Book Club Tuesday: Old World Italian

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I have an incredibly soft spot for Mimi Thorisson because when I began to write in earnest about food over 7 years ago, I started out on Tumblr by trying recipes and writing short notes on the results. In one note, I wrote about baking canelés using Thorisson’s recipe and a carefully sourced canelé pan. I was so proud of myself! I baked outside my comfort zone and made something delicious. Thorisson’s blog, Manger, was a favourite because I vicariously experienced the Médoc region of France through her recipes, writing, and through her husband, Oddur Thorisson’s, beautiful photography. I enjoyed vicarious travel way before the Pandemic made it an actual thing! And it was last year when we were all sequestered at home that I found a copy of Thorisson’s latest book, Old World Italian, in my mailbox. Thorisson was off on a new adventure — leaving Médoc behind, as Torino, Italy beckoned. After writing two cookbooks (A Kitchen in France and French Country Cooking) at her beloved French farmhouse, her third book would focus on regional Italian cooking. The Thorisson family moved to Italy because, as she says in the introduction, “Italy was calling us”(8) and the resulting cookbook is full of recipes, photographs, and best of all stories. So, while I stayed quiet and cozy in my Maritime home, I did what we all did, travelled vicariously, enjoying the best of Italy through Thorisson’s recipes.

The beginning of the book prepares the reader for the recipes — how the family got from Bordeaux to Torino, a little primer on regional Italian cooking, and the joys of eating Italian. From there, the recipes are organized into 5 different chapters: Aperitivi & Antipasti (Drinks & Starters), Primi (Pasta), Secondi (Meat & Seafood), Contorni (Vegetables), and Dolci (Desserts). With the 100 or so recipes in the book, Thorisson aims to show that, in her mind, Italian cooking is all about the recipes and meals you lovingly make for your family. What I appreciate about the recipes is how to take fresh, beautiful ingredients and make something delicious. No complicated techniques or advance cooking skills needed. The crucial ingredient in all the recipes is love.

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Broccoli Pasta, p.174

Over the last year there were times I got sick of seeing my own kitchen but, I knew I still needed to cook meals for my family. And it was at times like this I looked for easy recipes that used minimal ingredients. The recipe for Broccoli Pasta is one such recipe — broccoli processed into a pasta sauce. What really brings out the flavour of the broccoli are the fried onions, heavy cream, garlic, and Parmesan cheese. It all works well together, and the resulting pasta dish is rich and comforting. I also like the idea of taking this hearty, tough cruciferous vegetable and do something with it other than roast it. Here, broccoli takes centre stage instead of being relegated to a side dish. My husband and daughter really enjoy this recipe when I make it and I find that this sauce tastes great on any type of pasta too.

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Torta di Ricotta (Ricotta Cheesecake), p. 286

As a special treat for you, the publisher has given me permission to share a recipe with my review and, I’m pleased to tell you that it’s one of my favourites from the book: Torta di Ricotta (Ricotta Cheesecake). Why I even tried this recipe in the first place is a mystery to me because the only other time I tried baking a ricotta cheesecake, I ended up not really liking it. In my mind, I thought it was going to be smoother, but the cake had the texture of ricotta — a bit grainy. But the difference between that ricotta cake and Thorisson’s version is that her version uses all-purpose flour. The resulting cheesecake is more cakey than creamy but because you whip the egg whites to fold into the batter, the cake bakes up light and airy. Not overly sweet, I not only serve it with a dusting of powdered sugar as Thorisson suggests, but with a bit of lemon zest and some seasonal fruit. My family favours this cake topped with summer berries but sliced, macerated stone fruit is quite lovely too. I’ve found the leftover cake stores well and makes a great weekend breakfast treat with coffee.

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Excerpted from Old World Italian: Recipes and Secrets from our Travels in Italy by Mimi Thorisson. Copyright © 2020 Marie-France Thorisson. Published by Appetite by Random House®, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

And, even though we’re moving out of the vicarious travel phase back into actually being able to travel, I continue to use cookbooks to experience the world through other people’s kitchens. Throughout the pages of Old World Italian, Mimi Thorisson offers wonderful recipes along with stories and photos centered around her family’s big move from France to Italy. Elegant and interesting, Thorisson offers a very personal look at what regional Italian cooking means to her by sharing recipes based on her time spent traveling throughout Italy.

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Torta di Ricotta (Ricotta Cheesecake), p. 286

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Appetite by Random House for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

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