Toscana mia: The heart and soul of Tuscan cooking|
by Umberto Menghi
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|A Review of: Toscana Mia: The Heart and Soul of Tuscan Cooking
by Jon Kalina
Umberto Menghi is one of those guys you could strangle. He has a
beautiful villa in Tuscany, he has a loving wife, he has a cooking
school, a restaurant and he publishes lush cookbooks, the latest
of which is Toscana Mia: The Heart and Soul of Tuscan Cooking. At
least he doesn't complain about his lot in life.
"Mia Toscana" (which translates as "My Tuscany")
is part cookbook, part family memoir, and part advertisement for
his cooking school. There are plentiful recipes, wine recommendations
from Canadian wine writer Anthony Gismondi (as warned, you may or
may not find these wines in your local store) plus some beautiful
photos of markets, restaurants and shops.
Menghi has divided the book logically: after talking about himself
and the splendours of Tuscany (more of this later) he goes from
antipasti through soups, salads, vegetables, pasta, rice, polenta
and eggs, fish fowl and meat (with wild game) right to dessert.
Just writing that list makes me full. Most of the recipes are
straightforward like "Tuscan Cabbage and Bean Soup" or
"Cod Grilled with Garlic and Oil" while a very few are
more daring like "Saffron Risotto with Pumpkin" or an
orange and fennel salad with pomegranate molasses.
If I'm less than overwhelmed by "Mia Toscana" I confess
that when it comes to Italian cookbooks; I already have my favourites.
It would take a lot to pry me from the pages of Marcella Hazan's
"The Classic Italian Cookbook" and the less well-known
but completely charming "A Tuscan in the Kitchen" by Pino
Luongo. Both are, in their own ways, of the imperious school of
cookbookery. Hazan assumes that you'll overcook your pasta (among
your other culinary crimes) but decides she'll help you anyway.
Luongo assumes you're already a good cook so he doesn't bother
giving you amounts of ingredients. Over the years both of these
writers have captured me with their attitudes-and they've taught
and inspired me with their recipes. "Mia Toscana", for
all its charm, doesn't come up to their mark.
One of my problems with the book is that "Mia Toscana"
seems aimed more at the novice cook than at anyone with experience
in the kitchen. Perhaps that's what happens when you run an upscale
cooking school 50 kilometres from Florence. It seems more like the
book you give your students to remember Tuscany by than a solid
addition to the kitchen library.
Menghi tries to make up for the simplicity of the book with an
effusiveness for Tuscany that in the end becomes grating. He writes
in his introduction: "Toscana Mia, my Tuscany, keeps calling
me back I feel energy in Tuscany. The colours are clear and strong.
Aromas fill the air." Later on we get in bold letters over a
picture of the author in a field of sun flowers: "To love
Tuscany is to love life." Please. The fact that the colours
in Tuscany are in fact clear and strong almost forgives this sort
of nationalist prattling, but not quite. Not that I wouldn't go
back in a second.