Bryanna's Italian heritage stems from her paternal grandmother whose Italian cooking was a memorable influence on her during her childhood. Her father was a wine maker and wine taster in Northern California's wine country. What a combination to lay the foundation for the creative cookbook she has assembled! The recipes are a treasure chest of many old favorites as well as some modern innovations, all well-done adaptations for vegan dining. Throughout the book are nostalgic recollections of family gatherings and food--great Italian food. Nonna, in Italian, means grandmother.
She opens with an appealing section on regional Italian dishes and notes the particular vegetables or grains of those regions that contribute to Italian cuisine, past and present. For example, rice and polenta and a hot vegetable dip called Bagna Cauda are from the Piedmont region. In Milan, where saffron is popular and tomatoes used minimally, rice is preferred over pasta.
The author, well aware of those with food allergies, provides non-dairy and soy substitutes for many recipes, such as soy, rice, oat, and almond milks in place of milk. In her pantry list she offers information about the use of salt, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil. She expresses her preference for not peeling or seeding tomatoes in order to retain their fiber and nutrition. Three cheers! Fiber and nutrition shouldn't be tossed away.
Bryanna has a very helpful section on equipment where she tells the reader it's not necessary to have expensive equipment. Her equipment musts for the kitchen include a blender, food processor, pressure cooker, pepper mill, and a pump oil sprayer. In addition, she mentions a few extras that simplify kitchen tasks.
In perusing the recipe section, we found most of them easy to prepare. Those with a bit more extensive preparation had very clear instructions and felt quite do-able. The first section on Basics contains recipes used frequently to create other dishes, such as a Low-Fat Mayonnaise, Basil Paste, and Tofu Ricotta. The pages are loaded with side bars offering additions and substitutions for creating variations of the basics.
Her Tofu Mascarpone, a vegan, rich triple cream cheese, is an easy fix and sounds heavenly. Also in the Basics is Cashew Sprinkle, a soy-free parmesan alternative. She quickly whips this up in the food processor. About Pesto, Bryanna expresses the importance of the freshest, most aromatic basil. "That is the soul of pesto."
No Italian cookbook would be complete without recipes for making pasta. Bryanna's temptations include pasta for ravioli, colored pasta, whole wheat pasta, and stuffed pasta. In addition, she talks about three ways to make polenta, and gives recipes, techniques, and a brief history of risotto.
For the cook who enjoys preparing baked entrees, there's a Ligurian Easter Pie that sounds sublime and a Torta Rustica, a vegetable torte in a bread crust, and even a Prostitute's Stew (love that name!). There are a host of seitan dishes that could easily summon one to the kitchen. The recipe for Hot Italian Seitan Sausage is one we're especially curious about.
An avid bread and pizza baker, the author tempts us further with a number of traditional bread recipes, such as focaccia, along with some new innovations like Stuffed Griddle Dumplings. She ends the bread section with a detailed Panettone recipe and recalls family nostalgia which surrounds this Christmas favorite among Italians.
Dolci, or Sweets, provide the grand finale of recipes that includeTiramasu, which Bryanna refers to as "the perfect company dessert." This section is extensive and offers preparations for several fruit tarts and a Vegan Italian Vanilla Ice Cream, sorbets and Tartufo (chocolate ice cream). How about some Biscotti to go with the ice cream? She didn't miss a thing‹there's a recipe for that, too!
The author includes mail order sources for Italian Mediterranean Foods, Hard-To-Find Vegetarian Ingredients, and sources for Soymage Parmesan Cheese Alternative.
The book's shortcomings are few. There are no chapter headings separating the different sections--one section runs into the next. Not serious.
This Italian cookbook stands out from the rest with its old favorites and features lesser known dishes that are really quite special, such as Chick Pea Pancakes. Those especially called to us, with the side bar suggestions for extra toppings like chopped garlic, rosemary, and thyme or thinly sliced onions or slices of baby artichokes. Sound tempting? In all of her adaptations it was quite apparent the author has tested her recipes extensively to achieve the real meaty and dairy flavors with strictly vegan ingredients. We commend her efforts.