New cookbook has old-fashioned focus on Tuscany's foods

December 09, 1992|By William Rice | William Rice,Chicago Tribune

Go ahead, tell the author of "Giuliano Bugialli's Foods of Tuscany" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $50) that there's nothing new in his book.

He'll only smile.

The large, weighty, color-photo-filled, coffee-table volume is, he says, about "the Tuscany that was, that I'd like to see back."

The man who speaks during a brief visit to Chicago is one of America's leading cooking teachers as well as author of four other cookery books, including "Giuliano Bugialli's Foods of Italy." He has spent part of each year in Florence for nearly two decades, teaching cooking classes and writing. As he sees it, life hasn't become better in that period. In fact, the food situation there today makes him downright grumpy.

"Food quality in the restaurants has gone down, but my main complaint is that they all have virtually the same menu. Variety is disappearing. I blame the tourists. They lack standards, and they want familiar dishes from all over Italy. Many of those who live and work there don't go home for a real meal at midday anymore. Instead they eat horrible pizzas with strange toppings." No wonder Mr. Bugialli is ready to march us back into the past.

"Tuscany is small," he says, "but even so, the people ate differently in the mountains and by the seashore. In both places the food was simple, but even a few ingredients can produce something complex. It's a matter of balance. These old dishes are historic documents." Is there anything approaching a silver lining in the culinary cloud that hangs over modern-day Tuscany?

The fresh food markets still are "very good," Mr. Bugialli responds, then adds that he is pleased because enough genuine Tuscan products have found their way to the United States to allow him to write recipes without having to offer numerous substitutions.

Here's one of them as it appears in the book.

Mussels and clams

stewed Livorno style

Yield: 6 servings.

1 1/2 pounds mussels

1 1/2 pounds clams

1 lemon

coarse-grained salt

1 medium-sized carrot, scraped

1 medium-sized red onion, cleaned

1 large clove garlic, peeled

25 sprigs Italian parsley, leaves only, plus 15 sprigs

1/2 cup olive oil

3 bay leaves

salt, freshly ground black pepper

large pinch hot red pepper flakes

1 cup dry white wine

6 slices crusty Tuscan bread, toasted

1. Leave the clams and mussels in their shells and wash them very well. Place them in a bowl of cold water with the lemon cut in half and squeezed and a little coarse salt and soak for 1/2 hour.

2. Finely chop the carrot, onion, garlic and 25 sprigs parsley all together on a board. Heat the oil in a medium-sized casserole over low heat and when the oil is warm add the chopped vegetables and saute for 10 minutes, stirring every so often with a wooden spoon.

3. Add the bay leaves and season with salt, pepper and the red hot pepper flakes. Add the wine and reduce it by half. Raise the heat, drain and rinse the mussels and clams and add them to the casserole. Mix very well, cover and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, depending on the size of the mussels and clams. Taste for salt and pepper and remove and discard the bay leaves as well as mussels and clams that don't open.

4. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the shellfish to a platter. Reduce the sauce for 1 minute more, stirring constantly.

5. Prepare 6 dinner plates with a slice of bread on each. Ladle some of the reduced sauce over each slice of bread and serve immediately with a sprinkling of parsley on each serving. Pass the shellfish at the table.

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