Books: Cooking by Cuisine -> Cooking Italian
Italy in Small Bites
Published: June 1, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Field's well-researched and elegantly written cookbook on Italy's merende (comparable to Spanish tapas and Greek meze), originally published in 1993, gets a new look and a new foreword to appeal to a new generation of readers.
Merende, small midmorning or afternoon snacks, can be as simple as a wedge of cheese and a slice of bread, or as complex as the Pugliese merende called Puddhica, which comprises mussels, clams and octopus, sauteed with garlic and served alongside
homemade focaccia. Several of Field's merende could double as dinner-the Polenta con Baccala Mantecato (Polenta with Creamy Salt Cod) is rich and salty, a culinary heavyweight made from the dried cod formerly considered "a dish of the poor." Erbazzone
(Spinach Pie), a "quintessential" springtime merenda that incorporates fresh spinach, eggs, pancetta and almost a cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano, is also very satisfying. On the lighter side, there's a variety of tempting crostini topped with everything from
sweet peppers to olive paste to mozzarella, anchovies and tomatoes. Any of these would make wonderful cocktail party pass-arounds, as would Frico, crisp doilies of aged Montasio or Asiago cheese. There are even merende recipes to satisfy a sweet tooth,
such as Amaretti al Caffe, the classic cookies so delicious with coffee, and Torta di Riso, a luxurious rice pudding torte. Field (The Italian Baker; Celebrating Italy) is a scholar of Italian food; her book includes a history of merende, a selected
bibliography and a fairly comprehensive source guide for hard-to-find ingredients. Although Field laments the passing of the traditional snacktime in Italy-a victim, she says, of packaged, processed foods and an increasingly hectic way of life-her
cookbook guarantees that the merende heritage can live on wherever people like to snack Italian-style.
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and dinner may mark the beginning, middle, and end of the day, but for centuries Italians have eaten two small informal meals that come in between. Italy in Small Bites is the first-ever collection of recipes for these bite-size treats, known as spuntini
and merende, the soul food of Italy.
Spuntini, the midmorning snack, can be as simple as a sublime walnut-and-raisin-studded coffee cake, while merende, which are enjoyed midafternoon, might be a wedge of onion frittata or artichoke tart, a
crunchy pillow of fried dough served with figs or prosciutto, a purée of fava beans, or sweet peppers mounded on a slice of rustic country bread.
The best-known merende in America are pizza and focaccia, but there's an entire universe of
appealing food revealed in this book. Though the recipes are tied to centuries of tradition that go back to a time when merende reinvigorated laborers in the fields, they're singularly perfect for contemporary eating in America and are as versatile as
they are delicious.
Merende make perfect impromptu meals because they are stunningly simple foods meant to make life easy. Some -- bruschetta with various toppings, frittate, vegetable tarts, polenta crostini -- may be familiar, while others are
welcome new discoveries. Served individually or in combination, they can become a meal -- any meal -- and they are healthy, inexpensive, and casual, perfect for the way we live.
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