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Saveur' captures flavors of Italy in classic recipes
By Kristin Eddy
Tribune staff reporter
Published January 30, 2002

It seems impossible at times to keep up with the endless publication of Italian cookbooks. Some of these books competently cover the regions of the country in detail, while others are less inspiring, reprinting classic recipes over and over.

So why bother with yet another effort, such as "Saveur Cooks Authentic Italian" (Chronicle Books $40), from the editors of Saveur magazine? To begin with, anyone familiar with that publication knows that the food discussed there has been carefully researched and joyfully reproduced. And it is impossible to separate the recipes from the photography. No other food magazine can touch Saveur's ability to make the food look at once so realistic and so appealing. That talent is on full display in the book, a collection of text and recipes from the magazine.

It's an enticing Italian cookbook for those who are happy to add one more volume to their shelves.

This is classic food, so don't expect whimsical interpretations in these pages. As Editor-In-Chief Colman Andrews said during a visit to the Tribune last fall, "You'll find absolutely cliched dishes here: minestrone, spaghetti with tomato sauce and tiramisu. These are the dishes that people have held on to. We are dedicated to recording the way people cook traditionally."

Still, he pointed out, the book was "not meant to be an encyclopedia."

What is represented isterrific food, from a thoroughly traditional (and time-consuming) but perfectly luscious-looking lasagna with fresh spinach pasta, to fat mushroom caps simply stuffed with marsala- and cheese-seasoned breadcrumbs.

While everyone knows deep frying is a pain, it was absolutely worth the effort to produce the arancine--rice balls stuffed with ham and cheese--that we tried in the test kitchen. Beautifully crusted with bread crumbs, sweetly scented with saffron and oozing melted cheese, this first course is one we'd gladly turn into a main dish.

Another winner was a classic vitello tonnato. For those who have never had it before, this dish of chilled, thinly sliced veal roast, topped with a sauce of pureed tuna fish, mayonnaise, anchovies, lemon juice and capers, sounds a little odd. Take it on faith if you have to, but the creamy, salty, slightly tangy elements all work here to dreamy effect. Best of all, this is a recipe that can be made a day or two ahead of a party and improves with sitting.

One letdown was a "crustless tart" of mashed potatoes, green beans, herbs and cheese, topped with bread crumbs. Surprisingly bland and sadly mushy, this would be comfort food only for the most bed-bound on a cold day.

There are many other recipes worth exploring among the 125 included here, although, as a someone noted while looking through the book, it almost suffers from being too authentic. Few people are going to search out the ingredients needed to make the fried rabbit and squash. Nor would we recommend that people experiment with the carpaccio, a well-loved dish of raw beef topped with drizzles of homemade mayonnaise unless assured of pristine, salmonella-free ingredients.

But the white bean and tuna salad? Tomatoes stuffed with rice? The Hunter's Wife's chicken--better known as chicken cacciatorahose are recipes we think we know and are worth perfecting through an inspiring cookbook such as this one. The many real cooks photographed throughout look happy in what they are doing. It is a safe bet that home cooks will too.

Fried rice croquettes[/B
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooling time: 40 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
Yield: 12 croquettes

The warm croquettes of saffron risotto, from Wanda Tornabene of Gangivecchio, in Sicily, enclose bits of ham and melting mozzarella cheese. According to Saveur, arancine means "little oranges--a reference to the croquettes' shape and color." Carnaroli is a short-grain rice that is preferred for risotto; it may be available at Italian specialty markets, or substitute arborio rice. The firm rind of real Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese adds flavor to the rice; you may omit it.

For risotto:

5 to 6 cups chicken stock
1/8 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups carnaroli or other risotto rice
1 (3 ounces) piece Parmigiano Reggiano cheese rind
1 egg yolk, at room temperature
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For arancine:

3 ounces mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 thin slices of cooked ham, cut into 1/2-inch squares
2 egg whites, whisked until just foamy
2 cups dried bread crumbs
Sunflower or vegetable oil

1. For risotto, heat stock in a saucepan over medium heat until it just comes to a boil, then reduce heat to low and add saffron.

2. Melt butter in a medium, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add rice and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until rice just begins to turn translucent, about 2 minutes. Add Parmigiano rind, then add 3/4 cup of the simmering stock, stirring the rice constantly until almost all of the liquid has been absorbed. Add another 3/4 cup stock and continue cooking and adding broth (you may have some broth left over) until the rice is cooked but firm to the bite, about 20 minutes. Remove and discard rind, stir in egg yolk and Parmigiano and season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour risotto onto a baking sheet to let cool.

3. For arancine, dampen hands with water and divide cooled risotto into loose balls, each measuring about 1/3 cup. One at a time, flatten risotto balls in the palm of one hand. Place 2 cubes of mozzarella and a piece of ham in the center of each, then work the rice to enclose filling completely. Shape each risotto ball into a 3-inch oval. Dip arancine into whisked egg whites, then roll in bread crumbs. Refrigerate on a baking sheet for 30 minutes.

4. Pour oil into a large, deep-sided frying pan to a depth of 2 inches. Heat over medium heat to a temperature of 325 degrees on a candy thermometer. Working in batches, gently lower arancine into hot oil with a slotted spoon and fry until golden brown, turning arancine often, 2-3 minutes. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.

Nutrition information per croquette (calculated by the Tribune):

325 calories, 44% of calories from fat, 16 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 33 g carbohydrates, 13 g protein, 825 mg sodium, 0.9 g fiber

Cold veal with tuna sauce (Vitello tonnato)

Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 2 hours
Refrigerating time: 28 hours
Yield: 8 servings

According to Saveur, this dish was probably invented in Lombardy or Piedmont, both famous for their veal specialties. The flavor improves with refrigeration. From "Saveur Cooks Italian."

For veal:

2 1/2 pounds lean veal roast, preferably top round, tightly trussed
1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped
1 rib celery, without leaves, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
4 sprigs fresh Italian parsley
1 bay leaf

For tuna sauce:

1 (7-ounce) can olive oil-packed tuna
5 anchovy fillets
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons capers, soaked and rinsed
1 1/4 cups mayonnaise

1. For veal, put veal into a deep, heavy pan. Add carrot, celery, onions, parsley, bay leaf and enough water to cover. Remove meat and set it aside. Cover pan, bring water to boil over high heat, then return veal to pan. Return to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low and gently simmer for 2 hours. Add more water if necessary. Remove pan from heat, set aside, and allow meat to cool in the stock.

2. For sauce, drain tuna and put into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add anchovies, oil, lemon juice and capers and process until it becomes a creamy, beige-colored sauce. Fold sauce gently but thoroughly into mayonnaise. If making ahead of time, refrigerate.

3. When meat is cool, transfer to a cutting board. Remove trussing strings and carefully cut into uniformly thin slices.

4. Spread some of the tuna sauce on the bottom of a platter. Over it, lay a single layer of veal slices, edge to edge, without overlapping, until all veal slices are used up, ending with a layer of sauce.

5. Cover platter with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 24 hours. Bring to room temperature before serving. Use a spatula to smooth the top. Garnish with thin lemon slices, slivered black olives, whole capers, whole Italian parsley leaves and/or anchovy fillets, if you like.

Nutrition information per serving (calculated by the Tribune):

735 calories, 79% of calories from fat, 65 g fat, 11 g saturated fat, 135 mg cholesterol, 4 g carbohydrates, 34 g protein, 495 mg sodium, 0.9 g fiber

The Chcogo Tribube

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Just got this out of the library, and I agree! It's a totally beautiful book, I wanted to climb into the pictures to be there. The recipes are wonderful, it's good to have 'traditional', instead of all the 'Tuscan' this and 'Neopolitan' thats that are popping up all over the place.

The book is a joy, visually, instruction-wise, and recipe content.
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