Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Food: Recipes, cookbook reviews, food notes, and restaurant reviews. Unless otherwise noted, I have personally tried each recipe that gets its own page, but not necessarily recipes listed as part of a cookbook review.

Mimsy Review: The Italian Ingredients Cookbook

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, February 15, 2000

Review of The Italian Ingredients Cookbook, with a recipe for Pasta with Cream and Parmesan.

AuthorsKate Whiteman, Jeni Wright, Angela Boggiano
PublisherHermes House
Length256 pages
Book Rating6

I picked this up in the “bargain” section of a Waldenbooks. My copy is a large paperbound edition, which apparently was made specifically for Waldenbooks: I can’t find it at Amazon. Only the (more expensive) hardbound edition is there.

This is a colorful book, very much at home on a coffeetable. The first half of the book is full of huge, glossy pictures of the various major ingredients that go into Italian cooking. Fifteen pages of various kinds of pasta, all in full color and life-sized. Then rice, grains, and beans; then cheeses; meats; fish (wonderful photo of a small octopus); lots of vegetables and fruit; herbs and seasonings; bread and cakes; and finally a short section on alcoholic beverages.

The second half consists of various kinds of recipes based on those ingredients. We generally get one or two recipes per page, with photographs of the various steps as well as the final product. Some of the photographic aids are less than useful: a photograph of someone pouring stock into a pan in the wonderful “Cream of Zucchini” soup, for example. But they definitely give you a real example of what the dish should look like at various stages.

The first recipe section is for “antipasti”, which the book claims is “before the mail”. These dishes are supposed to be “light” and tasty. Such as the first item, “Roast Bell Pepper Terrine”, with three cups mascarpone cheese and three eggs to hold the bell peppers together... well, it’s definitely tasty. Most of the antipasti are lighter than that, even the salad with liver. All (even the liver) look very tasty. I’m not sure where to start here, they all look so good. “Stuffed Roast Peppers with Pesto” takes red bell peppers and fills them with garlic, olive oil, pesto, and scallops. Salad with crisp-fried pancetta and gorgonzola. Even (especially) the raw tuna salad. You have to start with really good fresh tuna for this one! Look for the words “sashimi quality” when you buy.

Soups are often my favorite, simply because I make so much of it for lunches. The Cream of Zucchini soup is perfect for freezing: zucchini, onion, and Dolcelatte (or any mild blue cheese--it must be mild!) cooked and mixed together in the food processor or blender. The process of seasoning the zucchini before processing seems to make a tasty zucchini salad as well. I find it difficult not to snack on the raw zucchini pieces while mixing. Lentil soup with tomatoes; and spinach & rice soup are also very tasty, and, depending on your cooking patterns may provide a nice change of pace.

The pastas tend to be the richer dishes, such as tuna cannelloni covered in cheese, or three-cheese lasagna with mozzarella, ricotta, and parmesan. And for a differen gnocchi, try the spinach ricotta gnocchi: the gnocchi itself is made with ricotta and spinach, and only a little flour. The seafood lasagna, with shrimp, monkfish fillets, and mushrooms, held together with milk, heavy cream, and parmesan, is so very tasty. The only difficult part is the sauce preparation (involving heating the milk and cream until it thickens). Look below for a lighter recipe of a creamy parmesan pasta.

The rice, polenta, and pizzas get thrown together into one chapter, starting with an interesting spring vegetable risotto: peas, grean beans, and summer squash make this a bit different. Saffron risotto is always a favorite. There are some interesting pizza combos: butternut squash and sage (with goat cheese); “Sicilian” pizza with eggplant, capers, and olives. There is also a polenta with mushroom sauce, which I haven’t tried, but looks interesting. There are only two polenta recipes in this chapter. The other is “Polenta Elisa”, with gruyére cheese and Dolcelatte.

Seafood is always tops on my list of new things to try. I’m afraid I haven’t tried the “Char-Grilled Squid” yet, and the “Stuffed Swordfish Rolls” (stuffed with onion, celery, tomato, egg, cheese, and bread crumbs) seem like a lot of work. (Even the recipe says it “is not for the inexperienced cook”.) The “three-color fish kebabs”, however, are nicely spicy. It takes monkfish, swordfish, and salmon, with red, yellow and/or orange bell peppers, marinated in lemon, olive oil, and chili flakes. Then barbecued for five to seven minutes and re-marinated. I’ll bet if you wrap some thinly sliced bacon around it, your life will be complete. Beyond that, while most of these dishes sound tasty, they look pretty disgusting, involving whole fish, and shrimp in their shells with their tails and feet. Eww! Recognize your audience when choosing these probably authentic recipes.

In the meat section, there is everything from beef stew, to meatballs with Peperonata (a bell pepper/tomato sauce), roast lamb with rosemary, chicken with Chianti (cooked with grapes for a lighter sauce than you normally get with raisins), and turkey with a lemony Marsala cream sauce. And then there’s “Deviled Chicken”, with the note: “Versions without the chilies are just as good.” Oh, sure.

The vegetables section starts out with the wonderfully simple roasted tomatoes with garlic, seasoned with bay leaves, pepper, and oregano. There is also the interesting fennel gratin, fennel bulbs baked with Gruyère cheese and milk. The potato-pumpkin pudding is a neat twist on casserole. Marinated zucchini is marinated in mint sauce for a new way to eat zucchini (at least for me). A definite change of pace from zucchini bread, zucchini cake, zucchini cookies...

The desserts (and the baking section, which is more desserts) start with the incredibly rich tiramisù. Personally, I prefer the recipe that came with my whipped cream maker. It isn’t as heavy and is much easier to make. This thing definitely has lots of flavor in it! You’ll need to like coffee, although I’ve found that replacing the coffee liqueur with amaretto, and the coffee grounds with chocolate shavings also goes over well. The Sicilian ricotta cake is an orange-flavored variation made with ricotta instead of mascarpone and sponge cakes instead of ladyfingers. The pine-nut tart, with raspberry jam and almonds as well as pine-nuts, is a fun pie-like dish.

All in all, this is a nice book to browse through, and is combined with some simple and tasty recipes. If you can find it at a good price, I recommend it. Definitely take a look through it if you see it!

Pasta with Cream and Parmesan

  • 12 oz fettuccine,
  • 2 tblsp butter,
  • 1¼ cups heavy cream,
  • ⅔ cup grated Parmesan cheese,
  • 2 tblsp finely chopped fresh parsley,
  • salt,
  • pepper.
  1. Cook fettuccine in large pan of salted, boiling water 8-10 minutes.
  2. Melt butter in large flameproof casserole.
  3. Add cream and Parmesan.
  4. Salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Stir over medium heat until cheese is melted and sauce is thickened.
  6. Drain fettuccine.
  7. Add to the sauce with parsley.
  8. Mix over medium heat until pasta is generously coated.
  9. Add black pepper and extra parsley over the top.
  10. Serve with bowl of grated parmesan.

The Italian Ingredients Cookbook

Kate Whiteman, Jeni Wright, Angela Boggiano

My cost: $8.00

Recommendation: Easy and interesting

If you enjoyed The Italian Ingredients Cookbook…

For more about Italian, you might also be interested in Cinema Paradiso and The Bicycle Thief.