Cooking in Roman style

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April 14, 2004|By David Kohn | David Kohn,SUN STAFF

If you're taking part in the current cultural psychosis known as the low-carb revolution, this is not the cookbook for you. That's too bad. You're missing out on a host of delicious recipes for culinary pariahs like pasta, pizza and potatoes.

In her latest book, Rome, at Home (Broadway Books, 2004, $29.95), food writer Suzanne Dunaway isn't particularly worried about carbohydrates - or any sort of calories, really. In addition to focaccia and linguine, many of the more than 150 recipes in the book require abundant amounts of olive oil, butter and parmesan cheese.

Rome, at Home presents itself as a guide to the authentic Roman way of cooking: simple yet sophisticated, full of robust flavors like garlic, rosemary and fresh tomato. Many of these recipes accomplish the neat trick of being easy to make while producing unusually tasty results. As Dunaway puts it: "La cucina romana requires no sleight of hand." Linguine with clam sauce, for example, has only seven ingredients (including pasta and lemons), and four steps, but ended up being, as my wife put it, a "restaurant-quality" dish.

As with so many others in this book, the recipe reveals the almost magical powers of olive oil, white wine and garlic. When mixed with the salty water from the opened clams, this trio created a delicate yet hearty sauce that was almost impossible to stop eating.

Dunaway also includes asides about Rome. Italians don't use the word espresso, she says, warning that those who use the term are immediately tabbed as unsophisticated turistas. (What Italians call coffee - caffe - actually is espresso, eliminating the need for another term.)

She also offers culinary tricks gleaned from chefs and food merchants. In her recipe for squid in tomato sauce, she passes on this hint: Soaking the creature in milk before cooking increases tenderness.

One caveat: Like many cookbook authors, Dunaway appears to have tested her recipes on a restaurant-quality stove. Compared with your run-of-the-mill range, these appliances tend to produce a steadier, more powerful heat, which cooks food more quickly. The recipes in Rome, at Home consistently required more time than Dunaway's estimates. One recipe, potatoes with rosemary, took a full hour longer.

The squid in tomato sauce recipe is typical of many in the book: It's uncomplicated; includes garlic, olive oil and white wine; and yields a tasty dish. Even without the milk bath, the squid was supple.

To make use of the extra sauce, I added a bowl of linguine to the mix. Dr. Atkins would surely have disapproved, but you know the old saying: When in Rome ...

Squid in Tomato Sauce

Serves 4 to 6

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 garlic cloves, chopped

pinch of cayenne pepper

2 pounds squid, cleaned and cut into rings, or cleaned whole baby octopus (Dunaway advises that the recipe can be used for any fish or shellfish.)

1 cup white wine

2 cups tomato sauce (see recipe)

a few fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs, chopped

juice of one large lemon

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic, and cook until golden, about 1 minute. Add the cayenne, squid or octopus, wine, tomato sauce, parsley and lemon juice. Simmer over low heat for 20 to 30 minutes.

Per serving (based on 6 servings): 416 calories; 25 grams protein; 29 grams fat; 4 grams saturated fat; 13 grams carbohydrate; 2 grams fiber; 352 milligrams cholesterol; 181 milligrams sodium

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