Giada De Laurentiis: Everyday Italian
A Good Book That Could Have Been Better
Giada De Laurentiis' first book, Everyday Italian, is a good primer on Italian-American cooking. None of the recipes are complicated or time-consuming to make, and the basic techniques are simple. Which makes the occasional problems especially annoying, because the book could have been excellent, but because there are numerous oversights, it's merely good.
The layout is clear and easy to read, and the ideas are strong (De Laurentiis' publisher does seem to think that she's awfully good-looking -- the book has a plethora of cleavage-tastic, soft-focus glam shot photos of her. More photos of the food would have been nice). De Laurentiis is writing for an audience of busy working people who want to make fresh Italian food without a ton of work or prep. Some of her recipes can be made with ingredients that come straight out of the pantry, which is perfect for a weeknight dinner. Dishes such as Lemon Spaghetti are extremely easy to put together, and taste refreshingly different from pasta with boring old red sauce out of a jar.
When De Laurentiis' recipes get a bit more elaborate, however, the book sometimes fails the reader when it comes to technique. I had issues with Braciola, White Bean Dip with Pita Chips, Chicken Parmesan, Vegetable Lasagna, and Almond Cake. Whether it was a sloppy description of how to prep something, or a failure to indicate the necessity of certain steps, or just a less-than-stellar end product, all of these recipes needed to be tweaked slightly in order to work, or to work better. That's a high ratio of problems to recipes tested. It's not that the recipes in and of themselves are failures; it's just that an editor needed to take another pass over this book before it was published so that errors of omission didn't make their way into the finished cookbook.
Despite all of that, I'm not actually panning this book. I'd recommend it for anyone who wants quick, fresh ideas for Italian food. The flavors of De Laurentiis' food are excellent, and there are plenty of outstanding renditions of old classics that have been updated for a more modern palate. I just wish that when it got down to the nitty-gritty, a bit more care had been taken with the details. No cook wants to feel frustrated that the picture of the finished recipe looks different from what's described in the text, or that it's necessary to look at every single cutlet recipe to figure out how thin you're supposed to pound meat. Those little frustrations add up, and they're the difference between "Outstanding, must-have book!" and "Well, it's pretty good, but..."