cover image LA MIA CUCINA TOSCANA: A Tuscan Cooks in America

LA MIA CUCINA TOSCANA: A Tuscan Cooks in America

Pino Luongo, Luongo Pino, Richard F. Gabriel, . . Broadway, $40 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-7679-1194-8

In this muddled book, restaurateur Luongo (Simply Tuscan) takes the simple, unadorned food of Tuscany and other parts of Italy and makes it complex for no discernible reason. The concept is good: Luongo has now cooked in New York City for two decades, and he sets out to illustrate how his native Tuscan dishes have mutated under those circumstances. Almost every recipe is accompanied by two headers, titled "Il Classico" and "La Mia Versione," which explain its origins. But most of these explanations are based on an idea rather than taste—such as a recipe for Tuscan-Style Porcini Mushrooms in which Luongo explains that the cooking method used is one that would normally be applied to a fettina, a cheap cut of meat—leaving the reader to wonder how taste and idea interact. Some of the recipes have no Tuscan roots at all, like a Tuna and Beet Carpaccio with Gorgonzola Cheese based on the famous beef carpaccio served at Harry's Bar in Venice, or an Eggplant-Chocolate Mousse that evolved from an ancient Neapolitan eggplant dessert. Dishes that adhere most closely to the originals, such as a Baked Sea Bream on a Bed of Potatoes and Pecorino (which, Luongo admits, breaks the cardinal Italian rule of no-cheese-with-fish), are the safest bets, while out-on-a-limb combinations such as Watermelon and Fresh Fava Bean Salad feel as if they use strangeness as an attention-getting gambit. (Oct.)

Forecast:Luongo's Simply Tuscan has sold more than 53,000 copies, and this is a visually appealing if pricey effort, but its recipes will test the theory that simply slapping the word "Tuscan" on any cookbook translates into sales.