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: Food for the Body, Manna for the Soul

by Marion O. Celenza

Pub Date: Sept. 30th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-9791-9532-7

Spiced with memories of an Italian-American childhood in Brooklyn, this cookbook serves up a generous number of tried-and-true recipes for the family table.

The third cookbook from Celenza (Lunch is in the Bag, 2008, etc.), this culinary trove details more than 500 favorite recipes from the author, her friends and family. Divided into seasonal sections, which are supplemented by an extensive segments on pasta-centered meals and a final chapter devoted to sauces and dressings, the recipes are arranged mostly as complete menus. Typically, each of these includes a salad, an entrée and a dessert–and frequently a soup or vegetable. The emphasis is on Italian-American classics like fettuccine Alfredo, baked eggplant Parmagiano, and potato gnocchi, but there are nods to the melting pot with dishes like egg foo young, pastitsio, German potato salad, Irish soda bread and even an elaborate Thanksgiving feast with only a few nontraditional touches, like Italian sausage in the stuffing. The portions are invariably generous, but the author acknowledges contemporary concerns about health by including low-salt and low-fat alternative ingredients. The recipes shouldn’t exceed the capabilities of even casual cooks, as Celenza’s directions are clear and helpful without being overwhelming. She’s also specific, if forgiving, on measurements. If the author errs, it’s in being too explicit. Fresh strawberries, for example, don’t require a recipe, though the author’s desire to recreate the banquets of yesteryear may explain the impulse. Interspersed among the recipes are anecdotes and photos from Celenza’s past, snippets of culinary history and reflections on how food warms, sustains and nurtures us, physically, emotionally and spiritually. She evokes a sense not merely of the dishes but of the time, place and camaraderie that Celenza associates with them, giving a warm, human context to these family feasts. While this book has a homegrown scrapbook-like quality, its appeal is likely to extend well beyond even Celenza’s large extended family.

Recipes that will give cooks many solid and simple options for creating family-dining traditions.