There are cookbooks that you want to cook from and there are cookbooks that make you want to cook. They are not always the same. A perfect example is the twin new releases from Sime Books, translations of two fine Italian regional cookbooks.
I defy anyone with a beating heart and a working kitchen to leaf through “Sicilia in Cucina” or “Venezia in Cucina” without immediately wanting to jump up and find something to cook. The dishes sound amazing and the photography is absolutely gorgeous (credited to Laurent Grandadam in Venice and Nino Bartuccio and Alessandro Saffo in Sicily).
It will definitely help, though, if you know a bit about how Italian cooking works before you do. Because as compelling as the dishes sound, the description of how to make them is often quite cursory. That’s not a fatal criticism – if you’ve got some experience, you will probably do quite well.
It’s just that these are throwbacks to the old “cook in the usual manner” type of recipes. To make risotto agli scampi (the photo of which, by the way, is food porn of the highest level), you’re told to “stir in the fish stock … when cooked, after about 14-15 minutes, turn off the heat.” Not only is there no measure for how much stock to add, if you’d never made a risotto, you wouldn’t know that it is critical for the liquid to be added in increments rather than all at one time.
Still, this feels a bit like pointing out there’s no way Santa could deliver all those presents by himself. Because these are really beautiful books, particularly the Venetian one.
Besides, I’ve already got a shelf full of Italian cookbooks with wonderfully explicit recipes. These days what I really need is something to make me want to jump up and fix them.