‘Italy by Ingredient’: A cookbook for the sensory side of cooking

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Italian-born, California-based chef, instructor and food writer Viola Buitoni embraces seasonal produce in her first cookbook. Photo by Molly Decoudreaux

Viola Buitoni comes from one of the most historically significant food families in Italy. Growing up in Umbria, Buitoni was surrounded by olive trees while rabbits, pigs, and geese ran wild. With a vegetable garden that included fava beans, artichokes, peas, tomatoes, and fruit trees, her mother embraced the idea of homesteading. 

In her first cookbook, Italy by Ingredient: Artisanal Foods, Modern Recipes, Buitoni focuses on the sensory side of cooking, something she has been teaching for years. "Food is a living, breathing thing that changes all the time," says Buitoni. The carrots used today may be sweeter and crunchier than the carrots used last week, Buitoni points out. "When you cook, taste is the last thing that [comes in]. Until you sit [at] the table, you don't really get to try the full meal or the full result of what you have made."

To stave off their pasta cravings with a lighter option, many Italians turn to rice during the hottest months of the year. Photo by Molly Decoudreaux.

Salads are favorite this time of year when produce is so vibrant that it needs little intervention. Olives and capers add a layer of taste, elevating a bean and tuna salad. As figs come in season, Buitoni wraps them in prosciutto or uses them in a salad with mint and buffalo mozzarella.

As a lighter option than pasta, Italians use rice during the summer months. Buitoni makes a cold rice salad with tomatoes, basil, chives, and red chili flakes.

Italy by Ingredient: Artisanal Foods, Modern Recipes presents the history and geography of the country's most iconic staples. Photo courtesy of Rizzoli.