Cookbook Review: The I (Italian) Diet, Gino D’Acampo (on Amazon here)

Cookbook Review: The I (Italian) Diet, Gino D’Acampo (on Amazon here)

The I Diet

The I Diet

So this is a diet book that claims to have “100 Healthy Italian Recipes to Help You Lose Weight & Love Food”. Now I already loved food at the time that I bought this book, and I’ve never actually used it to try and lose weight, so I can’t really comment on either of those claims. However I can confirm that there are plenty of healthy Italian recipes inside.

While I haven’t used this book to diet, I have used it on a fairly regular basis in the 4+ years that I have owned it. One dish in particular – the Little Shell Pasta with Peas Ham & Eggs has become my go-to store cupboard meal. This rather strange combination of ham, parmesan, chili, peas, eggs and pasta (chili and cheese!) is an absolute delight that I cook at least once a month. These days I can’t get the little shell pasta shapes so have to use coquillettes instead but that works fine.

The I Diet - Little Shell Pasta with Peas Ham & Eggs

The I Diet – Little Shell Pasta with Peas Ham & Eggs

Now admittedly that dish takes a bit of time to cook and the portion is a tad on the small side, even for a diet book, but the end result is well worth it. A delicious sticky, salty and spicy mix that will never look elegant or sophisticated but always goes down a treat.

So back to the book. There’s a breakfast section, lunch, soups and salads, starters, pastas and risottos, meats, fish and desserts with a couple of “naughty” recipes such as tiramisu and carbonara tucked away at the back.

The recipes are well written and easy to follow and so far I’ve not had a single failure cooking from this book. About 70% of the recipes are accompanied by beautiful photograph. While some dishes take a bit longer or are more involved, most have a fairly limited list of ingredients and can easily be prepared on a work night with no fuss.

As with most cookbooks I own, I’ve used the breakfast and dessert sections the least. However from the desserts I have given the chocolate and chestnut cake a go from (moist and not too sweet at all, this kept well for quite a few days).   On the breakfast front I’ve found that the baked eggs with ham works well as a light lunch or brunch option on weekends when I have a bit more time.

The I Diet - Baked Eggs with Ham in Tomaro & Garlic Sauce

The I Diet – Baked Eggs with Ham in Tomato & Garlic Sauce

While it was the lovely salads that drew me to this book (the Courgette Ribbons with Cannellini Beans with Lemon Dressing and the tuna Three Bean & Tuna Salad with Fresh Mint in particular), the recipes I seem to use the most are the chicken ones. The Rolled Breast of Chicken Stuffed with Mushrooms & Rosemary is a little fiddly to make (I have a lot of trouble getting my rolls to stay rolled, but that could just be me) but produces a tasty and juicy result that looks quite fancy.

The I Diet - Rolled Breast of Chicken Stuffed with Mushrooms & Rosemary

The I Diet – Rolled Breast of Chicken Stuffed with Mushrooms & Rosemary

Another star recipe for me is the extremely quick and easy Chicken with Lemon Butter Sauce. For a sauce that contains only 4 Ingredients this really packs a punch. It’s terrifically fresh and sharp. While chicken (or turkey) is obviously the healthiest option, the sauce also works really well with a nice bit of pork if you’re a bit less diet conscious.

The I Diet - Chicken with Lemon Butter Sauce

The I Diet – Chicken with Lemon Butter Sauce

Finally the Chicken Breast with Parmesan, Tomatoes & Mozzarella is particularly delightful and not something I would consider to be “diet” at all containing, as it does, not one but two cheeses!

The I Diet - Chicken Breast with Parmesan, Tomatoes & Mozzarella

The I Diet – Chicken Breast with Parmesan, Tomatoes & Mozzarella

If you want to use this to diet, rather than to dip into, there are plans consuming either 1500 or 2000 calories a day for those who want to use this book that way. In true Italian style each contains a daily calorie allowance for alcohol. There’s also some useful information on various ingredients such as the fat and calorie comparisons for various Italian cheeses (and of course various alcoholic option) which are worth bearing in mind when creating your own lighter options or just generally watching your weight.

 

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Cookbook Review – Jose Pizarro’s Spanish Flavours

In addition to my rather large collected of recipes printed from the internet or cut from magazines, I have also managed to amass rather a lot of cookbooks.  I love looking at recipes for inspiration and buy myself a new cookbook a couple of times a year as a treat.  The best of these books become treasured friends whose contents I return to time and time again.

Jose Pizarro’s runs two Spanish restaurants in London, but I’ve never been to either and wasn’t aware of them until I researched this book a little more.  Instead I bought Spanish Flavours after seeing some of the recipes on the Guardian website (here and here) and liking the sound of them.

When the book turned up I wasn’t disappointed.  It’s packed full of gorgeous pictures (both of food and of Spain and Spanish culture) and on looking through it there were immediately many many recipes I wanted to try.   Fish and seafood recipes feature quite heavily (e.g. sautéed squid onions potato and chilli and john dory chicory ham and mint), but there are also vegetarian and meat options (chicken in beer, salt crusted potatoes with carion der majo) as well as some delicious sounding desserts.

Jose Pizarro's Spanish Flavours Front Cover

The Front Cover

The book is divided into 5 regions; the North, the South, the East, the Centre and the Islands.  Each section is then prefaced with an explanation of its culinary traditions followed by a selection of sweet and savoury recipes based on these traditions.  The recipes may not be exactly how grandma would have made the dish, but they encapsulate the ethos and honesty of the Spanish food and ingredients while giving them a little bit of a modern makeover.

Helpfully for those of us who don’t have a local Spanish deli nearby, while championing Spanish produce, Jose has also helpfully suggested alternatives that can be used where appropriate.

One of the first dishes that caught my eye was the pan fried hake with cockles, asparagus, peas and mint in the North section.  When making this I had a minor hiccup with my French, confusing merlu with merlan, meaning that I ended up using whiting rather than hake.

Jose Pizarro's Spanish Flavours - pan fried hake with cockles, asparagus, peas and mint

Hake with cockles, asparagus, peas and mint

Putting that, and the fact that I had to use jar asparagus rather than fresh due to the season, aside, this dish was extremely quick and easy to make and tasted delicious.  All in all it took about 15 minutes from getting the ingredients out to actually eating the dish and I was very pleased with the result.

Jose Pizarro's Spanish Flavours - pan fried hake with cockles, asparagus, peas and mint comparison

Hake with cockles, asparagus, peas and mint compared to the book

Another simple but tasty offering is the grilled sausages with beans, garlic and sage (from the East). I will admit that I cheated with this and used tinned cannellini beans rather than properly soaking and cooking dried arrocina beans as the recipe stated, but the end result was extremely tasty regardless of (although my presentation is obviously lacking compared to the photograph in the book!).

Jose Pizarro's Spanish Flavours - grilled sausages with beans, garlic and sage comparison

Grilled sausages with beans, garlic and sage compared to the book

From the South section I had a go at the flamenquin.  Jose says that this is a traditional tapas dish – I served it with rice to make it a meal, but I reckon potatoes or pasta would work just as well.  For this I had to substitute the Queso de Grazalema for Gruyere as suggested but I did manage to get hold of some proper serrano ham at least!

Jose Pizarro's Spanish Flavours - flamenquin

Flamenquin (with rice)

What with making the sauce and breading and deep frying the pork rolls this all took quite a lot longer to make than the previous two recipes.  The dish was well worth the effort though and tomato sauce was absolutely brilliant.

And so onto the desserts.  There are so many that I want to try including the orange scented apple bunueos and the chocolate and hazelnut tart but, since it meant that I would get to use my new food processor for the first time, the first dessert I’ve made from this book is the orange, almond and pine nut tartlets (from the Centre).  I’m also a sucker for almond/frangipane desserts so that may have swayed me in the tartlets direction!

Jose Pizarro's Spanish Flavours - orange, almond and pine nut tartlets

Orange, almond and pine nut tartlets

As with the flamenquin these involved a fair few processes and required a bit of time and effort.  And as with the flamenquin the results were divine and worth the effort.  Even the pastry was gorgeous all by itself and I used my spare ends to make some little biscuits.  The tarts themselves were substantial and rich without feeling too heavy.

Jose Pizarro's Spanish Flavours - orange, almond and pine nut tartlets comparison

Orange, almond and pine nut tartlets compared to the book

Overall I love the passion for food and for Spain that comes across in Jose’s writing.  Every recipe I have used so far has worked, been well written and was easy to follow (I wish I could say the same of all the cookbooks I’ve tried) and I can’t wait to continue trying things out.  There are a wide range of dishes of varying complexities, however I haven’t seen anything yet that I felt would be difficult to achieve if I have the time.