I don't watch any of the Housewives franchise on Bravo. Those overly-dramatic, bitchy women with lots of money and little class are, to me, everything that is wrong with American society. So when I was approached to talk about Real Housewife of New Jersey Teresa "Table Flipper" Giudice's new book, Skinny Italian, I laughed out loud at the request. I sneer at the Housewives every chance I get and I'm going to promote one of them? Heck, I don't even know how to pronounce her last name.
So I made a little deal - I'll talk about the book if I can cook from it - that way, I can judge the book on its own merits and not on the reputation of its author. And I planned to be brutally honest about the recipes. So I contacted fellow blogger Jordan Baker, she of the highly amusing Top Chef and Project Runway recaps, because I knew she owned a copy of the book. (You can read about her experience with one of the biscotti recipes here.) I decided to try Danielle's Puttanesca Sauce (which I'm guessing is named after Giudice's favorite fellow RHNJ, Danielle Staub) and the Panzanella Salad.
I began to look forward to cooking because I *knew* I'd have some really strong criticisms. There was no way these recipes would be good. Heh - I was going to get to do some table flipping of my own.
I started with the Puttanesca sauce, which involved adding additional seasonings to a recipe Giudice calls the "Quickie Sauce" (recipe below). So step one was to make said sauce.
Me being me, I had to make a substitution to the recipe: because I don't like the watery texture of sauce made with hand-squooshed whole tomatoes and their juice, I substituted a can of crushed plum tomatoes. And, I had to question, with this being a "skinny" dish, why bother putting olive oil in the sauce if it's not first used to sauté garlic and/or onion? I did, however, add the oil. The end result was basically tomatoes + basil + oil slick = sauce. That needs a recipe? I think not. It tasted like canned tomatoes with basil in it. My use of crushed tomatoes, however, produced a pretty texturally perfect sauce, thick and smooth, just the way I like it. But this basic sauce needed some serious doctoring. And that's basically the premise of the recipe - it's a base to which other flavorings are added to create different types of sauce (for instance, Quickie + carrots + meat = a Bolognese).
On to the Puttanesca: A "puttana" is a whore, and this type of sauce - like a good whore - should be both salty and spicy. Basically, you take the "Quickie" tomato sauce and add some anchovy paste, garlic, olives, and capers, simmer for a few more minutes and pour it over pasta. Surprisingly, the salty capers and anchovy paste really transformed the bland basic sauce into something far more rich and savory.
I served it over fettuccine, my favorite type of pasta.
Here's the basic sauce recipe, as published on the Hyperion Voice site, originally from Skinny Italian, by Teresa Giudice with Heather McLean.
Basic Tomato Sauce AKA “The Quickie”
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
One 28-ounce can imported Italian plum tomatoes, broken up, with their juices
¼ cup tomato paste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or 2 teaspoons dried basil
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the tomatoes and their juices and the tomato paste. Bring just to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the basil. Simmer to blend the flavors, about 10 minutes. The end.
Next up was the panzanella, a salad made from stale bread and tomatoes. My changes: I substituted Vidalia onion for the red onion and didn't remove the seeds from the tomatoes. Part of me thought that maybe there was going to be too much tomato/olive/basil going on since I was planning on serving it with the pasta Puttanesca, but actually, they were a good match - cold tomato vs. hot tomato, cold olives vs. hot olives, cooked basil vs. raw basil both reinforced the tomato- and olive- and basil-ness of the individual components.
While the sauce was warm and rich and spicy, the salad was light and bright and would make a great summertime lunch.
So what's the verdict of my Skinny Italian experience?
As much as I hate to admit it, both dishes were delicious. They had close to the perfect amount of seasoning and I didn't feel the need to do any heavy alterations or additions. That said, both recipes were very basic, very simple. I have the feeling that Skinny Italian would be an ideal first cookbook for someone just starting to experiment with cooking - college students, young couples, people who have no clue about Italian food.
The Giveaway (you thought I forgot this part, right?)
Family tradition is very important to me. A lot of our family time, our culture, and our love revolves around being in the kitchen. I learned to cook from my mom, and I cook homemade meals for my family almost every night. I’ve been collecting my mom’s recipes, tips, tricks and secrets from the Old World for healthy Italian living for years. I finally wrote them down to pass on to my kids, and the result is Skinny Italian. It’s a love letter to my mom. It’s full of full-color photographs, over 60 family recipes straight from Salerno, and of course, a bit of behind-the-scenes gossip thrown in. –Teresa GuidiceIf your interest is piqued, I have five, count 'em FIVE copies of the book to give away to my readers. All you have to do is share a family recipe or food memory in the comments section. You don't even have to be Italian. :) Please make sure to also leave your e-mail address so I may contact you if you are a winner.
Contest ends at noon June 11th, 2010.
The fine print:
- No purchase necessary.
- One entry per person – USA residents only.
- The odds of winning are dependent on how many entries we receive.
- Winners will be chosen randomly and notified via email.
- The prizing for this giveaway was provided by Bravo. However, Bravo is not a sponsor, administrator, or connected in any other way with this giveaway.