Mammissima Family Cooking From a Modern Italian Mamma by Elisabetta Minervini
Review by Kylie Thompson
Rating: 3 stars
For a long time, pizza, spag bol and garlic bread was about as Italian as Australian kitchens got. Unless you were from an Italian family, it was hard to find the recipes, or the ingredients, to make your own Italian feasts beyond the bare basics.
These days, there’s a wealth of ingredients and recipes available to help even the most novice cook make some magic in the kitchen, and Italian cooking maintains its status as one of the most popular cuisines in Australian homes. And what’s not to love? The techniques are generally not soul-crushingly complicated, which makes it ideal for cooks of all skill levels. The ingredients are readily available- oftentimes they’re the staples many of us grew up with. Even better: the dishes can generally be altered to suit food allergies and dietary requirements.
Though the intergenerational recipes, passed down through family lines, are an amazing way to learn about the cuisines of the world, there’s something comforting about modern recipes. Given how time-starved working families can be, finding ways to trim time and processes from a cook-up can be the difference between a recipe we use, and a recipe that gathers dust.
For Elisabetta Minervini, a commitment to cooking fresh meals for her family required finding ways to make her traditional Italian family favourites quicker and easier to manage. In the process, ‘Mammissima’ was born: modern interpretations of classic family dishes that are easy to make wherever you are in the world.
Minervini was raised in Puglia, a region of Italy with a focus on light, family-focused meals, and her recipes are designed to appeal to a range of tastes, while being easy to halve or multiply to fit whatever sized family you’re cooking for. There are dishes for events, and everyday family meals, and dishes to tempt the finicky eaters, with some sweets thrown in for good measure. The recipes are easy to follow, the steps clearly defined and well separated to avoid being accidentally skipped over- perfect for the cook who has worked a long day and is approaching new recipes while tired.
There’s a wry sort of humour to Minervini’s writing, and each chapter starts with an aside from the writer, filled with stories of her life in Puglia, and how the different foods shaped her family and community. It’s a fun way to introduce an ingredient without the straightforward ‘seafood means fish, shellfish, and octopus’ type explanation that’s a staple in many cooking guides.
The little sketched page divides help ‘Mammissima’ feel like a family cook book rather than a store bought collection, and Minervini goes to great lengths to make sure readers feel connected to the foods being discussed. There are serving suggestions, and tidbits of information about the dishes (my personal favourite is the idea that stuffed aubergines are known in her town as ‘cap de muerte’ because the aubergines were thought to resemble a dead man’s head- a great way to get some children willing to try a new dish!) that make ‘Mammissima’ feel more like a conversation than a strict lesson in cookery.
Cooks who require photos of every dish might be a tad disappointed: many of the recipes don’t come with imagery. But for the most part, cooks can easily get by without the pictures to work from. The images that are there are wonderfully styled, showcasing the book’s focus on fresh produce respectfully prepared and used. The food looks amazing, whether it’s the fresh seafood salads, or the cheesier, more comforting fare.
If you’re looking for some new Italian recipes to try that won’t leave you stranded in the kitchen all day, ‘Mammissima’ is certainly worth a look.
‘Mammissima’ is published by Bloomsbury/ Allen and Unwin, and is available through the publisher’s websites, or through leading physical and online retailers.