Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors and Forgotten Recipes from an Ancient City is as much travel memoir as cookbook. Katie Parla and Kristina Gill provide a rich narrative story of the neighborhoods and culture of Rome. Interviewing the chefs and bakers of Rome, they are able to share all sorts of inside knowledge and background.

The organization is not the usual antipasti, primo, secondo, and dulce arrangement by cause. Instead it organizes around themes, street food, the classics, immigrant fusion cuisines, recipes using offal, veggie dishes, bread and pastas, sweets and cocktails.

Some of the ingredients are new to me, such as ‘nduja, a spreadable salami used in the fried mozzarella recipe, but reading that recipe, I can imagine it giving fried mozzarella a new purpose in life .

I love the simplicity of some of the recipes like the one simply serving from fresh fava beans in their pods with some salami and pecorino romano or the cacio e pepe, recipes many cookbook  authors would leave out because they don’t show off, but then look at the finest recipes by Eric Ripert and they are simple. Having the confidence to highlight those simple recipes that expose food at its more pure is a great thing that I appreciate. On the other hand, they also include a recipe for making guanciale, the cured pork jowl that enlivens many of their recipes.

The sections on the Hebraic cuisine and the cuisine of Libyan Jews has some very appealing recipes and it’s fascinating that such  small number of immigrants could have such profound influence. For folks who are interested in the cheap cuts and offal, there is an entire section of recipes making use of the so-called fifth quarter of the animal.

Unlike many contemporary cookbooks, there is a nostalgic aesthetic to Tasting Rome. While it is full of beautiful full page photos common to modern cookbooks, most modern cookbook photos have intense, saturated colors with vibrancy increased with filters and layers. These photos are more naturalistic and if anything desaturated. The font for the recipe titles is thick and rounded. It is all very comforting and welcoming and suits the mood of the book with its blend of history and cultural tourism.

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I like this cookbook. It’s organizational structure is idiosyncratic, but makes sense in terms of the idea they want to convey about Rome and its food culture. I with there were more vegetable sides and entrees and more recipes overall, but the 80 plus recipes that are included are a good mix of old and new, easy and complex, and all clear and easy to understand. There seemed to be a bias in the recipe select toward recipes with unusual and unfamiliar ingredients. It would be a stronger, more likely to be used until it falls apart cookbook if there were more recipes with everyday ingredients. My favorite parts of the cookbook, though, are the stories of Rome, like the prince who would not make change at his wine shop. Those kinds of details are priceless.

I was provided a review copy of Tasting Rome by Blogging For Books.

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