I certainly hope Jamie Oliver doesn’t mind, but I’ve been cheating on him with Giada De Laurentiis.
Can you blame me?
While I rarely watch her television program, Everyday Italian, I am a fan of her cookbooks. I don’t think anyone would disagree when I say that they very clearly fall into the category of food porn and who can resist a little food porn every now and then?
I thought I’d finally take the chance to pull her second book, Giada’s Family Dinners, off The Overburdened Bookshelf and spend a few weekends enjoying an abundance of comfort food Big Fat Italian Family Style!
Giada’s Family Dinners is divided into chapters that include Soups and Sandwiches, The Italian Grill, Family Feasts and Family-Style Desserts. Being a good Cream Puff, I naturally started with the desserts section as you can clearly see from the Apricot Crostata above.
As one would expect, the cookbook is full of gorgeous full-colour pictures depicting Giada and her family enjoying a lot of good food. While many might find this ever-so-slightly annoying, I actually like the pictures because they remind me of my family.
Minus the designer plates, stain-free linens, and glowing faces of course. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family. But were we invited to Giada’s you know we’d be the slightly embarrassing second cousins. This fact notwithstanding, the photos in this book truly are beautiful and you’d be hard-pressed to resist the urge to run into the kitchen and start cooking based on the pictures alone.
As with all cookbooks, my final opinion rests on the recipes. Say what you want about Giada, her recipes are inviting and they work. Dishes like Tuna and Artichoke Panini, Herbed Cheese Polenta, Garlic and Citrus Chicken, Baked Mashed Potatoes with Parmesan Cheese and Bread Crumbs and Chocolate Ricotta Pudding with Strawberry Sauce will have you salivating as soon as you read the titles. But upon close inspection, the recipes are clearly written and well organized. The instructions are helpful and accurate, without being too long.
Oh. And did I mention the gorgeous pictures?
But the proof, as they say, is in the pudding so I decided to get into the kitchen and start cooking. I tried a number of recipes from this cookbook and was happy with all of them, and particularly impressed by two of them, the first being her lovely Apricot Crostata.
A crostata, in Italy, is akin to a a tart. While in many parts of Italy crostatas can be formal desserts where the pastry is fashioned in a decorative way, Giada’s crostata is more of a free-form tart and is both easy and delicious. As with many of her recipes, she has no problems turning to the tools of the modern kitchen, namely the food processor. After pulling together the crostata dough very quickly in the processor (you can just as easily make it by hand in a bowl), I refrigerated the dough for a bit before rolling it out to an 11-inch round. I opened one of the last jars of the lovely apricot jam my mother and I made last summer and used that as the filling for the tart. After 40 minutes in the oven, I had a beautiful golden tart that was delicious and impressed everyone. The effort for this dessert was minimal and the end result was more than worthwhile.
After trying the Apricot Crostata, I decided to try her version of Pasta e Fagioli. I don’t think I know a single Italian family that doesn’t have a traditional recipe for pasta e fagioli. Giada’s version is quite straightforward and calls for canned beans, which certainly saves time (for those of us that don’t want to soak our beans overnight). The resulting soup does not suffer in flavour in any way. As Giada emphasizes over and over, simple fresh ingredients combined with the winning combination of olive oil and Parmigiano Reggiano will take you far!
Eager to try another pasta recipe, my eyes fell on a recipe for baked pasta. The dish is called Farmer’s Pasta but I like to refer to it as the Incredibly Delicious Union of My Favourite Cheeses. This is because the dish features fontina, mozzarella and Parmigiano Reggiano. Oh yes and heavy cream.
While you’ll have to excuse the poor quality of my picture, take my word for it when I say that this was truly delicious. I had several requests for it after making it the first time and it will most definitely become part of our fall and winter repertoire of comfort dishes!
In the department of foods baked with lots of butter, cheese and cream, we enjoyed an incredible Broccoli and Cauliflower Gratin followed by some amazing Chocolate Chip Cookies with Hazelnuts.
But after the Apricot Crostata, the dish that we loved most was a gorgeous Roasted Red Snapper with Parsley Vinaigrette. This one was a winner from the moment I pulled it out of the oven! Unlike some other cookbook authors who focus on Italian cuisine, Giada truly does justice to fish and seafood as all her cookbooks include a lot of recipes that use these ingredients. I love red snapper but find that I don’t eat it as often as I’d like. This recipe has changed that. After rubbing red snapper with olive oil and seasoning with salt, pepper and paprika, the fish is roasted at high heat. While it’s roasting, a delicious vinaigrette of parsley, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, olive oil and salt and pepper is mixed in the blender. Once the fish is out of the oven, drizzle with the vinaigrette and you’ve got a showstopper of a main course. I can’t say enough about how impressed I was by this dish.
I really can’t say anything bad about this cookbook. Every recipe I tried turned out wonderfully and I recommend it highly. While the serving sizes of the recipes are large (remember the book is geared towards large family gatherings), I had no problems whatsoever halving the recipes.
I must give credit where credit is due. This is a well-written, beautifully photographed cookbook that is bound to yield a number of recipes that you’ll love. Buon Appetito!
Adapted from Giada’s Family Dinners by Giada De Laurentiis.
Note: I used homemade apricot jam for this crostata but feel free to use any jam or preserves that you like. Raspberry and strawberry would be particularly good choices. Be sure to refrigerate the dough before rolling out as it will be much easier to handle.
- 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2-1/2 tbsp. vanilla sugar (or you can use regular sugar)
- grated zest of 1 lemon
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1-1/4 sticks (10 tbsp.) cold unsalted butter, cut into tiny pieces
- ice water
- 1 cup apricot jam or preserves
- sliced almonds for garnish
- icing sugar for garnish
- In the bowl of the food processor, mix together the flour, sugar, lemon zest and salt. Pulse a few times to combine.
- Add the pieces of butter and pulse again (10 to 15 times), until the mixture looks like coarse oatmeal and the butter has been processed into very tiny pieces.
- With the mixture running, slowly add in some ice water, a tablespoon at a time. Mix just until the dough comes together in a ball. You’ll likely have to add between three and five tablespoons of ice water.
- Remove the dough from the food processor and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least an hour.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Once chilled, remove the dough from the refrigerator and begin rolling it out on a well-floured surface. You want to roll the dough out into a circle that is roughly 11 to 12 inches in diameter.
- Once your circle of dough has been rolled to the correct size, transfer it to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Spread the jam or preserves over the dough, leaving a two-inch border all the way around. Once the preserves have been distributed over the dough, begin sealing the crostata edges by folding the border up over the jam. Continue until you’ve folded all of the border up and over.
- Bake the crostata for 35 to 40 minutes, until the edges of the crostata are golden. Remove the crostata from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.
- Once cool, transfer the crostata to a serving plate. Sprinkle centre with sliced almonds and dust the edges of the crostata with icing sugar.