The Country Cooking of Italy

Editor’s note: Linda Avery returns with a look at Colman Andrews’ new cookbook, The Country Cooking of Italy and an easy recipe for frico (cheese crisps). Interestingly, Gabrielle Hamilton, author of Blood, Bones & Butter, was in Phoenix recently for a book signing  and said ” if we think we have enough Italian cookbooks, we don’t and — and we need his The Country Cooking of Italy.”

The Country Cooking of Italy

by Colman Andrews
photos by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton

Facts: Chronicle Books, 392 pages, $50.00 (or Amazon at $29.56)
Photos: I counted 60 in the first 150 pages – let’s consider that representative
Recipes: Hundreds – literally
Give To: passionate home cooks, Italian food lovers

When I reviewed Colman Andrews’ The Country Cooking of Ireland in 2009, I wondered how long it him took to put together such a collection. Apparently the answer is about two years. This is a man who grabs the bull by the horns; a man who doesn’t do anything slipshod.

After the success and awards garnered by “Ireland” (his sixth James Beard and the Julia Child/IACP award), he kicked it into high gear and two years later, another voluminous cookbook is introduced: The Country Cooking of Italy. He again partnered with noted photographer Christopher Hirsheimer. (By the way, Andrews and Hirsheimer were two of the co-founders of Saveur Magazine in 1994.)

The book is formatted like the Ireland book. Beautifully photographed recipes are peppered with page-long stories, some historical, some educational, some anecdotal from Andrews’ travels. Although images of recipe dishes abound, lifestyle photos deepen the interest and are testimony to Hirsheimer’s talent.

These aren’t the recipes of fine restaurants but of the casalinga (housewife) or what one would be served at an agriturismo (an Italian farm property offering accommodations and meals).

Most pan-Italy cookbooks forget about the little known regions so I was gratified to see numerous mentions of Le Marche, birthplace of my grandparents and Olive all’Ascolana, the deep-fried olives stuffed with meat particularly famous in Le Marche and served in local bars from Venice to Tuscany.

Go to Amazon and use their “Search Inside This Book” feature to see the index of recipes. Remarkable. In no time you’ll be humming “That’s Amore!”

Frico  (Friulano Cheese Crisps)

© photo by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton

Makes about 20 fritters; serves 6 to 8

These easy-to-make cheese crisps or fritters are a specialty of Friuli, and are best made with Montasio, a firm cow’s milk cheese from that corner of Italy. there is also a cheese from Valcellina in Friuli’s Pordenone Province, rarely seen today, called frico Balacia, specifically meant to be fried. Some purists insist that the cheese must be fried in lard. (A source for Montasio is Corti Brothers).

1 pound/500 grams Montasio or Asiago, grated
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon butter
2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1. Combine the cheese and flour in a large bowl, and mix together well but gently with your hands.

2. Melt the butter in a large frying pan over medium-low heat, and add 2 tablespoons of oil.

3. When the oil-butter mixture is hot, working in batches, use a spoon to form fritters 2 to 3 inches/5 to 7.5 centimeters in diameter, using about 2 tablespoons of the cheese mixture for each fritter and gently tamping down each fritter with a spatula. Make sure the edges of the fritters don’t touch.

4. Cook the fritters, without moving them, until their edges turn golden brown, about 3 minutes.

5. Then, using the spatula, carefully turn them and cook until golden, about 2 minutes longer. As the fritters are ready, drain them on paper towels.

6. Serve the fritters at room temperature.

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