I recently received a copy of Extra Virgin: Recipes and Love from our Tuscan Kitchen by Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazar. Extra Virgin also is a show on the Cooking Channel where the authors invite you into their kitchen and create Tuscan inspired, family friendly dishes. I was excited about this book because I have been a fan of Debi Mazar's acting for many years and she was my favorite part of the HBO series Entourage. I have caught the Extra Virgin television show several times, stopping because I recognize her distinctive voice and accent and I'm always charmed by her beauty and ease in the kitchen with her husband Gabriele. This collection of recipes is written with lots of talk of their children, love and the satisfaction that providing a delicious meal for your own loved ones creates.
The cover art is gorgeous, like all of the photographs in the book. Just opening it made me want a plate of pasta to magically appear in front of me. The title section of the cover is crafted from a textured paper and it feels marvelous as well as adding a bit of traction to an slippery cover. I am a klutz and I'm always dropping things, especially in the kitchen when I'm thinking of timing and preparing the food, so for me this was a useful and pleasant touch.
I feel this book would make an excellent gift because in addition to it being a visual feast, it is filled with many straight forward, easy to follow recipes. Many of the recipes in Extra Virgin are a little above my skill level in the kitchen, but they are written in such a way that I would be inspired to try them. The authors give several tips for how to accomplish certain steps, helpful hints and substitutions and every recipe is presented with a glimpse into their busy life, their affection for each other and their daughters and the importance of food in their lives.
I was struck many times by the descriptions of dishes Debi and Gabriele remembered from their childhood and how they adapted them to fit their hectic schedules. Page after page delivers romantic stories like that of the squash blossoms that Gabriele cooked for Debi on their first date or the way they incorporate parts of their heritage into their dinner table to remember and honor their loved ones. Each story is warm and inviting and feels like something you'd hear from a friend. I like the tone and the focus on simple, delicious food as a way of communicating love and passion.
The book is made up of several chapters including appetizers, entrees, sides, desserts and drinks. Some dishes like pastas, panini and pizzas receive their own chapters and there are often notes on how to adapt them for a Kosher table as well as to make them vegetarian friendly. In the beginning they also take the time to describe both the pantry essentials and equipment they keep on hand to prepare the meals. I was excited to try my hand at a recipe for this review but my relative lack of the things common to their kitchen (which is stocked with items such as whole milk, red onions, fresh herbs and guanciale - a cured pork) led me to the recipe for ricotta pancakes. It sounded delicious, was a favorite of Debi's and seemed approachable. Best of all I had all the items on hand to make them so I could start them right away.
The instructions made it easy and my Kitchen Aide stand mixer (that was a brilliant gift from my husband who loves to eat and loves even more when I try new recipes) made it even easier to beat the egg whites into peaks and add whole milk ricotta cheese, sugar, salt, egg yolks, flour and lemon zest to form a light batter with lots of volume. The recipe served four but we made quick work of the eleven cakes which I served with Vermont maple syrup, blackberries from our backyard and some mint leaves that my husband planted for me this spring. I had three and was pleasantly full but Andy finished the rest and said he hoped I would make them again soon.
Although it had some techniques I don't normally do, I believe they came out well. I posted a picture of them on Twitter and @Debi_Mazar retweeted it so I was thrilled to think that she did too!
The thing I liked best about this book was a brief passage where Ms. Mazar explains that she wants you to love the recipes and make them your own. She says "So please use this book. Dog ear the pages. Get sauce on it. Let a spray of olive oil from a vigorous drizzle mark its pages. Write your favorite notes - your own inspirations - in the margins. Let the love we put into these recipes become a part of your home." This sums up the whole experience that is Extra Virgin: Recipes and Love from our Tuscan Kitchen. I will use this book in the years to come and be thankful for its presence. I don't mind the buttery fingerprint on the ricotta pancakes recipe one bit. It's a mark of progress in my cooking journey and a reminder that Andy can't wait for more.
For more info on this cookbook, you can click on these links: Author bios, About Extra Virgin from Random House, and you can follow Gabriele Corcos on Twitter at Under The Tuscan Gun. It's available in stores now.
I hope you enjoyed this blog entry. I received ExtraVirgin: Recipes and Love from our Tuscan Kitchen from Blogging for Books for this review.
Many thanks for reading. Much love to all of you.