Illustrated map of Little Italy in Pouighkeepsie from the Walkway Over the Hudson website

Review by Bridget O’Donnell

With a pizza shop on almost every corner it’s hard to say you haven’t tried some version of Italian food while visiting or living in New York. At least here in the Hudson Valley residents and tourists from all walks of life routinely order take-out or find their way to Poughkeepsie’s Little Italy to support restaurants and bakeries established in the Italian district and surrounding area. Attendees nostalgic of Poughkeepsie’s First Friday and Italian Festivals might remember being encouraged to try hand-held variations on more conventional staples while walking past food trucks and pop-ups promoting local venues – like the casual, often inexpensive slice of pizza (my compliments to Naples!). Reservations continue to offer the chance to sit-down and “mangiare” in a Classic family-style setting with traditional entrées complimented by a cocktail or glass of wine, a plate of assorted olives, peppers and cheeses or artisan bread dipped in infused olive oil. And, bravo/brava! if you’re fortunate to have experienced the authentic Italian culture and regional foods while on vacation. (…I can’t decide if I’d like to imagine myself sitting at a café or riding in a gondola while leisurely enjoying a decadent dessert, some glassy gelato or biscotti and a cup of Cappuccino in my couture ball gown and Gucci sunglasses…Espresso has always been a little too strong for me. But now, where was I….?)

From region-specific cookbooks to those showcasing TV series and celebrities that require no introduction (…think: The Sopranos, actor/author Dom DeLuise and famous Italian chefs Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and Giada De Laurentiis…) you’ll find new additions and classic cookbooks available in the Mid-Hudson Library System, like Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, written by the late Marcella Hazan and reviewed by Alison Francis below.

Request titles online or by calling the Reference & Information Desk at the Adriance Memorial Library at (845) 485-3445 x3702.

Book Jacket: Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan

One of my favorite cookbooks in my personal cookbook collection is one my mother gave me for Christmas many years ago, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, written by the late Marcella Hazan, James Beard award winner, master cook and cookbook writer. Originally published in 1992, it has been revised and updated over the years.

There are many things I love about this cookbook: its wide scope and comprehensiveness of recipes of food from different regions of Italy, the simplicity of the ingredients and steps in preparation, the brief history Hazan gives for many of the dishes, and the fun and useful illustrations sprinkled throughout the pages – some whimsical, a sprig of rosemary or a giant wedge of parmesan, or, detailed steps illustrating handmade pasta. Hazan also supplies helpful notes along with the recipes offering tips such as ingredient substitutes, cooks’ advice, or “ahead of time” steps. Many recipes in the book are dishes I grew up eating in my grandmother’s and mother’s kitchens which I have continued to cook and enjoy my whole life.

Photo of homemade pasta ingredientsHazan divides the book into chapters that include: ingredients and fundamentals of Italian cooking; soups; pasta; risotto; gnocchi, crespelle; polenta; frittate; fish; chicken, squab, duck and rabbit; veal; beef; lamb; pork; vegetables; salads; desserts; focaccia, pizza and breads. She ends the book with several suggested menus for different occasions.

I cannot overstate the simplicity of the recipes which makes this book a real pleasure; they are accessible and most can be made in very little time.

A few of my favorites include: butter and sage sauce for ravioli; frittata with tomato, onion, and basil; pan-roasted chicken with rosemary, garlic, and white wine; braised pork chops with tomatoes, cream, and porcini mushrooms; and my weekly go-to winter soup, ribollita – a hearty soup of kale, white beans and tomato topped with a splash of olive oil and parmesan cheese.

Photo of Almond Cake

Because I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, I especially like the dessert recipes. Hazan provides several, simple traditional almond and walnut cake recipes in which the nuts are ground and used as flour, along with a little sugar, eggs, butter and lemon rind to make a simple 9 inch round cake which can be accompanied with some whipped cream. A slice of this with a strong cup of coffee or cocoa can be enjoyed for dessert or a mid-morning snack.

I highly recommend this cookbook for the beginner and experienced cook alike. The book contains recipes that range from very simple to more complicated but nothing overwhelming at all. It reflects the beauty of Italian cooking which resides in the use of very few, unfussy ingredients and preparation.

Review submitted by Alison Francis, Youth Services Librarian