May 2008

Melissa Lion

Culinaria Bookslut

Classic Italian Cooking

Let me tell you a story about destiny.

I live in Portland, Oregon where there is but a single season: gray. We had snow in April and it has rained every single day for seventy thousand years. My shoes grow puffs of mold, and towels are washed after every single use. But last week a high-pressure system hit the west coast, and Oregon was warm for three whole days. There were seventy-two glorious hours where I didn’t use my heater and didn’t wear socks. It was a wonderous time and as I sit here and watch the rain fall from the steel gray sky, I remember what it was like to be warm.

And on one of those warm days, my significant other had a “terrible allergy attack” at work. I believe what he was allergic to was a ceiling and walls and being at work. I wouldn’t know for sure because I am a freelance writer and I don’t take sick days. I take days when I’m feeling a vague ennui and a crushing depression and I just need a little inspiration in the form of a nap and a dose of BBC’s Pride and Prejudice so I can’t meet my deadlines. I kid. I always meet my deadlines. Anyway, to cure my partner’s allergy attack, I knew we needed to get out of Portland. I knew we needed to go to one of Oregon’s most historic towns -- Astoria. If you don’t know why Astoria, Oregon deserves a postage stamp and its own tourism board, two words: The Goonies. That’s right, I live in the same state where Sean Astin and Corey Feldman hunted for the treasure of One-Eyed Willie. Don’t everyone rush to your e-mail and ask for an autographed picture of me standing in front of the comic book shop where they had Goonies action figures lined up in the window.

In Astoria it was 92 delicious degrees and we wandered the streets saying things like, “Gee, it’s hot.” And, “is this what it feels like in the rest of the world?” We found a bookshop. Inside I found a pile of the cutest little cookbooks with brick red, paprika orange and periwinkle blue covers. I picked up the brick red cookbook -- Classic Italian Cooking by Valentina Harris -- and paged through. The recipes were simple and straightforward. The book fit in my hands and had a cute little green binding. And it was brick red. Twenty dollars later, the book was mine.

I read it on the way home and to my shock, nay, ultimate pleasure, I discovered no bullshit in it. There was not a single moment I had to set the book aside, roll my eyes and ask the gods of publishing why it is so hard to publish a cookbook from which normal people can cook?

Ask no longer, Classic Italian Cooking is a wonderful cookbook with absolutely no crap. The recipes are simple, down to earth and easily followed. Some recipes have few measurements -- just a can of tomatoes, with no indication of how many ounces -- but this I find freeing -- a cookbook that trusts me to have a general sense of food and what tastes good!

For my first recipe, in honor of Bookslut, I made La Puttanesca (Roman Whore Sauce). Oh, it was salty and spicy and made me feel like putting on my lacy black bra and turning on my red light, even though my breath was pungent from the garlic.

The next day, I made Pollo al Forno (Italian Roast Chicken). It was easy and tasted great, especially because I turned on the broiler for the last few minutes so the skin was crispy and brown.

As for the rest of the book, the risotto chapter will keep me busy for at least a week and the tomato bread soup will be a mainstay of summer. The dessert section with recipes for vanilla gelato and chocolate semifreddo -- like ice cream, without the ice cream maker -- is a delight.

The book itself is tiny, perfect to throw in a purse before setting out for the market. And all of the ingredients can be found most anywhere.

For the price, the size and the content, this book is lovely addition to the overburdened cookbook shelf, or beneath your pillow, which is where I plan to keep mine, because it makes me happy and reaffirms (a little) my faith in publishing.

And so, gentle reader, to sum up: when it is warm outside, buy a cookbook, because it might be the greatest cookbook you’ve ever owned. And that, my friends, is destiny. And certainly not hyperbole.