Canal House Cooking, Volume 7, La Dolce Vita

Canal House Cooking, Number 7 by Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer, Andrews McMeel, 2011, $19.95 paper, 122 pages

A studio kitchen—that’s the way  I like to think about my culinary obsession of the moment. So when I’m messing around with ratafias (bay leaf vanilla will be ready in March) or working on the perfect salty caramel popcorn, I view it as expressive and mindful rather than just straight piggyness.

Canal House does the same thing, but with way more style and discipline—from everyday’s lunch to their elegant books. With three volumes a year, former magazine editors Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirshheimer record their extraordinary home cooking. Their culinary path has led them to the irresistible delights of summer cooking in Volume 1. Volume 4 explored the farm market, while Volume 6 took on the somewhat unlikely topic of the supermarket.

In their latest, Volume 7—La Dolce Vita—they explore Italian foods, from pasta and risotto to verdure and dolci. For this volume they temporarily relocated Canal House from its Delaware River bank to a Tuscan farmhouse they dubbed Casa Canale. Their first meal was vegetables harvested by moonlight from a neighboring farm.

And the perfection continued with “small adventures” at the market, in the kitchen, and at restaurants, all in the service of capturing the spirit of the food that surrounded them, teased out in their recipes, technique recommendations, and observational essays. Their headnote on zucca–pumpkin–and how to deal with its sheer massiveness, may generate an unlikely craving for squash.

So even if you’re thinking—big deal, I’ve made a risotto—you can adopt their close observation and thoughtfulness about what they encounter in the market and experience in the kitchen. Following their recipes, you can spend a weekend on Osso Buco, Bolognese Sauce, or a Tummula di Risotto e Spinaci or just as easily thoroughly enjoy a plate of perfect prosciutto and figs. Complication is not the goal.

I must mention, in this age of i-books and e-readers, just how beautiful this actual book is. Cover design, font choices, and photographs combine to make a piece of work that is a delight to read, hold, and spend time with.

Volume 7 is a perfect little travelogue—what you would do if you were an excellent photographer, could call on Colman Andrews for an essay on Italian sparkling wines, and had a calm an unerring eye for book design and squash.

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About Appetite for Books

read, cook, eat, repeat
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