Monday, March 28, 2016

Tasting Rome by Katie Parla & Kristina Gill

My husband and I are understandably big food people. I'm Cajun, he's Italian, and both of our families have always celebrated big with food. Not only that, we both love trying new things and exploring food from different countries and regions.

In addition to simply being an enthusiastic eater, I've always been interested in the evolution of food culture and foodways history. Here in the States, it's generally something that comes about thanks not only to region but to the settlement history and the meeting and mixing of cultures. And while we're conscious of this here, I find we've been generally happy here to pack other countries' cuisines into broad categories without paying attention to the actual regional differences.

Which brings me to Katie Parla and Kristina Gill's Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors and Forgotten Recipes From an Ancient City. The book explores not only the unique regional flavors of Rome but the history of the city as well, giving exploring home cooks a chance to delve into exactly how and why Roman cuisine is what it is and how it's different from other Italian food.

In terms of organization, the authors have taken a thematic approach - Snacks, Starters, and Street Food; Classics and Variations; Cucina Ebraica (exploring Jewish influence on the cuisine of the region); Quinto Quarto (offal); Verdure (vegetables); Bread and Pizza; Sweets; and Drinks - even offering up outtakes on things like Carbonara, Drinks with Snacks, the markets, and other varying aspects of the area's food and history.

But what about the recipes themselves? They're fabulous! And very much not what I'd expected. While I am definitely aware of regional differences in food, I have to say I had very little knowledge at all of what Roman food in particular entailed. Carbonara and Cacio e Pepe aside (both of which are in the book), I didn't have any idea what I was in for. It was a very pleasant surprise.

Picchiapò (Simmered Beef with Tomato and Onion) is similar, for example, to a dish my husband's family makes, but swapping beef for their pork was a definite experience. (One I highly recommend.) Spicy Fish with Couscous, a dish the authors trace back to Libyan Jews, was another definite favorite as was the Polpette di Pollo in Bianco (Chicken Meatballs in White Wine Sauce).

The recipes tend to lean more towards olive oil or other non-tomato bases, but there are plenty of red sauces as well. The heavy use of red pepper (peperoncino) was particularly nice considering my tendency towards spicy food. One downfall, however, is that we've recently lost our Italian deli (or at least the one I knew about) making it harder to track down a few ingredients - guanciale in particular. Thankfully, the authors allow for using pancetta instead (and to provide a recipe for making your own guanciale if you're really driven to do so). There are a few other instances, though, where key ingredients may be a little harder to track down. If you live in an area with limited shopping options, the authors have kindly provided a retailer section in the back of the book for online ordering.

All in all, if you're looking to explore Italian food in greater detail or have visited and tasted Rome's food already, Tasting Rome is a great choice!

Per Blogging for Books requirements: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

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