In My Italian Kitchen, Luca really shows off his Northern Italian roots in a collection of over 60 authentic and unique recipes. Originally from the Friuli region of Italy, Luca presents many recipes that are typical of the region as well as Venice, just to the south: Sweet-and-sour sardines, Fried mixed seafood, Venetian-style calf's liver, Cotechino sausages with sauerkraut, and Frico: a humble dish of potatoes and cheese and one of the dishes Luca made while on MasterChef which is included in this cookbook.
Along with his recipes, Luca shares stories of what it was like to be on MasterChef which make for fun reading for a dedicated fan like me! There are forward words from MasterChef judges Gordon Ramsay and Joe Bastianich, a glossary of Italian words and ingredients, and also tips on ways to make variations on several dishes to explore the flavor combinations in different ways.
Some of these recipes may seem exotic or daunting to chefs used to more "Americanized" Italian food, but don't worry: the ingredients required are generally not that unusual or hard to find, and Luca includes very detailed, easy-to-follow instructions on how to make them.
The recipes in the cookbook are divided into 8 categories typical of Italian cuisine:
1. Crostini: toasted sliced bread with various meat, cheese and vegetable toppings. These are great small bites to prepare before a meal and perfect for a party or entertaining; things like Mushroom and fontina crostini and Tomato, mozzarella and spicy salame bruschetta.
2. Tramezzini: traditional small Italian "tea sandwiches", popular in bars and cafes. These are perfect for light, simple lunches or parties but elevated from basic bread-and-meat combos: Shimp in pink sauce tramezzino, for instance, or Turkey, gorgonzola and walnut tramezzino.
3. Antipasti: appetizers and small bites such as Prosciutto-wrapped figs with goat cheese and Baked scallops au gratin.
4. Primi: Traditional Italian first courses, here Luca shares several soup and risotto recipes that are hearty enough to make a meal on their own like Bean, pancetta and radicchio soup and Asparagus and lemon risotto.
5. Pasta: a self-explanatory category! Although typically a primi in Italy, Luca devotes and entire chapter to this personal favorite, including making your own Spinach gnocchi from scratch or preparing his mother's recipe for Lasagna.
6. Secondi: Second courses are the focus here, including restaurant-quality dishes that you can make at home like New York Strip Steak with Vanilla Sauce and Pancetta-wrapped shrimp with zucchini puree.
7. Contorni: Side dishes to make a meal complete such as Roasted brussels sprouts with bacon and Sauteed mixed mushrooms.
8. Dolci: Who doesn't love dessert! Luca shares how to make Italian classics like Chocolate Salame and Zabaglione, and also his unusual Caprese Panna Cotta which was part of his final winning meal on MasterChef!
Again, some of the recipes may sound unusual or challenging to someone used to more basic, Italian-American fare. That's what makes this a wonderful cookbook if you are a home chef looking to "elevate" or expand your ideas of what Italian food is really like! You might feel risotto or homemade pasta is too difficult to make at home, but it really isn't. And with Luca's careful instructions, you'll build confidence about trying new things and even exploring flavor combinations you might not be used to. Honestly I seriously hope this is only Luca's first cookbook, and not his last! He has far too much good information to share with home cooks not to continue writing, cooking, and sharing with us all.