My husband and I were lucky enough to be able to take a trip to Florence, Italy in Nov 2015. While we were there, I had signed us up for The Best of Tuscany Tour with WalkaboutFlorence Tours, which took us around on a bus for the day to visit cities like Siena, San Gimignano and Pisa (side note: If you are in the area I would HIGHLY recommend this day tour. Probably the best tour my husband and I have ever been on and well worth the money – click here for link). During the tour we stopped at a beautiful organic farm in the Chianti region for lunch where everything we ate was produced right there! They had a small gift shop for tourists and after picking up a bottle of their delicious extra virgin olive oil I stumbled upon a cookbook that one of the chefs/mangers on the farm wrote. I of course had to pick one up for myself and the author was kind enough to sign it for me too!
The cookbook offers recipes that they use cook on the farm and it offers lots of background on the history and culture of the area. For this review I tried out a few recipes that would ultimately help me build 1 very Italian dish…LASAGNA!
- Pasta Fatta in Casa (Fresh Homemade Pasta)
- Ragu ala Poggio Alloro (Poggio Alloro Beef Ragu Sauce)
- Besciamella Sauce
- Lasagne allo Zafferano (Saffron Lasagna)
Pasta Fatta in Casa (Fresh Homemade Pasta)
Typically I use Tipo 00 Flour when I am making pasta, but this recipe called for All-Purpose Flour which made me a bit skeptical. In the end I ended up eating my words as the pasta came out beautifully. They gave great instructions on incorrporating the egg into the flour (slow and steady wins the race as they say) and I love that they also explained how to dry it out depending on what type of pasta shapes you make. I used my KitchenAid pasta maker to roll out the dough as it gets an even thickness then (went to level 5). The texture and taste turned out great and I will 100% be making this pasta dough again.
Ragu ala Poggio Alloro (Poggio Alloro Beef Ragu Sauce)
Since I wanted to be able to actually eat my end result, I substituted the beef with a vegetarian ground beef (non-gmo soy based). I made my own tomato sauce (see recipe here) for the ragu and overall it turned out well. I personally am not use to the “ground beef” texture so I think next time I would either dice up mushrooms or add more veg instead. My husband, however, really enjoyed it and felt that non-vegetarians would probably not know that there was no meat in the sauce/lasagna. I had lots left over and froze it as per the authors suggestion. Very easy to make!
I had never used Saffron and had never made a Bechamel sauce so I was a bit nervous about this one. But true to this cookbook, the steps were easy to follow and the result was delicious. It took all my will power not to eat the sauce right out of the pot by the spoonful. She gave some interesting history on the origins of the sauce as it is typically known as a French classic, but apparently it was first used in Tuscany and brought to France by Catherine de’ Medici.
Lasagne allo Zafferano (Saffron Lasagna)
The construction of the lasagna was very easy and I managed to get quite a few layers (I think 4-5) in my 9″ x 13″ casserole pan. I was surprised at how little cheese the recipe called for (a light sprinkling of Parmesan on each layer), but after trying it, I realized the Besciamella sauce gave enough richness to the dish that I didn’t even miss the cheese. Overall the flavours were fantastic and the pasta ended up perfect. My husband and I enjoyed every bite and leftovers for the next few days.
Organization of Book
The book was broken down by month and season, which makes a lot of sense for a book based on farm life. I like the idea of using seasonal ingredients when cooking as you are going to get the best flavours as a result. This style tends to be a bit challenging if you are looking for something specific (i.e. the Saffron Lasagna is in April’s section, which isn’t necessarily the month I would go to when thinking of Lasagna).
Ingredients – Obscure or Common?
Ingredients are very easy to find. All very basic, clean ingredients. A few upscale items like Saffron (which I still find fairly easy to find), but for the most part they are calling for stuff I would have in my cupboards or could find at any local store.
Book was overall easy to follow and gave lots of helpful tips like how to store leftovers or how to dry different types of pastas. They weren’t long or complicated either, yet at the same time gave me enough that I felt confident recreating their recipes.
There are a lot of meat recipes, but also plenty of vegetarian recipes (about 35 Vegetarian ones). Plus, like the lasagna, I feel like there are many meat recipes that can be made vegetarian. A lot of variety too going from apps, salads, pastas, components of dishes and desserts.
I think that this would be suitable for beginner/intermediate cooks. If you have never cooked before, this might be a little bit much, but if you have some basic skills then you should be able to be fairly successful. Intermediate would have a much more enjoyable time.
Buy or Leave on the Shelf?
I would absolutely recommend this cookbook. Delicious, hearty, home-cooking style recipes with fresh in season ingredients…how can you go wrong. You will feel your inner Italian coming out as you make your way through this book!