hasn't made custard before an approximation would be helpful. One other little thing that gave me pause is when water is used in a recipe, it isn't listed under the ingredients. I like to double check and prep in advance to have everything ready. If you are like me, read the recipe in total before proceeding. Not a major fault and I do know some authors don't list water as an ingredient but in a baking book it is helpful. My tarts were outstanding but those gorgeous little brown spots typical of a Portuguese tart never appeared and after 16 minutes (the recipe calls for 12 minutes) I was afraid I was going to burn my pastry. I tried putting them under the broiler for one minute and even sprinkling a little sugar with a brulee torch, but no. Regardless of that missing element - this pastry was perfect in every way and the custard was tangy and not overly sweet. I made only 12 tarts and will use the leftover custard to make a pie this week. The second log of pastry will be used to make a beef wellington type dish with leftover pot roast.

Lemon & poppy seed madeleinesAs a fan of lemon and poppy seed as a combination, the madeleines were another easy choice. Since moving to Colorado, I have made madeleines twice and while they were delicious they were off in texture. Madeleines will be made frequently in my home now that I have a recipe that works well and now that I know I can fill them with all sorts of deliciousness.

All in all, Summer Berries & Autumn Fruits earns a spot on my shelves and deserves a spot on yours as well.

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.

Lemon and Poppy Seed Madeleines

This is a multi-cultural bake if ever there was one, with a nod to France from whence the buttery madeleine originated, a wink to the US and Eastern Europe for the addition of poppy seeds, and a cheeky grin to Great Britain for the nifty use of lemon curd. Madeleine pans can vary in size and shape, so the number of cakes that you'll get from this recipe will vary according to whatever pan you're using. They are best eaten on the day of making.

Makes about 20Lemon & poppy seed madeleines

10 tablespoons unsalted butter
1⅓ cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon poppy seeds, plus extra for scattering
3 large eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
a pinch of sea salt
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
12-15 teaspoons lemon curd (see page 33 for homemade)
For the lemon glaze
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar, plus extra if needed

Melt the butter and use a little to grease the inside of the madeleine pans, ensuring that you get it into every groove and corner. Dust with a little flour, tapping out the excess, then pop in the fridge while you prepare the batter.

Sift the flour and baking powder together in a bowl, stir in the poppy seeds, and set aside.

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or using a hand-held mixer), beat the eggs, sugar, and salt for about 5 minutes (longer if using a hand-held mixer) until thick, pale, and doubled in volume. Add the zest and mix to combine.

Using a large metal spoon and a figure-eight action, fold in the sifted dry ingredients. Carefully pour the melted butter around the edges of the bowl and fold in. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes while you preheat the oven to 375ºF.

Drop a rounded teaspoon of batter into the middle of each madeleine indentation and gently spread to fill, leaving a little dip in the middle.

Spoon a scant teaspoonful of lemon curd into the dip and cover with a little more batter. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for about 12 minutes until well-risen and golden.

Meanwhile, prepare the glaze: Whisk together the lemon juice and confectioners' sugar until smooth. You want the glaze to be thick enough to just coat the back of a spoon, so add more sugar or a drop of water to adjust the consistency if necessary. Turn the madeleines onto a wire rack, let cool for a couple of minutes, and then brush with a little glaze and finish with a light scattering of poppy seeds.

Portuguese Lemon Tarts

My pastel de nata, or custard tarts, aren't quite classic, as they are laced with lemon, but hopefully they are simpler to make. The pastry dough, which is similar to puff, takes a bit of forward planning and needs to be started the day before you plan to bake. Nothing, in my opinion, compares to homemade, but if you're short on time, then store-bought all-butter puff pastry would make an acceptable substitute. They are best eaten on the day of making.

Makes 20 to 24Portuguese lemon tarts

For the dough
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
a good pinch of sea salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

For the filling
1 1/2 cups whole milk
juice of 2 lemons
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
4 level tablespoons cornstarch
6 large egg yolks

Equipment
Two 12-hole muffin pans or similar-sized individual pie pans

Start by making the dough: Pour the flour into a mixing bowl, add the salt and 3/4 cup cold water, and mix until you have an almost smooth dough. Lightly dust the work surface with flour, remove the dough from the bowl, and knead very briefly until smooth. Pat into a square, cover with an upturned bowl, and let rest for 15 minutes.

Lightly dust the work surface with flour again and roll the dough into a neat rectangle three times as long as it is wide (about 18 x 6 inches) and with one of the shorter sides nearest to you. Mentally divide the rectangle of dough into thirds-each third a rough square shape-and spread 9 tablespoons of the butter evenly over the middle third. Fold the bottom third up to cover the butter and the top third down to make a neat square shape. Turn the dough 90 degrees clockwise so that the open flap side is now on the left. Roll into a rectangle again and fold the bottom third up into the middle and the top third down again. Carefully wrap with plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour.

Lightly dust the work surface with flour and again roll out the dough into a rectangle (about 18 x 6 inches). Fold and roll the dough as before, then chill again for 1 hour.

Lightly dust the work surface once again and roll out the dough into a neat rectangle about 16 x 20 inches. Spread the remaining butter over the surface, being careful not to tear the dough. Starting at the edge closest to you, roll the dough into a tight spiral log, trim the ends, and cut the log in half to make handling easier. Wrap each log in plastic wrap and chill for about 4 hours or overnight until firm.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan, bring the milk, ⅔ cup cold water, and the lemon juice slowly to just below boiling point. In a bowl, whisk the lemon zest with the sugar, cornstarch, and egg yolks. Pour in half the milk mixture, whisk until smooth, then return to the pan and cook over low heat, whisking constantly, until it has thickened and no longer tastes of cornstarch. Remove from the heat, pour into a clean bowl, and cover the surface with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming. Let cool, then chill until needed.

Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Lightly dust the work surface with flour and cut the dough logs into 1/2-inch thick slices. Roll out each one to a thin disc about 4 inches across. Press the dough into the pans so that it comes up the sides. Don't worry about trimming off the edges. Scoop a rounded teaspoonful of the custard into each hole. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for about 25 minutes until the filling is tinged with brown and the dough is crisp and golden.

Leave in the pans for 5 to 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack until cold.

Summer Berries & Autumn Fruits by Annie Rigg (c) 2016 Kyle Books, and the photographs (c) Tara Fisher.

Excerpt from 'Pure Delicious'

Chocolate brownie mud cake

Food blogger and author Heather Christo was once "openly skeptical about the very existence" of food allergies, but when her young daughter had repeated unexplained illnesses, she reluctantly came to the conclusion that food allergies could be the problem. After extensive testing, she learned that not only did her daughter, Pia, have many food allergies, but so did she and her other daughter, Coco. Heather made it a point to transform their diet and the results were astonishing. She explains what happened in her new cookbook, Pure Delicious. (You can enter our contest for your chance to win a copy of the book.) Heather has graciously provided EYB with an excerpt from the introduction of Pure Delicious, plus a bonus recipe!

So right before Christmas 2013, the three of us went through the extensive and specific blood-3 antibody ELISA testing (see page 15) that assessed our reactions to 160 foods, spices, and herbs. And then, doing what any normal person facing the knowledge that she might never be able to eat certain foods again would do, we gorged over the holidays.

January found us all sick and exhausted, not just from our holiday binge but from the shocking test results. Among my allergens:

  • cow and goat dairy
  • eggs
  • pineapple, bananas, passion fruit, kiwi (highly, triggering, bordering on anaphylaxis)
  • coffee beans, vanilla beans (there go the lattes)
  • whole wheat, gluten, flaxseed
  • black pepper, bean sprouts, lima beans, navy beans
  • clams, scallops

Pia tested positive for these:

  • cane sugar, eggs, cow and goat dairy, ginger, curry, and garlic
  • oranges, grapefruit, pineapple, cranberries
  • gluten, whole wheat, rye, flax, spelt, barley, Kamut (a variety of wheat)
  • psyllium (think of all those fiber supplements)
  • hazelnuts, peanuts
  • string beans, lima beans, navy beans, coffee beans, soy

And Coco had her own list:

  • gluten, whole wheat, spelt, Kamut
  • eggs, cow and goat dairy
  • oranges and cranberries

With so many foods to avoid, how was I possibly going to feed my family? Even garlic was on the verboten list, along with virtually all of my Greek Husband's traditional family foods! And what about my blog readers? Some of my most popular posts that year were recipes for Cheese-and-Cream Baked Potatoes, Skillet-Baked Stuffed Rigatoni, cheese-dripping Caprese Soup, and Slutty Halloween Brownies. 

As upsetting as the prospect of living without all those foods was, I knew I had to find out what would happen if we did. Having been openly skeptical about the very existence of food allergies - I had been known to smirk at those who went on about what I privately dubbed their "New Age" allergies - I knew I may have to eat crow. I had to put our health before my ego. Drawing on my skills as a chef as well as the true grit and determination of a mother who loves her children, I vowed to dismantle our routines, habits, and social lives, and then rebuild them on a new, sturdier, healthier foundation, piece by piece.

That January, we went cold turkey on all of the items on our ELISA test. The whole family went gluten, dairy, egg, soy, and cane sugar free, and then we had various other ingredients that we individually avoided based on our results. Differences between and definitions of allergies, sensitivities, intolerances, and inflammation are in flux and sometimes hotly debated. The Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) website is a good place to get an overview, but much is still unknown. The one thing that everyone seems to agree on at this point is this: If you have a life-threatening allergy to, say, peanuts or shellfish or strawberries, you already know to avoid those foods at all cost. For those with more subtle or more chronic reactions, the avoid-and-reintroduce approach is inexpensive and pretty reliable: take suspect foods out of your diet for a while, and then add them back in one at time and see what happens. For me, the ELISA was helpful because it motivated me to get serious about eliminating suspect foods and gave me a starting point. (And I should note that the test was expensive, and insurance paid only for my girls' testing, not mine.) My real conviction came from the drastic improvements I saw as the result of my own experimentation and tracking.

Within three days, Pia's stomachaches stopped. Within a week, her skin rashes had cleared up and she had no more headaches. Within two weeks, her eyes were no longer puffy and their dark circles had faded, normal healthy bathroom habits resumed, and her nasal congestion and constant throat clearing began to wane. I also noticed that her wild emotional swings, which I had chalked up to "being a little girl," seemed to even out. While she would normally cry every afternoon and be drooping with exhaustion after school, she started coming home in a great mood and full of energy. She was a different girl!

Sound hard to believe? All I can say is, I began this journey as a nonbeliever who considered food allergy nuts fussy, demanding, and self-absorbed, whereas I was all about cooking with abandon and eating with passion and loving life through all the senses! Little did I know I was dulling our senses by chronically stressing our systems.

--------

PIA'S FAMOUS CHOCOLATE BROWNIE MUG CAKE (pictured above)
PREPARATION: 5 MINUTES   COOK TIME: 2 MINUTES SERVINGS: 2

These jaunty mug cakes are the first dessert I came up with post-allergy diagnosis to satisfy Pia's chocolate cravings, and they are so easy that my little girls can make and microwave them all on their own. The result is a fudgy mix between a cake and a pudding, a perfect hot chocolaty dessert that takes seven minutes, max, from start to finish. Add a generous dollop of coconut whipped cream to really put this over the top. If you like, make a double batch of the batter and fill mini mason jars so you can pull one out of the fridge and microwave to order throughout the week.

1⁄2 cup all-purpose gluten-free flour
1⁄2 cup granulated beet sugar
1⁄4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
Pinch of kosher salt
1⁄2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1⁄4 cup vegetable oil

In a blender or food processor, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt, coconut milk, and oil and purée until the mixture is smooth and free of lumps. Divide the batter between two microwave-safe mugs.

Microwave on high until the mixture is cooked through, 1 minute 40 seconds to 2 minutes. It should still be moist in the center, not dry.

Let cool for a minute and serve hot.

Reprinted from Pure Delicious by arrangement with Pam Krauss Books/Avery, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © 2016, Heather Christo LLC

 



Cookbook giveaway - Pure Delicious

Pure Delicious cookbookAs a chef, former caterer, and much-loved food blogger, Heather Christo's life revolves around food, so when she and her daughters were diagnosed with severe food allergies, she thought her life-and career-were over. With ingredients like gluten, dairy, nuts, and even cane sugar and black pepper permanently off the menu, Heather had to teach herself to cook all over again. The result is her latest cookbook, Pure Delicious. You can learn more about Heather's challenge, and the positive results she obtained, in an excerpt from the cookbook's introduction.

We're delighted to offer three copies of Pure Delicious to EYB Members in the US only. One of the entry options is to answer the following question in the comments section of this blog post:

What food items, if any, have you found problematic in your diet?

Please note that you must be logged into the Rafflecopter contest before posting or your entry won't be counted. If you are not already a Member, you can join at no cost. The contest ends August 15, 2016.



Cherry on top

cherry pie

Cherry season is in full swing in the US and Canada. The luscious fruits prominently displayed in the produce section of the supermarket (or, if you are lucky, at your local farmers' market) are just too pretty to pass up. If you aren't sure which varieties are best for which use, Epicurious can lend a hand, with a guide to buying, storing and using cherries.

Even though your market may have many varieties of cherries, there are only two basic types: sweet and sour. Sweet cherries make up the bulk of what's available in the stores, are the best for eating out of hand, and are great in many baked goods and other dishes. Sour cherries are mainly destined for pie or other sweet desserts as they are too tart for snacking.

This year's cherry harvest was earlier than ever, so if you have been contemplating a fresh cherry pie, you may want to act sooner rather than later. Spring arrived abruptly in the major cherry-growing regions, which prompted the plants to ripen almost a month early. "This was the earliest start ever to cherry season," says James Michael, vice president of marketing for Northwest Cherry Growers.

The Epicurious guide offers descriptions of the various types of sweet cherries generally available to most consumers. Once you have decided on the variety, there are tips to making sure you get the freshest fruit. Look at the stems on the cherries and try to find those with intact green stems. The fruits should be shiny, plump and firm. Once you get the cherries home, stick them in the refrigerator as they lose quality much more quickly at room temperature. 

Visit the EYB Library for loads of ideas on what to do with sweet or sour cherries. There are over 1,500 online recipesjust waiting for those plump little fruits, including the Cherry pie from Australian Gourmet Traveller Magazine pictured above. Unfortunately, we can't help with pitting.

Featured Cookbooks & Recipes

Finding the best recipes amongst the millions online is not easy - but you don't have to! The team here at Eat Your Books, searches for excerpts from indexed books and magazines and every week we bring you our latest finds. Every day recipes are added from the best blogs and websites.

As a member, you can also add your own favorite online recipes using  the Bookmarklet. With EYB, you can have a searchable index of all your recipes in one place!

Happy cooking and baking everyone!

From magazines & websites:


Blueberry-Lavender White Chocolate Cheesecake from Food & Drink Magazine by Julia Aitken, added with the Bookmarklet

 

 

From AUS/NZ books:

91 recipes from The Great New Zealand Baking Book: All the Favourites We Know and Love from Sixty of Our Finest Bakers by Murray Thom & Tim Harper

 

 

From UK books:

9 recipes from The New Vegetarian by Alice Hart

 

15 recipes from Superfoods: The Flexible Approach to Eating More Superfoods by Julie Montagu, indexed by an EYB member

 

8 recipes from  World's Best Cakes: 250 Great Cakes from Raspberry Genoise to Chocolate Kugelhopf by Roger Pizey

 

 

From US books:

12 recipes from Plated: Weeknight Dinners, Weekend Feasts, and Everything in Between by Elana Karp & Suzanne Dumaine

 

35 recipes from Layered: Baking, Building, and Styling Spectacular Cakes by Tessa Huff

 

3 recipes from The Essential Wood-Fired Pizza Cookbook: Recipes and Techniques from My Wood Fired Oven by Anthony Tassinello, indexed by an EYB member

 

Get the most out of less-than-perfect tomatoes

grated tomato sauce

Sometimes the tomatoes from the farmers' market haul are so gorgeous and ripe that all you have to do slice and serve; they need no other garnish than a pinch of salt and pepper. Other times - or with some supermarket produce - the fruit is less than perfect. What to do then? Bon Appétit has the solution, with four genius ways to use bad tomatoes

Raleigh, North Carolina chef Ashley Christensen (whose first cookbook, Poole's: Recipes and Stories from a Modern Diner, is due out this fall) explains what she does when faced with bruised or lackluster tomatoes. The chef grates them (using a box grater), and follow up with a brief sauté to make a fresh summertime sauce. "It's about falling in love with that middle ground between raw and cooked tomatoes," she explains. She pairs the sauce with cooked shrimp or pasta. 

There are other easy methods that will concentrate and amplify the flavor of iffy tomatoes. You can dry them overnight in a slow oven, using a dehydrator, or even by letting them soak in a day's worth of sun (protecting the tomatoes with a screen to keep away pesky insects).

The oven can also be used to roast the fruit at a higher heat, creating a wonderful side dish using cherry tomatoes. Broiling or grilling tomatoes until charred adds a smoky flavor that's great for salsa. All of these techniques can, of course, be used with other vegetables to make the most of less-than-perfect produce.

Photo of Grated tomato sauce by Ted Cavanaugh for Bon Appétit Magazine

Author Q&A with Domenica Marchetti

favorite jam crostata

Domenica Marchetti is a food writer, recipe developer, and cooking teacher who specializes in Italian home cooking. She learned to cook from her Italian-born mother, who put her to work crafting capelletti, ravioli, and other Italian culinary delights as soon as she could see over the kitchen counter. A former newspaper reporter with a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University, Domenica covered subjects ranging from health and fitness to philanthropy before turning to her favorite subject, food. Her food articles have appeared in The Washington Post, Cooking Light, Fine Cooking, Health, and Virginia Living, and she has written several cookbooks. Her latest, Preserving Italy, has just been released. (Enter our contest for your chance to win a copy of the book, and view our World Calendar of Cookbook Events to see book tour dates and locations.) Domenica spoke with EYB about her book and what she noticed about the state of preserving in Italy:

You have covered a lot of Italian cooking subjects in your cookbooks - soups & stews, pasta, biscotti, vegetables and more. How did the idea for a book on Italian preserving come about?

My mother always canned giardiniera, pickled peppers, green tomatoes, and jams. And I've always made jams and a few pickles. I had a small chapter in The Glorious Vegetables of Italy on preserves and condiments. But it wasn't until I decided to try to recreate my grandmother's amarene sotto spirito (sour cherries in boozy syrup) that I began to look more deeply at the subject of preserving and its place in Italian cuisine.

Many people when they think of preserving, think of jams and chutneys. What other types of preserving methods are covered in your book?

The book covers a spectrum that includes vegetables preserved in oil; vegetables preserved in vinegar; jams, marmalades, and conserves; condiments (mostarda, pesto, quince paste, seasoned salts and vinegars etc.); tomatoes and sauce (a chapter that also includes homemade pasta and how to store it); simple salumi (cured meats); brined and salt-cured olives; fresh cheeses; syrups and liqueurs, and a few confections (thanks to the preserving properties of sugar).

You grew up with an Italian mother. How many of the techniques in the book were ones used by your family and were there any techniques that you had to learn when writing the book?

My mom was accomplished at the more basic canning techniques ~ pickled vegetables, jams, fruit in syrup, and such. She also made homemade pasta, and homemade sausages. I learned most of those techniques from her, but there was definitely a learning curve for the book. For example, I had never cured my own olives. And, since I don't have an olive grove in my backyard in suburban Virginia, I had to find a source for the fruit. Thank goodness for California and the Internet.

Italy has a wonderful tradition of charcuterie - salumi, prosciutto, bresaola, etc. Do you include any meat preserving techniques and recipes?

Yes, it's definitely a subject worthy of its own book. For this book, which covers a broad variety of techniques, I kept to simple salumi ~ pancetta and guanciale, plus sausages. This is a good place for people to start if they haven't done any meat curing before. Nothing too intimidating.

Italy is famous for its regional differences in cooking styles. Are there also regional differences in preserving?

Yes, although there is definitely some overlap. For example, you will see eggplant or zucchini preserve in oil in various regions, from Abruzzo to Campania, Puglia, and Calabria ~ generally in the south. On the other hand, something like mostarda--that is, fruits suspended in a very spicy syrup spiked with mustard essence--is generally only found in Lombardia, and parts of the Veneto and Emilia Romagna ~ a swath across a northern section of Italy. And the mostarda varies from province to province and region to region. In Abruzzo we have something called mosto cotto, a syrup made from very slowly cooked down grape must. It is drizzled over ricotta and also used as a sweetener in baked goods. In Emilia Romagna, it is known as saba.

Italy has wonderful raw materials - vegetables, fruit, meats, dairy products. Are cooks who need to use supermarkets for their raw ingredients at an immediate disadvantage?

This is an excellent question, and speaking broadly I would have to say yes. You really want to try to avoid preserving tired vegetables or fruits past their prime, or those that are bred for appearance over flavor. The good news is that many supermarkets now make an effort to carry local produce when it's in season. Also, the number of farmers' markets has increased exponentially over the last few decades ~ which is another reason I felt this was the right time for this book. We have access to great fruits and vegetables.

In your travels around Italy do you feel that traditional preserving methods are being lost or is there an artisanal food crafts revival in Italy as there is in the USA?

I keep reading stories about how more and more people in Italy are eating fast food, and that the culinary rituals and traditions are falling by the wayside. I am sure there is some truth to this. However, while I was traveling around the peninsula researching and reporting this book, I found plenty of evidence that the tradition of preserving is alive and well. There are incredibly talented food artisans in every region. I was lucky enough to interview some of them, and I've included profiles of these people and the work they do in the book, from a family that makes what is considered the best buffalo mozzarella in all of Campania, to a husband and wife in Piemonte who switched careers in midlife to buy a shop where they make and sell top-quality preserves.

One of the issues for people who do a lot of preserving is coming up with interesting ways to use the bounty. Do you include recipes that use the preserves?

Yes. The last thing I want is for people to spend time making beautiful preserves and then letting them sit on a shelf in the pantry. So in addition to all the recipes for various preserved foods, there are plenty of recipes in which you can use them. For example, there's a recipe for favorite jam crostata [pictured above] ~ a rustic tart which you can fill with any of the jams in the book (or your own favorite). There's also a recipe for almond cake that has is filled with a layer of jam. Many of the pickled and oil-preserved vegetables can be used as crostini toppings, on top of pizza, in stuffed peppers, and in insalata di riso, a cold rice salad. Recipes for all of those are included.

What are some of your own favorite recipes in the book?

Ack! Tough question. I love the garlic, cheese, and wine sausage, especially grilled and served with pickled vegetables. I also love the aforementioned insalata di riso, to which you can add any number of the pickled vegetables. One recipe that has been a big hit with friends and at cooking classes is the Sweet and Sour Roasted Peppers with Capers. The peppers are blackened, peeled, cleaned, and sliced, then brined in a sweet and sour vinegar brine, and finally packed in jars and topped off with oil. They are so flavorful and the oil gives them a lovely silky texture. One of my favorite desserts in a mint chocolate-chip cake that has fresh mint syrup stirred into the batter. I love the homemade liqueurs--limoncello, cream of strawberry, nocino. And of course, those boozy sour cherries! 

Cookbook giveaway - Preserving Italy

Preserving Italy by Domenica MarchettiFood writer and cookbook author Domenica Marchetti feels that the notion of preserving shouldn't be limited to American jams and jellies. In her latest cookbook, Preserving Italy, she turns our gaze to the ever-alluring flavors and ingredients of Italy. There, abundant produce and other Mediterranean ingredients lend themselves particularly well to canning, bottling, and other preserving methods. In addition to recipes for and using both sweet and savory preserves, the book also allows us to learn from Domenica's in-person travels across the regions of Italy. You can learn more about Preserving Italy in our author Q&A with Domenica.

We're delighted to offer three copies of the cookbook to EYB Members in the US and Canada only. One of the entry options is to answer the following question in the comments section of this blog post:

Which Italian preserve, condiment, or cured meat product are you most interested in learning how to make?

Please note that you must be logged into the Rafflecopter contest before posting or your entry won't be counted. If you are not already a Member, you can join at no cost. The contest ends August 12, 2016.


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