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Just kidding! But I made ya’ look, didn’t I?

While I would love to hop on a plane tomorrow and fly back to the homeland, that’s just not in the cards (at least not for tomorrow). Instead, let us take a moment to sit back and pretend that we’re flying to Italy tomorrow and then we can further pretend that we will be spending our days looking for one osteria after another in which to indulge our passion for Italian food.

I love pretend.

In Italian, the word osteria refers to a simple sort of restaurant that tends to serve food that here in North America we would likely refer to as “rustic” or “homey”. For those of us of Italian backgrounds, an osteria would likely serve some of the dishes that our grandmothers or mothers would make at home. But one should never think that an osteria is not worth a visit. While the food may seem “simple”, osteria meals are usually flavourful, comforting and satisfying.

I’ve had the book for so long that it seems like it was about a thousand years ago that I received it, but I was given the chance to review Rick Tramonto and Mary Goodbody’s Osteria, a cookbook dedicated to the type of food that one would enjoy in an osteria (in case the name didn’t signal that …).

I’m a big fan of Rick Tramonto‘s books. While I’ve never had the pleasure of dining at any of his establishments, I have had the pleasure of his cookbooks and he’s a very successful cookbook writer, in my opinion.

He’s worked on a number of cookbooks including Gale Gand’s Butter Sugar Flour Eggs and is the author of several of his own including favourites like Fantastico and Amuse-Bouche (also with Mary Goodbody).

In Osteria, Tramonto presents a wide range of comfort dishes with many of them updated. In his Breakfast section, for example, there’s a recipe for Eggs in Hell (I’d eat them just for the recipe name) that features eggs served up in a spicy tomato sauce with toast. We’ve all heard of ricotta pancakes but how about Goat Cheese and Ricotta Pancakes?! There’s a trusty section on Sandwiches and a section on Soups and Salads for some lighter fare. What would a book based on osteria-cooking be without a section on Pizza (short but nice) and Pasta? The book continues with Fish and Seafood, Braises, Poultry and Meat, Side Dishes, Cheese and of course, Desserts.

If I had to choose one word to describe it besides delicious, I would choose comprehensive as it very comprehensively covers every course (and then some) with ideas for every manner of osteria-type food.

The recipes do tend to be lengthy but the idea is to take your time preparing these dishes that are sure to make everyone happy. The book itself is pretty to look at (lots of great photos), well-organized and enthusiastic. By this I mean that you can tell the authors of the book truly enjoy the subject of the book (you’d be surprised how many cookbook miss the mark on that point).

While I wanted to try so many recipes, I only managed to try two, both of which turned out very well. I would have liked to take the time to try more but I’ve already had this book for so long that I felt it was time to share it with you.

When I go out to eat I almost never order fried calamari because I find them to be one of the most horribly prepared dishes in restaurants. Either the quality of the calamari is very poor or they’re an oily mess. So you can understand that I was drawn to the recipe in the book. The breading for the calamari is a mixture of semolina flour and panko crumbs. I was unable to locate panko so I used homemade bread crumbs instead (we grind dried bread in the food processor and use that for breadings). The calamari are accompanied by a flavourful “aoli” of mayonnaise, sour cream, herbs, salt, pepper, lemon and lots of fresh garlic. The semolina gave the breading a nice crunchy edge and I have to say they were the best fried calamari we’ve ever made at home.

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For the second recipe, I was still out to sea (heh … sorry!) so I decided to try the Tagliatelle with Octopus Putanesca, except we never actually made it to the tagliatelle part. This twist on Pasta Puttanesca has you baking a mixture of onions, octopus, fennel, olives, wine and tomato sauce in the oven before using it to dress the tagliatelle. Now I know it doesn’t look very promising, but trust me, when this baby came out of the oven it was tagliatelle be damned and just dig in with some bread, which is exactly how we ate it. The more observant among you will notice a piece of skate floating around in there. I had a tiny piece of skate languishing in the freezer so I threw it in to no ill-effects, thank you very much!

I wish I could go on about the recipes but I only tried these two. But they were greatly enjoyed and based on those two, I would highly recommend the book.

So … failing a trip to Italy to visit a real honest-to-goodness osteria, you might consider the book instead!

Ciao!