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December 09, 2005

Italian Family Dining

Italian Family Dining

Italian Family Dining - Recipes, Menus, and Memories of Meals with a Great American Food Family.

I’m not even remotely Italian, although I’d like to think I can cook like one. I’ve mastered pasta sauces, my risotto is sublimely creamy, and I can pound out an unctuous pesto with a mortar and pestle. My pantry is stocked with artisan-made pastas that go by the name of Latini and Rustichella (De Cecco, Barilla? I don’t think so), and they share the shelf with not one, but two bottles of 50 year old balsamic vinegar. And heck, I even feed olive oil to my dog. How Italian is that?

Not very, apparently.

At least that’s the conclusion I’ve come to after reading Italian Family Dining (2005/Rodale Press) by Ed Giobbi and his daughter Eugenia Bone. It turns out my version of Italian cuisine isn’t even remotely Italian, it’s more Nor-Cal-Ital, with a nod towards the Chez Panisse/Zuni school of cooking. Go ahead and snicker if you want – it still tastes damn good – but with this book as my guide, it’s getting even better.

Ed Giobbi is one of America’s great Italian home cooks (not to be confused with Mario Batali, who is one of America’s great Italian restaurateurs). Giobbi’s 1971 book, Italian Family Cooking (Random House) layed the ground work for many of our favorite Italian recipes, including pesto, which was virtually unknown outside of Italian home kitchens in the 70’s. Pasta Primavera, a dish that has become a culinary-kitchen-sink for every chef that throws it on a menu, also came from Giobbi, who infamously created it for Sirio Maccioni’s Le Cirque restaurant (New York City) in 1976 {Jacques Pepin tells the story of Pasta Primavera}.

Italian Family Dining is the collected culinary history of the Giobbi family, mostly written by by Eugenia Bone, who at age 9, contributed illustrations to her father’s first book. Ed Giobbi’s line drawings fill the pages of this edition, as do his recipes, which Eugenia embellishes with reminiscences of family meals over the years.

The Giobbis hail from the Marche region of Italy, on the Adriatic coast where seafood dominates most menus, and beef, butter and cream are almost nonexistent. Arranged seasonally, and largely driven by the ingredients from Ed’s garden and larder (he plants 300 tomato vines and he cans his own tuna), the recipes are at once familiar, but with a twist. Portions are small, vegetables predominate, and soups begin most meals. When it comes to pasta, we’re reminded that Italians don’t drench their pasta with sauce and pile it high with meatballs.

Of the many stories told by Eugenia in the book, my favorite is the recollection of her French Culinary Institute instructor as he addresses the proper accompaniment to a classic chicken alla cacciatore (pg. 165). “And when a student asked what was traditionally served with the dish, the chef said “pasta of course.”

“Italians don’t eat pasta with. They eat pasta before.”
Is Eugenia's harrumph to this apparent heresy. She continues: “We find eating small portions of beautifully prepared pasta to be a great way into a meal, and that it often satisfies our appetite just enough to ensure we don’t overeat.”

That’s exactly the essence of Italian Family Dining (not to mention a recipe for bankruptcy at the Olive Garden), cooking satisfying and nourishing meals, made with fresh seasonal ingredients. Asparagus, peas, and fava beans all ripen in the spring, and their delicate flavors are a welcome change from the robust dishes of winter. It’s only natural to use them together in recipes, and this is what makes seasonal cooking seem almost effortless. Assembling the freshest ingredients of the moment doesn’t require much inspiration, only the dedication to seek them out. Think about this for a moment, there are countless recipes for this trio of ingredients that usually call for a red bell pepper as well (a ubiquitous ingredient in far too many cookbook recipes). While the end result may look pretty on your plate, does paying $4.99/lb for a vegetable flown in from Ecuador in the middle of spring really make any culinary sense?

Italian Family Dining will change the way you think about Italian cuisine. The recipes are from a home kitchen, not a restaurant chef, and at home, one of the most important tasks before the cook, is to feed the family. It’s a tradition that’s unfortunately been replaced by prepared supermarket dinners and fast food from a drive-up window.

In the introduction, Eugenia writes: “This book is about two things: how to eat like an Italian, and how eating like an Italian made the Giobbis a family...Hard-and-fast rules of dining are no fun, and Italians like to enjoy their food. This book is a guide for Italian-style dining, not doctrine. Because no one likes to be told what to do. Especially Giobbis.”

Buon appetito.

The following is an excerpt from the book Italian Family Dining: Recipes, Menus, and Memories of Meals with a Great American Food Family by Edward Giobbi and Eugenia Giobbi Bone
Published by Rodale; November 2005;$27.50US/$37.50CAN; 1-59486-126-9 Copyright © 2005 Edward Giobbi and Eugenia Giobbi Bone

Chicken Breasts with Broccoli Pesto

This is a perfect, light summer dish. We like to have a salad afterward, and a piece of fruit. Do not overpuree the broccoli pesto, as a little texture is nice. Sometimes we add another garlic clove to the pesto.

Juice of 3 lemons (about 1⁄2 cup)
1⁄2 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, sliced
2 tablespoons chopped rosemary, or 1 teaspoon dried
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 whole, skinless and boneless chicken breasts, cut in half crosswise

For the pesto
2 cups broccoli florets
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, sliced
1⁄4 cup chicken stock or water

Marinate the chicken: In a nonreactive bowl big enough to hold the chicken breasts, combine the lemon juice, oil, garlic, rosemary, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the chicken breasts and marinate them in the refrigerator for several hours.

Heat the grill.

For the pesto: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the broccoli and cook until the water comes up to a boil again. Scoop out about 1 cup of the cooking water, then drain the broccoli. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the garlic and cook the garlic until it begins to take on color, about 3 minutes. Add the broccoli and about 1⁄2 cup of the cooking liquid. Cook the florets until they are fork-tender, about 10 minutes. Transfer the broccoli and garlic to the food processor. Add the remaining 4 tablespoons of oil, the remaining garlic, and salt to taste and puree to a rough paste. Add the chicken stock a few tablespoons at a time and pulse until the pesto is loose and saucy. Adjust the seasoning.

Grill the chicken breasts over hot coals or gas for about 3 minutes on each side. Do not overcook the chicken. (If cooking on top of the stove, cook in a lightly oiled grilling pan over high heat for 20 minutes, then turn over and cook for an additional 10 minutes.) Remove the breasts and allow them to rest for a few minutes. Slice the breasts on an angle against the grain of the flesh, about 1⁄2 inch thick. Garnish with broccoli pesto.

Serves 4

Tomato, Rice, and Sausage Soup

We like to serve this soup for lunch, followed by fennel salad and a piece of cheese.

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup whole canned Italian tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
4 cups water
2 cups chopped Savoy cabbage
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 medium carrot, sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper or hot pepper flakes
1⁄2 pound Italian sweet sausages
1⁄2 cup rice
Grated Parmesan cheese or extra virgin olive oil, for garnish

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion becomes translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and parsley. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes, until the tomatoes break up. Add the water, cabbage, celery, carrot, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and boil gently for 15 minutes.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Prick the sausages and cook them in the skillet for about 10 minutes, until they are brown all over. Remove the sausages and slice.

Add the rice and sausages to the soup and continue cooking until the rice is tender, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Serve each portion with grated cheese or a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Serves 4


“I’ll walk more than a mile to have a meal at Ed Giobbi’s. In their new cookbook, Italian Family Dining, Ed and Eugenia give us the essence of what true food is. The memories, traditions, friendship, and love are part of the food, and always shared with family and friends. Simple, straightforward, and utterly delicious – these recipes have substance, reason and originality. I know they will be enjoyed often at my home. Happy cooking!”

-- Jacques Pepin

Secrets of the Maestro - Food critic Craig Claiborne once said that some of the most memorable meals of his life were taken in Edward Giobbi's family kitchen. Back in the 1970s, Giobbi's first book, Italian Family Cooking, became something of a home-cooking bible; now Giobbi and his daughter, writer and FYI contributor Eugenia Giobbi Bone, have collaborated on Italian Family Dining (Rodale), which takes its inspiration from the extended Giobbi clan. In addition to offering a plethora of delicious seasonal recipes, the book explores how Italians eat: from the structure of the meals, to the ingredients, to an exploration of how dining together helps establish and maintain familial and social bonds."

-- Forbes Magazine 12.12.05

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Posted by Bruce at December 9, 2005 09:22 PM

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