My Love for Naples: The Food, the History, the Life (Hippocrene Cookbook Library)

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Hippocrene Books
My Love For Naples is part cookbook, part biography and part history. . Growing up in Naples, Callen  tells us a bit of her biography from days of World War 2, playing in the streets of Naples, eating at the street corner vendors and perusing the little shops that lined the streets. We get a picture of the idyllic life of her childhood. Because of its location, the people of Naples were insulated from much of the war, but she tells of the food rationing and some of the hardships that they did endure due to the war. We can see how this has shaped much of her generation in terms of the foods and techniques they brought over to this country.

Had this not been a cookbook, it still would have been an interesting glimpse into the life of an Italian in the days of World War II. Lucky for us though, it is a cookbook and we get to sample some of the foods of native Italy and Naples and its neighbors. Some of the recipes are directly lifted from her childhood. Some of them have been altered to reflect modern times. And some are additions from friends.

According to the bio included on the back cover Ms Callen is an accomplished food writer, historian, teacher, food consultant and TV personality. Although she has written several books prior to this, exactly what training she has in the culinary field is a matter of speculation. But does that really matter? These recipes are from her kitchen and those of friends and family who have contributed. The fact is, these are user friendly, approachable recipes well suited for all seasons and meals.

There are recipes suited for a family or a cozy dinner for two, a picnic or a formal dinner party, a quick throw together weeknight meal, or a preparation that takes a day or more. As the commercial says "It's in there"

The book is arranged as most cookbooks are. You start, in this case, with the Antipasti and it moves to soups, pizzas, pastas. Then rather than lump all the meats together in one section it is broken down into the various types of meats. Rabbit is even included in the chicken section. Why? Ahh who cares! Variety meats also have their own section. At the very end of the book there are two indices , one in Italian and one in English. This will give you an opportunity to brush up on your Italian culinary terminology!

The food! The Antipasti section gives you a nice variety of options. From simple Peperoni Alla Napoletana "Roasted peppers Neapolitan style (did I say simple?) Not your typical roasted peppers with olive oil, but a delectable baked dish with those same peppers but with the tangy additions of Capers, Anchovies, and Olives. 

You want simple? Okay fine, simple it is Mortadella A Sorpresa "Mortadella with Marinated Mushrooms. All that's required is a jar of marinated mushrooms, mozzarella and mortadella. Even this recipe though includes a food processor! What sounds mundane is elevated by techniques that turn the ordinary into an adventure.

Soups get a nice treatment with 17 recipes and an introduction into how the soups are differentiated. This is not just Pasta E Fagioli although that is included as well.

The Pizza section is simple. This is not a pizzeria book so you won't get recipes on how to make 100 different pizzas. You will learn though how to make nice dough and even turn it into Focaccia if you like. The best pizza are home style ones, and here you will learn how to make them.

When you mention Italian cooking, you think sauce immediately. Ms Callen brings you back to her childhood and how tomato sauce was made in the villages of her youth. With her description at the beginning of the chapter you can almost smell the tomato aroma wafting through the village streets into the noses of the hungry. If after reading this book you don't go out at some point and make your own homemade Ragu you will never taste Italy or get a sense of tradition gone by. Ragu is not the stuff you buy in a jar!

The book goes on through the remaining sections like the ones I described. There are simple recipes (Did I say simple again?) to more complex ones in every section. You can almost taste the recipes as they jump from the pages.

What I liked best about the book is that at the beginning of each section you get a brief history lesson on the items and how they were prepared in the "olden days", the days of her youth and nowadays. Also you learn some of the background to the items themselves. Each recipe as well is preceded by an anecdote. Whether it's a story from Ms  Callen's youth or how the recipe is traditionally prepared in other locales, it's a lot of fun to read these. Rarely does a cookbook give you anything to read beyond the recipe itself. You can read this one cover to cover and feel completely sated when you're done.

Overall this is a fun, informative and delicious book and truly one of the best simple (Did I say simple again?) books on Italian cooking out there.

Recipe: Rice and Cabbage "Riso E Verze"
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