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Grandmothers hold the key to Italian cooking

As generations of Italian-Americans know, one of the best ways to learn real Italian cuisine is to watch an Italian grandmother cook her specialties.

Unfortunately, not every would-be risotto master has an Italian grandmother readily at hand. Those poor souls might want to consider “The Italian Cooking Course: more than 400 authentic recipes and techniques from every region of Italy.”

Katie Caldesi married a Tuscan fellow named Giancarlo, and they have opened two Italian restaurants and an Italian cooking school in London. Before writing the book, originally published in 2010, she spent years traveling through Italy’s 20 regions, learning from Italians in their own kitchens, writing down recipes and learning the traditions behind them.

Back in London, she would make the recipes over and over until she could re-create their glories. With her experience as a cook and teacher, she wrote chapters that include more than recipes. Her “master classes,” on techniques like making risotto and filleting fish, demonstrate and explain the steps required to accomplish each goal, illustrated with detailed color photographs of the steps.

Rather than suggest that authentic recipes can only be done one way, Caldesi suggests the truth is quite the opposite. “Of course, there is not really any such thing as ‘Italian food,’ ” Caldesi writes in the introduction, “because from north to south, city to country, region to region, everyone has a different view of what should go into a dish.”

Chapters follow the course of Italian meals, starting with bread, pizza, savory tarts and antipasti, and ending with cheese and preserves. Soups and stocks are followed by rice and polenta, with its master class on risotto. Pasta has its own chapter, which starts basic with classes on making pasta and cutting pasta. Then it slides up the difficulty scale, to making ravioli, tortelloni, cannelloni, cappelletti, timballo, gnocchi and more, with dozens of regional pasta variations.

Fish and seafood recipes assume nothing and will get you from the seashore to the table, with cleaning and preparation classes besides the recipes like Rice, Potatoes and Mussels Baked in Terracotta, a Pugliese dish, and Teresa’s Gnocculi with Cuttlefish Stew, a Sicilian one. Caldesi tackles meat, poultry and game, vegetables and desserts in the same thorough, clear fashion.

Find the recipe for spinach gnocchi at the Hungry for More blog.