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Italian Family Dining
by Edward Giobbi & Eugenia Giobbi Bone

Reviewed by Elliot Essman

Leo Tolstoy began Anna Karenina with the statement that “all happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The Giobbi family, whose collective culture inspired Italian Family Dining (by patriarch Edward Giobbi and daughter Eugenia Giobbi Bone), apparently qualifies as one of those happy families—they sit down together for meals. The traditional Italian family fare the Giobbis favor, either in Italy or in the United States, is healthy. Seasonal vegetables control. Meals are long, with numerous small courses, punctuated by conversation and familial conviviality. The concept of taking time together to enjoy the bounty of the earth—a tenet sadly lacking in the daily plans of so many families today—is what makes the book truly seductive.

Italian Family Dining divides into four parts according to season: Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. By definition, even if you prepared just a few of these dishes, it would take you an annual cycle if you followed strictly the precepts of seasonality, as well you should. Fortunately, even those of us who honestly stain cookbooks often curl up to read them; there’s nothing quite like reading about the first food finds of spring or the bounty of summer when you’re snugged in under the blankets. Spring speaks to us through the fresh produce displays common in front of restaurants and trattorias in Italy, “when some eateries will exhibit three nubbly mounds of fresh-shelled peals: small, medium, and large, from which to choose.” Artic Char in Aspic, for example, takes advantage of the coming of asparagus in spring, as do Asparagus with Eggs, Pea and Asparagus Soup, Penne with Asparagus and Shrimp, Black Rice with Asparagus, to name just a few of the spring first courses. Mussels, clams, and shrimp also feature prominently. Spring second courses follow the theme (plenty of asparagus), featuring monkfish, shad (and its roe), lamb, veal, and rabbit. A special section on spring vegetables and salads brings in artichokes (stuffed with spinach, perhaps), peas, dandelion and turnip greens, and—guess what—asparagus. I, for one, can never have enough asparagus, but I agree with the Giobbis that this queen of vegetables cannot reveal its essence when it is not absolutely fresh and clearly in season. Absent these preconditions, it is simply a chore to eat.

The two main treasure chests for summer ingredients are the garden and the wild. The garden provides the sturdy zucchini (and its edible flowers), “eggplant, peppers for roasting, stuffing, sautéing; tomatoes of all sorts; green beans; beets and their delicious greens; yellow squash and herbs in abundance; oregano, parsley, cilantro, basil, rosemary, mint—which by summer has spread all over—and marjoram.” (We without gardens, of course, have farmers markets, which we should support on a regular basis. Their limited selection is a good indicator of seasonality; the supermarket trucks and flies in everything, and hence is a poor guide). The wild food the Giobbis have in mind they usually find in the sea: first course ingredients like clams and crabs. “For me,” writes Eugenia, “the art of hunting, gathering, and preparing wild foods is a conduit to the good life…I think Dad used to call it beating the system.” Those of us who live far inland have our own wild food opportunities, of course.

I was able to relate best to the Fall section of this book because this season (in which I write) allows me to do justice to some of the recipes. Tuna features strongly in many of the autumnal first courses, along with pastas of various configurations: penne, farfalle, fettucine, spaghetti. Leek and Chestnut Soup and Risotto with Quail are mainstream autumn (you want to have hunted the quail yourself, of course). Quail, chicken, guinea hen and veal variations (Stuffed Veal Bundles with Red Pepper Sauce, Veal Tails with Butternut Squash) fill out the main course sections, along with some interesting vegetable/meat combinations like Savoy Cabbage alla Valdostana and Swiss Chard with Squid. Fall desserts, based on typical available seasonal ingredients, include gems like Chestnut Puree with Whipped Cream and Concord Grape Granita.

I am certain that if the average “foodie” were given flash cards with these recipes and asked to sort them by season, the devotee would have no trouble following their seasonal logic. Winter, it is no surprise, calls for both richer foods (to help beat the cold), and more festive foods (in keeping with the holiday season). Soups (Cranberry Bean and Faro, Fish Soup with Anisette, Capon Broth with Angel Hair Pasta) are prominent starters, as are filling dishes like Penne with Ham and Potatoes, Mashed Potato Ravioli, and Chicken Gnocchetti. For a second course, come winter, I might favor the Pork Shoulder with Fennel, or the Parchment-Wrapped Sausage with Fennel and Onions. The Giobbis take pains to add an extensive section on Winter Vegetables and Salads, stressing that there are many alternatives to tasteless imported out-of-season offerings. The vegetable they call brocoletti di rape (and I call broccoli rabe) gets a full treatment (I love it, whatever I call it), as do Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale and other hardy greens we can readily find fresh in winter. All the winter desserts (Orange-Clove Soufflé, Chocolate Meringue Pie) look good, but the one I plan to make and use to impress others is the Panettone Bread Pudding. Fancy cooking has its place in the world, I suppose, but my experience tells me that the real eaters out there will always opt for the comfort food. Italian Family Dining, of course, is filled with precisely that. Top -- Culinary Reviews Home

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