While being unemployed has certain benefits (namely more time with friends and family), the downside is a very limited cookbook budget. I have a list of about 10 new-ish titles I’d like to buy and a budget of $0 to buy them. What is a cookbook addict to do? In this case, my husband was kind enough to enable my addiction by converting all of the change in my childhood piggy banks into an Amazon gift card. Thanks CoinStar! After purchasing decorations for my son’s upcoming birthday, there was just enough left over for a copy of Chloe Coscarelli’s latest book.
Like Chloe’s previous titles, Chloe’s Vegan Italian Kitchen does not disappoint. The book is 270 thick, glossy pages with color photos throughout. The book is nicely laid-out. Each recipe is contained on one page. With the exception of recipes that call for component-recipes (i.e. ricotta or marinara from the Make Your Own Basics chapter), there is no need to flip around while cooking.
The book contains a good variety of recipes, including soups, pastas, pizzas, sandwiches, vegetable sides, desserts and even a few breakfast dishes. Like Chloe’s other books, the recipes are generally simple to make and call for ingredients readily found in most supermarkets. (Now that I’m no longer in California, the number of dishes that call for avocado did pose something of an issue). Most of the recipes are bean, nut, veggie and grain-based, though there are a few recipes that call for tofu. The book does not use any packaged veggie meats or cheeses.
I’ve had good results with the recipes I’ve tried, though many call for a bit too much salt for my taste. I was also disappointed to see that the tomato sauce recipes all call for sugar, which I simply omitted. (There are two schools of thought on tomato sauce. Some people believe that sugar is necessary to “soften the acidity of the tomatoes,” whatever that means. Others make tomato sauce correctly. I kid. Okay, not really. Sugar does not belong in tomato sauce people. Buy decent quality tomatoes and no “softening” will be required.)
In order to review the book, my family enjoyed a week of Italian dinners. I started with the “Thyme for Stuffed Portabellos with Rosemary Gravy” (page 172), which turned out to be my least favorite dish of the week. The portabellos are stuffed with a flavorful rice and lentil mixture that unfortunately dried out a bit too much during baking. The technique for making the gravy was a new one for me and one I’ll use again. Onions and garlic were sauteed in the pan, then flour, seasonings and water were added. Once the gravy thickened, the mixture was pureed. The result was a thick, smooth, rosemary-scented gravy. The gravy needed a little something the night we first ate it, but tasted much better as leftovers.
Next up was the “Lemon Herb Cannellini Beans” (page 159). This recipe was quick, easy and tasty. The lemony-sauce reminded me of something I’d had before, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. As suggested, I served the beans over steamed spinach and mashed potatoes. This is a definite make-again meal for my family.
Since it’s technically autumn (despite the bursts of hot weather), I thought the “Pumpkin Soup with Crispy Brussels Sprout Leaves” (page 75) would hit the spot. This is a pureed soup that gets depth of flavor from apples and creaminess from coconut milk. The soup really grew on me as I ate it; in each spoonful, I tasted slightly different flavors.
Pasta alla Norma (pasta in a tomato and eggplant sauce with ricotta salata)(page 127) is one of my favorite pasta dishes, so it had to be my first selection from the pasta chapter. I began by making the Rockin’ Ricotta (page 242) to top the dish. Chloe’s version of ricotta is tofu-based and easy as can be. All of the ingredients are just buzzed together in a food processor. Although the ricotta was very yummy, I thought it was very salty. I will cut the salt down to 1.5 tsp. in the future. The pasta was easy to make and tasted great topped with the ricotta. (I omitted the sugar from the sauce as noted above.) My parents actually ate this dish as is and never suggested adding grated cheese. Trust me when I say that is a huge deal.
The last meal of the week was the “Pizza Burgers with Avocado Pesto” (page 106), primarily because it took my avocado the entire week to ripen. The pizza burgers are white bean patties flavored with sun-dried tomatoes and basil. Based upon a tip on the PPK forums, I made sure to grind my sun-dried tomatoes up nice and small to avoid any unpleasant chewy bits. (Adding the breadcrumbs and flour to the food processor along with the tomatoes made them easier to mince). My only complaint about this recipe is that Chloe claims it makes 6 burgers. Had I formed 6 patties, they either would have been slider-sized, or thin enough to see through. I made 5 very thin burgers, which just barely fit standard-size burger buns. Even my son loved these burgers, which he pronounced “dee-wish-us.”
After a week of tasty, omni-approved meals, I look forward to more cooking experiments from this book. I recommend “Chloe’s Vegan Italian Kitchen” to any lover of Italian food who wants to whip up meat and dairy free weeknight meals.