Pros: Delicious recipes; fascinating subject; wonderful information; beautiful photos
Cons: A few confusions
Rating: 4 out of 5
First posted 4/12/2005
Review book courtesy of Ten Speed Press
Pamela Sheldon Johns’ “Prosciutto Pancetta Salame: Cooking with the Cured Meats of Italy” is a fascinating book. It starts off with a fair amount of information that explains the intricate differences between the various kinds of cured meats of Italy. It even explains the various little regional differences, and interjects stories of specific families and villages in Italy that produce particular varieties of a product. This is wonderful information, and I feel as though I understand so much more about this subject than I did before. Of course, it leaves me regretful that so much of this wonderful variety is so difficult (if not impossible) to find in the US!
It is, however, possible to find a basic range of prosciutto, pancetta, salame, mortadella, and even a few other things (I was surprised to find that our local Trader Joe’s carries bresaola, for example), and this book will help you figure out what to do with these delicious treats.
Getting the “mixed” part of this review out of the way
There were only a few things about this book that didn’t impress me, so I’ll get them out of the way first. One or two of the recipes didn’t seem to have entirely well-balanced flavors, but that can be a matter of taste. A soup that uses dried chickpeas states that you can substitute with canned, but doesn’t say how much you should use if you want to do that. Some recipes state amounts by weight and others by number of slices, which can make purchasing a little more difficult if you’re purchasing for multiple recipes at once (“hmm… I need 5 ounces plus 8 slices of prosciutto”).
We did try one recipe where we were pretty well convinced that the author wrote ounces but must have meant slices. Even using 14 slices of prosciutto, which came out to much less than the 14 ounces called for in the recipe, the recipe (peas with prosciutto) seemed to have a higher amount of prosciutto in it than indicated in the photo. I can’t imagine what it would have been like had we used the full amount called for–I think there would have been far more prosciutto than peas!
These are small details, which is why I only docked a point for them, but they are details that make a cookbook more difficult to use.
The good stuff
That said, there is some wonderful material in this cookbook! In addition to all of the fascinating information, some of these recipes are just incredible. The aforementioned peas with prosciutto are quite good. There’s a ciabatta sandwich with salame, artichokes and rosemary that’s just out of this world. The same with a soup made with chickpeas, pasta and rosemary–neither chickpeas nor rosemary inherently delight me, but I just love that soup. The combination of flavors is absolutely fantastic.
Not every recipe comes with a photo, but many of them do, and the photos are quite lovely–they’ll certainly make you hungry! Most of the recipes are fairly simple, meant to showcase the delicious flavors of these products rather than cover them up. Only a few require any real time or effort, and that’s comparatively speaking.
You’ll also find a nice section of resources in the back of the book. It lists sources of domestic cured meats, sources of ingredients and supplies, and some Italian resources and producers. It even includes websites, which is always wonderful.
In all I’m quite pleased with this cookbook. It contains some imperfections, but it’s quite usable and produces delicious treats that make the most of Italy’s delightful cured meats.