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Books that Cook: For Biba, it's all about freshness

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 13, 2002

Biba's Northern Italian Cooking

  • By Biba Caggiano
  • HP Books; $17.95

In her new cookbook, Biba's Northern Italian Cooking, author and TV cooking instructor Biba Caggiano takes us on a culinary tour of northern Italy. Most recipes reflect the region of Bologna, Biba's hometown, but specialties from other regions such as Emilia-Romagna, Milan, Lombardy and Piedmont are included.

Biba's cooking is all about fresh ingredients. In many of her recipe introductions, including Calamari Salad and Grilled Porcini Caps, she stresses using the freshest seafood, freshest mushrooms, etc. Her pasta recipes are made with fresh homemade pasta. Basic Egg Pasta Dough and Spinach Pasta Dough recipes are included for those who have the ambition to make pasta by hand. Penne with Onion, Red Bell Peppers and Tomatoes, Macaroni with Vodka Sauce, and Fettuccine with Butter and Cream would all be just as authentic made with store-bought pasta.

Some dishes with less popular pastas might be more difficult to master. A trip to an Italian specialty food store could be necessary for tagliatelle, tagliolini and pappardelle. It is important to use the pasta called for in the dish because wider pastas, such as fettuccine and pappardelle, are better for holding the sauce than thinner pastas such as angel hair.

But Biba's Northern Italian Cooking is more than just pasta dishes. Italian first courses such as soup and appetizers, second courses of gnocchi and risotto, main dishes of poultry, game, veal, pork and seafood, plus vegetables, salads and desserts are included. Italians aren't known for their love of red meat, but Biba does include such recipes as Meat Loaf Bologna Style, Filet Mignons Piedmont Style, Beef Braised in Barolo Wine and Filet of Beef with Balsamic Vinegar among others.

In keeping with the simplicity of peasant cooking, these recipes are not difficult to make and use mostly common ingredients. The most expensive recipes would be those that use filet mignon, veal, lamb and truffles.

5 A Day -- The Better Health Cookbook

  • By Dr. Elizabeth Pivonka and Barbara Berry
  • Rodale Books; $24.95

The first thing to know about 5 A Day -- The Better Health Cookbook is that it is intended as a reference volume only, not as a medical manual. The introduction is full of information about how fruits and vegetables may help protect you from a variety of diseases. It also addresses an array of other issues such as how to judge a serving and getting kids to eat fruits and vegetables, among other things.

This cookbook will show you how to keep from getting bored and still maintain a healthy lifestyle. For beginners, why not get part of your five a day servings in a glass? Try making an orange blast by blending orange juice with low-fat vanilla yogurt or add crushed ice made from grapefruit juice to a glass of pineapple juice for an exhilarating treat. Boredom can also set in when recipes take too long to prepare.

At a glance, you can see if recipes can be made in 30 minutes or less, can be made ahead, or are kid-friendly. Some, like Rio Grande Spinach Salad, Lemon Carrots, Watermelon with Fresh Raspberry Sauce or Applesauce with Crunchy Topping are all three.

The 5 A Day -- The Better Health Cookbook makes healthy eating even easier with seven 5 A Day Power Menus. Menu 2 offers seven 5 A Day servings with Watermelon Gazpacho, Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes and Parsley, Steamed Broccoli with Lemon Wedges, Seeded Bread Sticks and One Ingredient Sorbet. No more than three dishes in each menu require a formal recipe. Some menus come with suggestions from Quick Cook boxes scattered throughout the cookbook. Each recipe also tells the number of 5 A Day servings for that recipe, which makes it easy to figure a total days intake.

This cookbook shows that eating well doesn't have to be boring by providing recipes for dishes packed with flavor. Spice things up with recipes like Honey Dijon Chicken with Peach-Cilantro Sauce, Sesame Chicken Kabobs and Pork Tenderloin with Orange-Basil Sauce. Consider serving Baked Asparagus with Parmesan Cheese, Roasted Carrots or Potato-Double Cheese Gratin as a side dish and Baked Apple Fritters, Pear-Strawberry Trifle or Warm Blueberry Cobbler for dessert.

The credits at the back of the cookbook offer names, addresses, phone numbers and Web sites of organizations that contributed recipes. Check them out for more ideas.

The Best Recipe: Soups & Stews

  • By the editors of Cook's Illustrated magazine
  • Boston Common Press, $29.95

What's the secret to great chicken stock? Which cut of meat makes the best beef stew? Why are frozen peas better for soup than fresh? Find the answers to these questions and more in The Best Recipe: Soups & Stews. The editors of Cook's Illustrated magazine tested dozens of soups, chowders, stews and anything related to compile their newest collection of recipes.

Many familiar soups are included, such as French Onion Soup, Lobster Bisque, Manhattan Clam Chowder, Chicken Noodle Soup and Matzo Ball Soup. But if you have ever wanted to make Japanese Noodle Soup, Vichyssoise, Osso Buco or Cioppino, this is the cookbook.

Illustrations and detailed instructions make preparing these recipes easy. Finding some of the ingredients may prove challenging. For Miso Soup you may need to stop by an Asian specialty store to find white miso, kombu, bonito flakes and wakame. Other recipes don't include such unusual ingredients. Dishes such as Cream of Tomato Soup, Pureed Carrot Soup, and Cheddar Cheese Soup could all be made with ingredients stocked in your pantry and refrigerator.

To keep meals interesting, The Best Recipe: Soups & Stews takes the traditional recipe and offers variations. Suggestions include adding chicken or lamb to Mulligatawny Soup, a vegetarian version of Mushroom-Barley Soup, or transforming Butternut Squash Soup into Curried Squash Soup with Cilantro. Rounding out this cookbook is the chapter on chilled soups making it a valuable tool all year long. How refreshing a bowl of Chilled Cucumber Soup, Chilled Berry Soup or Classic Gazpacho would be on a hot Florida day.

Although foolproof recipes are the main course of this cookbook, The Best Recipe: Soups & Stews also includes no-nonsense equipment ratings and taste tests of supermarket brands. The editors found that when choosing a blender, the classic style in which the jar tapers at the bottom promoted a smoother consistency in pureed soups. Their pick for cheese graters is a rasplike grater that has very sharp teeth, perfect for hard cheeses. In taste tests, the editors' top four picks for canned chicken broth are from the Campbell Soup Co. Other information such as this can be found scattered throughout the cookbook's 14 chapters.

-- Ellen Folkman's cookbook review column appears monthly in the Taste section.

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