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July 2010 Cookbooks of the Month: ITALIAN EASY and ITALIAN TWO EASY

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Welcome summer (and summer produce!). Our July cookbooks are ITALIAN EASY and ITALIAN TWO EASY, by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers, of River Cafe in London.

New to Cookbook of the Month? Welcome! This page explains how it all works: http://www.chow.com/cookbook_of_the_m...

We'll use this thread for general discussion and for links to the recipes found online.

Discuss recipes in the threads linked below. Most of these threads encompass several chapters in each of the two books. If you're wondering what goes where, please check the threads for the chapters they cover.

Antipasti, Appetizers, Salads:
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/717832

Soups:
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/717833

Pasta:
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/717835

Fish, Poultry, Meat:
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/717834

Vegetables:
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/717838

Sweets:
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/717839

Basics:
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/717840

Here's our previous discussion about the books: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/715724

The Chowhound Team has asked me to remind you that verbatim copying of recipes to the boards is a violation of the copyright of the original author. Posts with copied recipes will be removed.

Buon appetito!

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  1. An observation/question for my fellow COTMers...I'm used to being bossed around a bit more by my cookbooks and I'm finding the lack of specificity about ingredients in these two books a little unsettling. An ingredient list in a book by serious chefs that calls for "can tomatoes" (IE, Borlotti Bean, p. 92), really? Whole, diced, what? More specifically to my immediate needs, what do you suppose they mean by "dried chiles?" Since they call for them by quantity rather than weight, it seems like it matters. And certainly heat varies rather widely among different varieties. My guess was chile de arbol...but the picture on p. 91 of IE doesn't really look right. What do you think?

    Perhaps I just need to lighten up and liberate myself from the tyranny of specificity and my life will be made forever more better.

    12 Replies
    1. re: mebby

      Right... lose the nerves and dive in... more better yet.

      My procedure, after reading through both books, is going to be to choose the ingredients according to what I have in the pantry already or, when necessary, buy what I think I would like to use given the guidelines in the ingredient list and what I perceive the finished dish should be. In the case of red chiles...I know that arbol chiles aren't very hot and pepperoncino, namely crushed red pepper flakes, are what's usually indicated in Italian recipes so that's what I'm going to use. "Can tomatoes"... the tomatoes would not be used whole. So, either use alrady chopped tinned ones or you chop tinned whole ones. 14 oz. would be about enough I think. The directions for each recipe are very straight forward. Do this, do that, put it all together. I quite like the direct approach with fewer words.
      I've already made a couple of recipes and we liked each.

      Don't worry, mebby. We're all here to help each other through this new month's cook along.

      1. re: mebby

        Tinned tomatoes will be good quality plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano. Dried chillies will definitely NOT be chili de arbol, because they're not common in the UK. You can get the ones in the pictures on P91 in most stores here - they're really small and quite hot but not sure what variety they are. Hope that helps.

        1. re: greedygirl

          Thanks, GG. I confess to being a bit deliberately obtuse about the tomatoes -- I just think it's funny not to have any instruction on preparation. I appreciate the chile info -- I thought I remembered you saying that arbols weren't common there and I know crushed red pepper flakes are more common in Italian cooking, but was intrigued by the look of those little peppers on p91. They look like they might not be as dry and papery in texture as arbols often are -- what do you think?

          Since I have my eye on that fig and chile pasta and I think given that there are so few ingredients, the selection matters more. I guess in many ways that's what's odd to me -- usually when you have so few ingredients, there are MORE instructions on selecting and preparing ingredients to bring out maximum flavor, not fewer. But it's not a criticism of the books --- I'm just intrigued.

          1. re: mebby

            I think they must be dried bird's eye chillies, actually. They're what I normally use for Italian cooking although I have chilli flakes as well. You can definitely get them in Asian markets. Very hot, so use sparingly! I've had the same packet forever...

            1. re: greedygirl

              I agree that those chilis seems to be bird's eyes, also sold in the states as Thai chilies. In Chinatown I find them under the name tianjin, which seem to be sold by some importers under the name chile japones. I think any of these would work in that recipe. I use them pretty much interchangeably in Chinese and Thai cooking and am not aware of much, if any, difference among them.

        2. re: mebby

          Thank you, Caitlin!

          Mebby, I haven't gotten as far as you, but thanks for posting that. I'm sure that will be my panic next! I'm finding the layout of the books a bit unconventional and confusing. There are too many chapter categories for such a small book. For instance, I don't think you need a chapter for each variety of pasta. I think it's weird that the potatoes section comes after the various meats sections instead of after pasta and risottos. Maybe the pastas and risottos are considered "mains" and the potatoes just a side and, therefore, they aren't just grouping all the starches together?

          I'm sure I'll get the swing of how to navigate these recipes soon, but right now I'm just finding myself looking at all of the gorgeous photos.

          The good thing is that our COTM archive has already been updated to include these books.

          EDIT: ah, I am starting to see what you mean, Mebby, I notice the cooking times are rather vague as in, "cook until tender." When you're trying to plan a meal, sometimes it's nice to know whether that's going to be about 8 minutes or 25...

          ~TDQ

          1. re: The Dairy Queen

            I guess that is why I reacted negatively to the recipes I saw on line. I'm Italian, and I already cook like that, and though I am sure Rose Gray has some nice take on things, this doesn't seem like a book I'm likely to add to my collection...

            1. re: roxlet

              Yeah, I see your point. For instance, I didn't need a grilled fish recipe that has 3 ingredients, fish, lemon, and olive oil. Nevertheless, there do seem to be some really interesting combinations that I look forward to trying, especially for zucchini and potatoes!

              ~TDQ

              1. re: roxlet

                I've had my copy of Easy from the library for about a week and when I first looked through it I felt exactly the same way. This is how I cook when I'm not using a recipe. What do I need this for?

                Then I decided to think of it as an opportunity to clean out my can't-even-fit-an-ice-cube-in-the-damn-thing freezer without adding a bunch of exotic pantry ingredients. Will try first recipes tomorrow. If GG and Gio's reports on the Potatoes with Lemon prove indicative, we might all be in for a very pleasant surprise.

                1. re: JoanN

                  But what I need to clean out is my cookbook collection! The freezer is in good shape!

                  1. re: JoanN

                    Ha! My freezer is exactly the same! Every time I clear a little space, something else gets in there. The other day it started making a funny noise which has now stopped, thankfully - I think it was struggling to cope in the heatwave we've got here in London atm....

                    1. re: JoanN

                      Joan, I like your buck up attitude, and that's the frame of mind I'm in, too.

                      I am always complaining about (well, not REALLY complaining), but struggling with the fact that some of the COTM recipes are so complex and involved that I can't use them for day-to-day cooking. I love those complex COTM's, because I learn so much and the results can be so spectacular, but I often long for recipes that are simple, but sophisticated and, as you say, don't fill your cupboard with exotic ingredients.

                      So while I might turn my nose up at a grilled fish "recipe" that lists olive oil and lemon as the only ingredients, it's still can yield something delicious, and I might be able to make it on a Tuesday!

                      I'm hoping I might learn some new techniques or flavor combos this month...

                      ~TDQ

              2. Many of these are from River Cafe Easy and Two Easy, so we USians simply need to do a bit of conversion.

                Recipes from River Cafe Two Easy

                http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyl...

                http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyl...

                Easy Small Nemesis Chocolate Cake
                http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/20...

                FLATTENED QUAIL, CHILE, SALT and BREAD, TOMATO, BASIL, CUCUMBER SOUP
                http://www.housebeautiful.com/kitchen...

                Cavolo Nero Prosciutto Bruschetta, Tomato Borlotti Bruschetta
                http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddri...

                Orecchiette, Broccoli
                http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                Pistachio Cake
                http://www.thefoodsection.com/foodsec...

                Tagliatelle with Crème Fraiche and Arugula
                http://northeastlocavore.blogspot.com...

                Smashed Cannellini, Olives (the layout's a bit confusing - ingredients are way over on the right).
                http://www.tesco.com/recipes/product....

                Green Bean, Potato (the layout's a bit confusing - ingredients are way over on the right).
                http://www.tesco.com/recipes/product....

                Sea Bass with Potatoes
                http://wwwfamilycookbookcom.blogspot....

                Pea and Courgette (Zucchini) Soup (at bottom of page).
                http://www.hesterguy.co.nz/news/64-so...

                Pignoli Almond Cake
                http://www.recipezaar.com/recipe/pign...

                Peas and Prosciutto (scroll down).
                http://orangette.blogspot.com/

                White Gnudi and Spinach Gnudi
                http://www.classicpasta.com/gnudi.htm

                2 Replies
                1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                  Thanks for the links, Caitlin. I haven't been able to run about and find the book, so I'll probably just use online sources.

                  1. re: onceadaylily

                    Come on in, Lily. The water's a bit choppy, but additions are welcome!

                2. Just for clarity, does "Pasta" include risotto, gnocchi and similar starch-focussed items?

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: jen kalb

                    Hi Jen, yes, pasta in this case includes risotto and the gnudi in the ricotta chapter, as within the context of the books they seemed within the same theme. If you look at the pasta thread, its OP lists all the chapters covered there.

                    1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                      'kay, thanks - I should have looked. I just had the risotto chapter on my brain.

                  2. Opinions please. I was thinking of giving Italian Easy as a gift to a friend who lives in a smallish town where they don't have lots of ethnic markets or upscale grocery stores. I don't think there are too many exotic hard to find ingredients in most of these recipes, do you? Or is my perspective completely warped?

                    ~TDQ

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                      If your friend shops at even a smallish super market she probably can find olive oil, lemons, parsley, crushed red pepper, dry pasta, etc and all the usual vegetables. There's really no exotic ingredients so far, I think. If she wants to make some of the meat recipes with wine, there's probably a liquor store. Then there's the on-line shopping. I think it would make a very nice gift for someone who likes Italian food. The recipes are really easy, which is a plus.

                      1. re: Gio

                        I agree, Gio, that there aren't many exotic ingredients, but in my limited and less than stellar experience with the book so far, it seems to me that the recipes do require the very best ingredients to really strut their stuff. The pork chops I made were good, but they weren't supermarket pork chops; they were Berkshire chops, at about double what I'd pay at the local Food Emporium. If I recall correctly, many of you who have made some of the chicken dishes you're raving about are using organic chickens from a farmer's market (or an equivalent), not a Perdue bird. If all TDQ's friend has available is packaged stuff from the mega producers (not that I know that to be true, but if), I wonder if the results would be as appealing.

                        1. re: JoanN

                          Yes, what you say does make sense, JoanN. Indeed the chickens I have been using do come from a local farm. In my freezer are 4 pork chops DH picked up at a supermarket, though. I'm not sure if they're organic. I intend to use them for Wednesday's dinner using the recipe for lemon chops you made recently. I'll report on them Thursday AM. Of course, TDQ's friend would be all set if she has a farm within reach. Wonder what she does for seafood...

                          1. re: JoanN

                            Ah, good point. The person I am giving the book to keeps her own chickens. So, I don't worry about chickens or eggs, I don't think.

                            I'm more worried about fancy vinaigrettes or cheese, etc.

                            I think Italian Two Easy relies more on the cured and smoked meats, which might be problematic. And I really can't say about her access to some of the fresh seafood--I'm guessing that could be a problem, as Gio points out.Hmmm...mabye I'll think about this more.

                            ~TDQ

                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                              I think I would only give these books to someone who is already fairly confident in the kitchen and can imagine the flavors from reading a recipe. I am a bit astonished that some of you have found so much inspiration in these books. I admit that as I read through them I thought, hmmm.... this is how I cook when I bring stuff home from the farmer's market and don't use a recipe.

                              Sadly, this month has been filled with non-food stuff which made it almost impossible to eat, but that is all behind me and I can't wait to jump in as soon as I am 100% recovered!

                      2. In Art School we were told frequently, "There's nothing new under the sun. " It was up to us to reinvent/reuse/reimagine something different with what we were given and make it our own. With the advent of Chowhound, Eat Your Books and other on-line recipe sites and searching for recipes with the one ingredient one wants to use, that adage becomes more relavent. You can't imagine how many recipes for zucchini, for example, that have the exact same ingredients,,,indeed the very same directions too. Even the same name. So, with new cookbook in hand, I boldly go where I think I have never gone before only to find that I have been there already. What to do? Improvise, adjust, rethink, create.
                        Eat and rejoice.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Gio

                          Yes, indeed. Brava!

                          1. re: Gio

                            ::: applause :::

                            Never let the zucchini see you sweat!

                          2. River Cafe is pretty special to us. Took my wife there a few years back for her birthday. I'm staring at the two books now in the kitchen bookcase. I'll ask Deb to suggest/cook a meal and I'll report back.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: steve h.

                              I really hope you do report back Steve. Having first hand information about the food you actually ate at The River Cafe would give us something to compare our endeavors to.

                              1. re: Gio

                                We'll *absolutely* go to the River Cafe next time we're in London. This month has been a hit for us. I know this hasn't been the same for everyone, but we've enjoyed almost everything we've made.

                            2. Just a note: Italian Two Easy is now a close out at Jessica's Biscuit. $12.98.