Books & Literature

COOKBOOK REVIEW: Simple Italian, by Silvia Colloca

COOKBOOK: Silvia Colloca shares the essential dishes and techniques that are at the heart of the world’s most popular cuisine.

Nonna would be proud of this authentic and comprehensive take on Italian essentials.
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A celebrated actress, opera singer, TV cook, and author—Silvia Colloca has achieved more in one lifetime than most people dream of achieving in four. Having paved her own lane on the Australian food scene, Colloca is known for enchanting foodies with the rustic and unbeatable flavours of her native Italy. And in her newest cookbook, Simple Italian, she does just that. 

Covering all the pillars of Italian gastronomy and then some, Simple Italian takes a traditional and authentic approach to this popular cuisine. That said, there are still creative and innovative dishes among the age-old favourites, including Risotto with Roasted Beetroot and Stracchino (page 123) and Roasted Chilli and Crab Crostini (page 154). 

Of course, the book explores pasta in great detail, with a special emphasis on fresh pasta and gnocchi. The creatively named chapters also take us on a journey through the other stars of Italian fare: The Truth About Rice and RisottoAntipasto, Grazing Boards, and the Simplicity of Italian Gatherings, Roasts, Braised and Second CoursesSide Dishes Take Centre StageNo More Boring Soups—Start by Calling Them Zuppa!Virtuous Pane Raffermo (Leftover Bread), and Sweet and Simple

Simple Italian is a lesson in culture and language (with English translations!) as much as it is a cookbook. Because of the history, background, and invaluable tips that accompany every recipe, the large walls of text provide a lot of value. They’re also balanced out wonderfully with bright colours, chic graphic designs, and plenty of images. 

Given the wealth of knowledge packed in the pages, this is the type of cookbook that you can study before and after cooking. It’s ideal for foodies hungry to improve their skills in the kitchen, along with those wishing to take their Italian cooking to the next level. 

There are helpful advice sections within the chapters, such as Tips for Making Perfect Gnocchi and The Queen of Frittata’s Rules, making this a great option for total beginners as well as intermediate and advanced cooks.

Perhaps the most charming element is Colloca’s endearing voice that comes through every recipe. Readers get the sense that the cooking tips come straight from the heart, rather than through the cold pen of a ghost-writer. Reading the text, there’s the warm feeling of a loving Italian nonna guiding you to create cherished dishes that have been passed down for generations. In true nonna-style, Colloca firmly warns against the classic mistakes most amateur cooks make with Italian food: “Don’t just spoon the sauce on top and ‘that’s that’!” (My 10 Rules for Perfect Pasta, page 16). 

SPAGHETTI ALLA CARBONARA, PASTA PERFECTION (PAGE 52)

The golden rule of authentic Spaghetti Alla Carbonara, as Simple Italian points out, is absolutely no cream. And after tasting this cream-free version, it’s easy to see why. With only a handful of ingredients, the magic of this dish is in its simplicity. 

Never having tried this recipe before, I decided to take the risk and make it for the first time at a dinner party. I replaced guanciale (cured pork jowl) with smoked pancetta as this was easier to find at my local deli and added 500g of spaghetti rather than the recommended 400g. I was a bit nervous as the ingredients and method seemed to be overly simple. After the water started boiling, it took under 10 minutes to fry the pancetta and cook the pasta. Then maybe a further minute to throw it all together with the egg mixture and watch it come to life.    

Although the egg mixture seemed to be lumpy at first, it mixed in beautifully with the spaghetti and pancetta. Without the cream, the flavour was tasty yet light, and satisfying without being too heavy or overwhelming. Even with the extra pasta, this dish was so delicious and flavoursome that everybody had seconds. There was only a small plate left and one of my guests took it home. No leftovers at a dinner party is always a good sign! 

CHARCUTERIE BOARD WITH HOMEMADE PIADINA, ANTIPASTO, GRAZING BOARDS, AND THE SIMPLICITY OF ITALIAN GATHERINGS (PAGE 144) 

I was daunted by the idea of making bread from scratch, particularly for a dinner party. But aside from the 30-minute resting time, the Piadina literally took minutes to prepare and cook. I opted for extra-virgin olive oil instead of shortening as I already had it at home. The dough was easy to mix, knead, and roll, without being too dry or too sticky. Paranoid of burning the flatbread rounds, I was anxious to take them off the pan and so they were slightly undercooked. But they still tasted amazing and, even next to the spaghetti, they all disappeared.

The Piadina brought a special touch to my charcuterie board, which I layered with mild cacciatore salami, thinly sliced prosciutto di San Daniele, Provolone Piccante semi-hard cheese, and Parmigiano-Reggiano hard cheese. These Italian entertaining staples are all available from any good Continental deli. Given that the bread was so easy to make and such a hit, it will now be my go-to at future dinner parties and wine and cheese nights. 

Reviewed by Vanessa Elle
Instagram: @vanessaellewrites

Distributed by: Pan Macmillan
Released: 23 February 2021
RRP: $39.99

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