cover image CONTORNI: Authentic Italian Side Dishes for All Seasons

CONTORNI: Authentic Italian Side Dishes for All Seasons

Susan Simon, . . Chronicle, $19.95 (132pp) ISBN 978-0-8118-3676-0

With Insalate, Simon successfully took a basic Italian food category, the salad, and expanded it to its maximum capacity to encompass all kinds of delicious vegetable dishes. Here she does the same for contorni, or side dishes. Granted, in Italy most side dishes consist of a vegetable sprinkled with olive oil and salt, but Simon's slight stretching of the definition is welcome, since it leads to inclusion of free-form Spring Vegetable Tarts and Eggplant Parmesan. She acknowledges, for example, that while Classic Risotto, Milan Style is usually served as a first course in Italy (except when it accompanies ossobuco), it can easily take the place of mashed potatoes on the American table. Simon successfully translates the Italian tendency to let the flavors of fresh produce shine through in deceptively simple creations such as Linda's Garden Green Beans, with lemon juice, tarragon and thyme, and Truffled Mushrooms, sliced thin and cooked with garlic and parsley. The author also urges readers to eat seasonally, and the chapters are divided that way, with Gabrio Bini's Baked Vegetables (squash, potatoes, broccoli and cauliflower among them) appearing in the fall and Braised Belgian Endive in the spring. (July)

Forecasts:Bellati and Bacon's photographs are stunning, and the price here is wisely kept low. Authentic in spirit if not in all concrete ways, this is a welcome addition to the ever more loaded Italian bookshelf. It is also Simon's fourth collaboration with Chronicle, and her style is perfectly matched to the publisher's bold softcover style.