Vegetarian cookbook author Roberta Roberti takes our senses on a journey of classic and ancient Italian culinary delights in her useful, fulfilling, educational and entertaining cookbook.
What No Meat? is useful because it has so many easy to make, flexible recipes for simple, delicious, uncomplicated food.
Many are family recipes, passed down through the generations, which Roberti learned to make from her mother and aunt when they cooked - often - for Big Italian Family Gatherings.
Roberti's cookbook satisfied my desire to know more about vegetarian Italian cooking - which I promptly tranlated into vegan Italian cooking!
I loved the Chick Pea Soup with Seashells on page 117, which I cut in half because I don't have a Big Italian Family! I used quinoa noodles, and left out the onion and garlic (they were in the soupstock).
There are many, many more recipes I plan to make, throughout the book. Like Fettuccine with Broccoli Rabe and Porcini Mushrooms on pg 77. Or Seashells in Garbanzo Sauce on pg 80. Or Sweet and Sour Lima Bean and Fiorettini Soup on pg 123. Or Spinaci con Fagioli (sounds better than Spinach & Beans!) on pg 155.
Roberti's cookbook is fulfilling because it satisfied my desire to know more about Italian cooking - the vegetarian way. For instance, the making and eating of corn pudding a.k.a. polenta has always been surrounded by mystery. Now, I know how ridiculously easy it is to make polenta, all about its history, plus many yummy ways you can eat it - and it impressed the heck out of the guests at my husband's birthday party! I plan to tackle fresh pasta next!
What makes Roberti's cookbook so much more than the recipes: It's educational & entertaining at the same time. Every recipe has fascinating and amusing stories, culture and history about the main ingredient. Many have variations and serving suggestions, along with memorable tidbits of information. It's a Culinary Adventure Tour of Italy and America!
I loved the tidbit on page 170, about artichokes: "In the 1920s, at the height of gangster terrorism, Ciro "Whitey" Terranova began monopolizing the artichoke industry in New York by purchasing all shipments to NY and reselling them at a huge profit - after threatening distributors and merchants. His crew even destroyed crops in the middle of the night. He was dubbed the "Artichoke King" and the situation became known as the "artichoke wars." New York City mayor, Fiorello LaGuardia, imposed a ban on the sale of artichokes in NY, which he lifted a week later because he personally loved them so much."
The only recipes where vegetarian doesn't translate well to vegan are the frittatas which are mainly eggs, and of course, most of the traditional Italian desserts, which include eggs and dairy. Sigh! But sugar is off my list anyway, and there's always tofu and nootch, so what am I sighing for?
I highly recommend What, No Meat? Traditional Italian Cooking the Vegetarian Way, by Roberta Roberti. It does have two flaws which are minor considering how much I love it.
Although it's well organized, the book lacks an alphabetical index, so for example, I had to flip through the pages to find the Artichoke Tidbit, instead of going to the index and looking up 'artichoke'. That problem could have been easily solved with a bookmark, but I'm afraid I'M not that well organized!
The other thing, which I only just realized, so it's obviously not that big a deal, is that there are no pictures of the recipes, colored or otherwise. However, I loved the charming black & white illustrations by Linda Rucconich.
Maybe the next edition will achieve perfection, but meanwhile, 'What, No Meat?' is a keeper. Which means, I'm NOT lending it to ANYBODY. I don't care how long we've been friends, or how we're related!