Monday, December 15, 2008

Holiday Gift Guide: Food Festivals of Italy by Curti and Fraioli

This is the gift that the true foodie will enjoy for many years to come. More: this is the sort of book -- lush, over the top, practically decadent -- that is best served up as a gift. After all, Italian cookbooks are hardly in short supply. But Food Festivals of Italy: Celebrated Recipes from 50 Food Fairs (Gibbs Smith) takes things to a whole new level.

“We have yet to find anyone who believes us,” write the authors in their introduction, “but it was truly hard, demanding work to uncover, taste, and talk to the purveyors out of the most prized recipes at these various food festivals.” And we feel sorry for them, do we not?

The authors have gone to heroic lengths here -- they really have -- traveling the length and breadth of Italy on a quest to visit all the festivals they could find out about in order to share their findings with us. Artichoke Festival, Chile Pepper Festival, the National White Truffle Fair. Omelet Festival, Polenta Festival, Strudel, Muscat Wine and Vine Santo Festival. I get a little out of breath just thinking about it all.

And the book? The book is fantastic. The photographs rich and deep and either perfectly styled or wonderfully composed, as appropriate. The recipes are clear and interesting and good. I was tremendously excited to try Lumache con Basilico, an actual escargot recipe that was so easy, I almost did it again to make sure I hadn’t left anything out. (I had not.) For less adventurous guests, it would be tough to beat Mozzarella Impanata which is, basically, fried cheese. But the straight-forward instructions combined with an elegant yet rustic presentation make it a great recipe for those times when you want to impress while entertaining, yet not tire yourself out. Plus, again: fired cheese? What’s not to like?

For a gift or for a special treat for yourself, if any of the above has sounded appealing, you will not go wrong with Food Festivals of Italy.

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