A Tuscan in the Kitchen


A Tuscan in the Kitchen

Monday, September 6th, 2010

Tuscan in the Kitchen Several years ago a friend gave me what I thought was a most unusual cookbook. The title of the book is the title of this post. The author is Pino Luongo, a Tuscan with a very interesting background. In Italy he was an actor before coming to the United States. He is a very successful restauranteur, having opened (and sometimes closed) 16 restaurants in New York, a very tough place. Anthony Bourdain, in his book” Kitchen Confidential” called him “the Dark Prince of Italian fine dining, a man loved and hated with equal fervor by the wide swath of New Yorkers left in his wake”. Quite an intriguing set of facts just to start with, eh? Still, my introduction to him was this cookbook. I had no prior knowledge of him whatsoever. While I have cooked a number of recipes in this book, I would say that the recipes are not what has stayed with me so much. First, let me quote a bit from his own introduction to the cookbook.

“Most cookbooks give exact amounts of this and that, but I never learned about timing and quantities – I did everything by instinct. If you make a mistake in tablespoons, it’s not going to hurt you. You don’t need a prescription for cooking food; you’re the person in charge. Don’t be afraid to follow your feelings. Be flexible, be creative – abandon your inhibitions and have fun. When it looks good and feels right, you’ll know it. Trust yourself – you know better than to stuff anchovies into a profiterole. One day you’ll make something so good you’ll know it’s a triumph that came from your imagination and not some rule or formula. As in love, there are no rules for cooking. Everything should be done with feeling”

So that’s a pretty big quote in more ways than one. The whole book continues in that vein. For each recipe he gives a list of ingredients divided into pantry (oil, salt, canned stuff, etc.), cold storage (onion, celery, parsley, etc.) and market (meat, veggies, cheese, etc). There are no quantities. He says something like (I paraphrase) “ how can I tell you how many mushrooms to put in? If you want it to taste more like mushrooms, put more in!” Following his philosophy has freed me a great deal to trust my own instincts. If you’ve read any of my other recipes you’ll note that I feel free to make modifications and have a sense when something will be good in a recipe and certainly when there is something wrong with a recipe (like some of Mario Batali’s stuff).

There is a second thing about this cookbook that makes it enormously enjoyable. You can just read it. Even if you never cook a thing from it, each chapter has wonderful stories about the chapter contents. For example there is a story in the subchapter on soups “The Soups of Bread and Fantasy”. It is about having a bread based soup, ribollita, in a very humble trattoria in a very humble Tuscan mountain town named Femmina Morta (Dead Woman). It’s a tale of a beautiful day, a beautiful young woman and local tradition – everything in harmony. It’s too long to quote here but believe me it’s lovely and like many other stories in the book  is really enjoyable.

So, no matter what, you can learn a lot from this unusual cookbook. Are there any other cookbooks that you’ve found to have an unusual twist to them?

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2 Responses to “A Tuscan in the Kitchen”

  1. Marieta Says:

    Yes. All of Erica Demane’s lovely cookbooks – Pasta Improvvisata, The Flavors of Southern Italy, plus her Williams Somona’s pasta book. Her incredibly amusing and inspiring personal commentary coupled with her boldly flavored cooking sensibilities is just delightful. Especially from an italian-american perspective. (mine) Note also that her field research is spot-on for southern italian cooking.

    Another delight is Judy Witts Francini who has a marvellously simple book “Secrets from my Tuscan Kitchen”. Very elegant.

  2. Joe Says:

    Marieta,

    Thanks for the mention of those cookbooks. I will have to check Erica’s books and the one by Judy Francini. Especially if the commentary is anything close to Pino Luongo’s. I really like the simplicity of a lot of Italian home cooking. I do hope that you have a chance to look at “A Tuscan in the Kitchen” if you haven’t already since the stories are so earthy and endearing. I just checked and found that it is available at our library so you might be able to take it for a test drive without an investment.

    Joe

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