This week I’m going in a slightly different direction to review a book: Perdutamente: Crazy For Italian Food, by Joe Famularo. (“Perdutamente” means hopelessly, desperately — I’d guess “lostly” if such a word existed in English.) I can recommend it for several reasons.
First,there’s a short passage in this book that illustrates what I’m trying to do with this column:
Later, when our interest in cooking developed and sharpened, we asked Mama to write down some of her recipes. One of the first she shared with us was missing ingredients.
“What about the olive oil, garlic, and tomatoes?” we asked.
“You should have known about them” was her deadpan answer. And she
meant it. For her, knowing how to use those basic ingredients was as instinctive as breathing.
Famularo and his brothers and sisters, after growing up watching their mother cook, might have been expected to “know about them”, but if you don’t, well, you can pick up the knowledge in written form from him. It’s also what I try to give you, in a smaller way, here each week.
Second, the book lives up to its subtitle: A Memoir of Family, Food, and Place with Recipes. Famularo recalls growing up in New York before World War II, when “Cooking and talking were our favorite pastimes”. His stories mostly revolve around cooking, eating, and talking about food — and unlike many books that describe delicious-sounding fare, he includes a recipe for every dish he mentions.
Third, it de-mystifies Italian cooking in the same way How to Cook and Eat in Chinese makes Chinese cooking understandable. If you’ve always used only ready made pasta sauce and wondered what goes into it, besides tomatoes and a whole lot of preservatives, this tells you what other ingredients and how much of them to use. (And you don’t have to put in any preservatives at all.) You can even make your own sausage following the directions in this book. It’s attainable — there are some specialized ingredients and some multi-stage sets of directions, but none of the recipes is really intimidating.
Fourth, it’s not all pasta sauces and sausage. You get unexpected, intriguing recipes like Breaded Asparagus and Rigatoni with Eggplant in a Creamy Curry Sauce (created by a young widow cooking for comfort).
Finally, it’s a hopeful book. Famularo, a retired publishing executive and the award-winning author of many other cookbooks, doesn’t cover up the harshness of his early life. His mother worked full time in the Garment District as well as cooking everything from scratch and keeping house without modern appliances (though with lots of help from her in-laws and older kids), but left him with plenty of loving memories of home. Today’s stressed out working parents can find inspiration in her story.
(The reviewer received a complimentary copy of this book, however, her review reflects her unbiased opinion.)