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From Seed to Plate, is an Italian Cook Book with a difference.
As a 'follow-on' to my Seeds of Italy website review, this is a review of the websites accompanying cookbook . (Which I didn't even know existed).
Now I know what your thinking, given who the author is. This book is just going to be one great big advertising campaign, for the Seeds of Italy website.
Well. Actually it isn't. Far from it!
The book maintains complete impartiality with only a brief mention of Seeds of Italy on the first page where the author talks about his past. In fact many of the vegetables listed are not actually Italian varieties at all, and if your only interest is in eating, rather than in the growing it won't affect your enjoyment of this book. If you like Italian food, you will love this book.
It is written by the owner of Seeds of Italy, Paolo Arrigo, and is excellent value costing around £15 for the 200+ page, hardback version. It is available from the authors website, Amazon, and similar online retailers.
+First Impressions & Layout+
To be honest, most cookbooks I had seen, largely follow the same format. A brief forward, and then recipes divided up into sections such as meats, vegetables, pastas etc. Usually these recipes have an accompanying narrative, and depending on the author, it may, or may not be entertaining. So upon recieving this book as a gift for Christmas I wasn't expecting to be overly impressed, excited or indeed even pleased.
I was not expecting to see or read anything new, or very different from what I had previously seen or read countless times before.
The thing which really stuck out for me instantly though, was the heart warming foreword. It details the history and passion behind Italian cuisine, and why the reputation for sowing seeds (literally) and growing things, is well deserved, when thinking of Italian culture. There wasn't any arrogance, or patronizing tones, it was just a friendly banter, setting you at ease and sparking an interest as to what the book would contain.
It also bestows upon the author some credibility, as to how and why he is authoring a cook book. Surely after reading the heart felt passages, this book was written by a man who loves food, and loves sharing his excitment.
Upon thumbing further into the book, I then also immediately noticed, that this book is not laid out in a typical fashion. It is refreshingly actually based and organized around the amazing varieties of Italian produce. And probably rather obviously (given the author) has a great deal of growing tips, and recommendations for varieties to try. The book also touches on the aspect of regionality in Italy, which for any afficanado of Italian culutre will know, is paramount to authentic Italian cooking.
This book sort of bridges a gap between cooking and the history and sourcing of ingredients. Sadly thanks to the fascination with supermarkets, the assosciation between ingredients and cooking is often lost these days. This book however, strikingly addresses that important fact.
Although I have to emphasize that the feel of this book, is very much of a cook book, rather than a gardening journal. So it will appeal to the cook moreso than the gardener. How it achieves this, is by seamlessly incorporating text about the ingredients, together with the actual cooking of it. CLEVER Stuff!
Quite impressively there is also an assortment of recipes from some celebrity chefs, or prestigious eateries, sharing their secrets.
All of this is presented in a non patronizing, non pretentious way, and quite frankly all the recipes and growing tips are all very easy to follow, and friendly. The layout is clear and simple, and is nicely illustrated throughout.
When all things are considered the main purpose of a cook book, is to contain usable recipes, and to provide inspiration to actually cook them. Sure some entertaining commentary is nice, but the real proof of the pudding (as they say) is indeed in the eating.
Given that I was familiar with alot of the recipes (being Italian), I have to say that most of the recipes are very authentic, and the accompanying texts are very accurate. My one dislike is that in one or two recipes I noticed the author doesn't give specific quantities, which is fine if you know how to cook, but it would be nice to give a reference for those who are unsure, about the ratios needed. I suppose though, how much salt you add, or how much water to loosen a sauce, is a personal thing and as such it is hard to quantify. So yes I am being quite picky here, but it was the only thing which otherwise ruined complete perfection. Praise indeed.
To my mind alot of cook books end up gathering dust on book shelves, because the majority of the recipes call for semi exotic ingredients, or complex processes which may make for an interesting read, but without a huge amount of effort can't be created easily, or on a whim. In other words you have to plan to make those, whereas this book however holds true to real Italian cooking, and practically all the ingredients are generally basic storecupboard favourites.
Another plus point, and another reason why this cook book will get used alot. Is the number of recipes which require comparively little cooking time. For example, one recipe, calls for nothing more than broadbeans, onions and cooked pasta. Less than fifteen minutes is all that will take. Can this really taste as good as the book describes, well try it and see. Certainly a recipe we have eaten at home for a long time, albeit with sometimes use peas.
In my opinion the recipes found in "From Seed To Plate" really won't dissapoint any lover of Italian food.
While I do grow a few bits and pieces, vegetables that probably most Italians do, things like various varieties of tomatoes, basil, artichokes, radicchio, escarole etc. I am not a keen gardener by any means, nor do I spend hours pawing over gardening books, or getting my hands dirty digging soil.
I do however love to cook, and learning about what ingredients work best, which is the only reason why I grow things. Fortunately the popularity of organic produce has seen local farm shops getting busier, and hopefully books such as this one, will increase that further. In my opinion this book goes a huge way towards re-educating us into the joys of regionality and variety. Not only of Italian produce, but getting the most of what is available locally, in our own areas.
Despite the supermarkets best efforts to increase their own profits by stifling our choice, and despite the fact that they have almost single handedly dissassociated our perception of ingredients and cooking. And created a culture of ready made meals and convenience.
Fortunately I am not alone in wanting interesting varieties, and ones with taste, instead of the supermarket inspired uniformly shaped carrots, bland cloned tastless tomatoes, and sterile lettuces neatly cut, and packaged in plastic. All of which would not have seen the light of day 50 years ago.
As said however, this book is not about gardening. This book is not on a Jamie Oliver-esque crusade. It is most definitely a cook book, plain and simple. And in that respect it succeeds hugely. It also succeeds in its novel layout, and attitude towards cooking and its ability to inspire you to cook. A fantastic book, written by an Italian who understands and values ingredients, and a book specifically aimed for people who love real Italian food.
In summary, "From Seed To Plate" is a real diamond amongst the literary coals.