Saturday, September 29, 2012

Weekend Cooking- Mike Isabella's Crazy Good Italian


This post is part of Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking.  If you have anything related to food, cookbook reviews, novel or non-fiction book reviews, recipes, movie reviews, etc., head over to Beth Fish Reads and add your post. Or, if you want to read food related posts, head over to read what some interesting people have to say about food.


Mike Isabella's Crazy Good Italian: Big Flavors, Small Plates by Mike Isabella
Published by Da Capo Lifelong Books ISBN 978-073821566235
Hardcover, $35, 352 pages


Bravo TV's Top Chef fans will recognize the name Mike Isabella. On his first go-round on the show, he came off as kind of a jerk. He was asked to be a part of Top Chef All-Stars and to the surprise of some, he very nearly won it, finishing a close second to champion Richard Blais. (Even his detractors had come to admire his kitchen skills.)

Isabella has a cookbook out, Mike Isabella's Crazy Good Italian, which celebrates his Italian heritage and has lots of wonderful memories of his grandmother, who gave Mike his love of cooking. What I like about this book is that many of the recipes are for small plates, which I enjoy. Some of the small plate recipes I want to try include:
  • Deviled Eggs with Bacon
  • Baked Ricotta with Scallion, Speck and Saba (which sounds fancy, but looks fairly easy. Speck is a cured ham and saba is a thick concentrated syrup made from sweetened grape juice. I did not know that.)
  • Crispy Mushrooms with Sweet and Sour Apricot Sauce
Isabella is Italian and Greek, and there are many recipes he has created that combine those two heritages, which he has in a chapter titled Family Secrets. Some of those recipes are:
  • Aunt Connie's Pepper Rings
  • Grandma Antoinette's & Mike's Favorite Gravy, which has a pig's foot as its special ingredient
  • Meatballs, made with mortadella and mint 
There are lots of authentic Italian recipes here for serious cooks, ones that use ingredients such as octopus, calamari and squid.  When I visited Rome this past February, there were many dishes with those ingredients and reading Isabella's book brought me right back there. Some of those recipes from the chapter Not Your Sunday Macaroni are:
  • Baby Cuttlefish with Salt Crusted Potatoes & Pancetta Pesto
  • Black Spaghetti with Clams, Pancetta, Red Chili & Squid Ink
  • Pistachio Fettucine with Lamb Ragu, Feta & Mint
The dish that came Isabella created for the Top Chef All-Star final challenge, his Pepperoni Sauce, is in this book. Gail Simmons from Food & amp;Wine Magazine went crazy for this dish, and here Isabella uses it over chicken wings. It's one of the most requested dishes at his Washington DC Graffiato restaurant, and I'm going to make this one for Sunday football for my guys. This is a link to the recipe and a video of Isabella making the dish on the Today Show this past week.

There are gorgeous photos in this book, and at the end of the book there is a section called Menu Suggestions, where Isabella categorizes his recipes under Date Night, Entertaining, Family Night and Dinner Party Time. I liked that added touch.

I met Isabella in June at the Book Expo, and snapped a photo of him. He handed out Rainbow Cookies along with a blad from his book and the recipe for the cookies. 
Mike Isabella at the Book Expo
This is a cookbook for the more adventurous and serious cooks in my opinion. If you have someone on your Christmas gift list who fits that description, Mike Isabella's Crazy Good Italian would be a wonderful holiday present.

rating 4 of 5

18 comments:

  1. I do love Italian food, but seeing the highlighted recipes I think I will pass. I don't think I could cook much from it, eating no meat and all. Now I crave Italian food. Luckily for me, there is pasta on the menu tonight! :D

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    1. He actually does have some interesting pasta recipes- homemade gnocci, and other pastas.

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  2. I had seen on TV recently, maybe Food Network? He was pretty exuberant about the food. It sounds like a book I'd enjoy, the recipes sound interesting, not the usual fare that I'm used to eating!

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    1. It definitely has some recipes I have never seen before, lots of seafood that I have never tried.

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  3. One of the more surprising things learned from Elizabeth David's book on Italian food was how important fish is, in antipasto, for example, in soups. These recipes seem to reflect that emphasis, as well.

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  4. Even if I can't get but a few of the fish species in my small town, and even if I can be kind of lazy in the kitchen, I still love to read about fantastic dishes. I'll have to check this one out of the library.

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  5. sounds like it would be a bit much for me! Very informative post. Have a good week.

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    1. Some of the small plates I could handle, but the octopus and squid are probably over my skill level.

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  6. I'd check it out just for that deviled egg recipe. I'm always on the lookout for new ways to make deviled eggs.

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    1. My mom still makes the best deviled eggs and she never uses a recipe.

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  7. "Not your Sunday macaroni", hah :D Are all his chapter titles that witty? I can imagine him cooking up all kinds of mix-ups of modern and traditional Italian and Greek dishes. Exactly what we need in our 21st century lives :) I wish more cooks would do that with ethnic cooking!

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  8. I don't watch Top Chef but my husband does so I bet he'd be excited about this cookbook.

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    1. My brother doesn't cook but he never misses an episode of Top Chef.

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  9. Hi there. Just to let you know that you are now one of Carole's Chatter's five Featured Book Blogs. I review these every couple of months. Have a nice week.

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    1. Oh wow, I am so honored to be one of your featured blogs- thanks so much!

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