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.

 

A selection of Austrian Cheeses (and one stray Italian one)

As you may have suspected from the pages on this blog, I’m rather partial to a bit of cheese.  It would in fact be fair to say that barely a day goes by when I don’t eat cheese (today I have macaroni cheese for lunch, yesterday I had it in a salad at lunch and in canapés in the evening, the day before dinner involved a cheese course(!) and the day before that I enjoyed some in a galette – I won’t go on for fear of boring you but the trend continues…).

This love of cheese has not gone unnoticed by those around me (I received some wonderful Welsh cheeses as a present at Christmas which I scoffed before I could blog about them) and on a recent trip to Austria I was taken to a local market by some friends to sample the various wares.  After consuming an entire meals worth of tasters I finally left with five different Austrian cheeses, an Italian cheese and some sausage (for a little variety).

And so onto the cheeses that I bought (the names/origins of these may or may not be completely correct – I really should have written the details down on each piece rather than trying to remember it all!)

The red wine cheese – Laendle Weinkaese:

Austrian Cheese - Laendle Weinkaese

Laendle Weinkaese

This is a hard cows milk cheese which was washed with red wine as it matured.  According to the internet (http://www.vmilch.at/en/laendle-weinkaese) the washing is done twice a week and the cheese is matured for 4 months.

You could really smell the grapes when sniffing this cheese; it had a very clear fruity whiff about it.  In terms of the taste it had a mild and general fruitiness which reminded me of comte.  I think this is a really nice around snacking cheese, good to nibble by itself or use in a sandwich.

The plastic one – Murtal Styrian Cheese (Murtaler Steirerkäs):

Austrian Cheese - Murtal Styrian Cheese -Murtaler Steirerkäs

Murtal Styrian Cheese -Murtaler Steirerkäs

A Styrian delicacy, this was a very unusual cheese.  It’s an acid-cured cooked cheese made from cows milk and flavoured with caraway.  Because acidic bacteria are used instead of rennet to curdle the milk the cheese has quite a sour taste.  During the cooking stage that comes next most of the curds melt (some pieces still remain whole in the cheese) and this gives it a fake plastic texture which is closer to a cheese slice than mozzarella or halloumi (the only other cooked cheeses I know).  The caraway adds a really spicy note which I loved, but because of the fairly strong sour flavour I couldn’t eat a lot of this in one go.  Great in small doses but not something to make a meal of for me.

The one from the Silver Mine – Stollenkase:

Austrian Cheese - Stollenkase

Stollenkase

Another hard cows cheese, this one is matured 100m underground in an old Silver Mine in Arzberg (http://www.almenland-stollenkaese.at – they also make a red wine washed variety!).  The temperature down the mine is a constant 10C whatever time of year it is and the cheese are left exposed to the elements and then washed gently with salt water.  This was a bit stronger than the red wine cheese, not as soft overall with the slight acid astringency you get with a mature cheddar.  Another really nice cheese though for picking at!

The blue one – Blue goats cheese:

Austrian Cheese - Blue mountain goats cheese

Blue mountain goats cheese

I have to confess that I have completely forgotten the proper name for this cheese, and the internet is not proving very helpful.  I do however remember that it’s a blue cheese made with milk from mountain goats (not just any old goats – mountain goats!). It had a fairly soft almost frothy texture making it easy to cut and interesting in the mouth. I’m a big fan of both goats cheese and blue cheese so I loved this.  It was fairly mild and goaty to start with but had a massive blue tang on the back of the throat that hung around for ages.

The garlic one – Brie with garlic and herbs:

Austrian Cheese - Brie with garlic and herbs

Brie with garlic and herbs

Once again the proper name for this has unfortunately escaped me. However the English translation I was given was brie with garlic and herbs.  I have to be honest and say that on the herb front I couldn’t taste that much, but they definitely weren’t lying about the garlic!  When you smell this or first put it in your mouth it doesn’t seem that strong, but once you chew that garlic really kicks in.  And the more you chew, the more intense that garlic flavour gets.  A very powerful cheese indeed!

The odd one out – Italian chestnut cheese (Occelli ® in foglie di Castagno – http://www.occelli.it/en/47-occelli-in-foglie-di-castagno):

Austrian Cheese - the odd one out - Occelli in foglie di Castagno

The odd one out – Occelli in foglie di Castagno

While I was primarily after Austrian cheeses, one of the stalls suggested that I try this and I’m very glad I did.  It’s like no cheese I’ve tried before!  It’s a mixture of cow, sheep and goats milk (with the mix depending on availability) which is matured for a year and a half and then wrapped in chestnut leaves for extra flavour.

It was an extremely flaky cheese, I didn’t have a slice so much as a collection of small pieces, yet in the mouth the texture was extremely soft and creamy (increasing so with the pieces from closer to the edge that had been wrapped) as opposed to dry and hard which I would have expected given its appearance.  There was a strong hint of goat about this cheese, but I guess that would change depending on batch you had.  It also had a earthiness and woodiness that I really liked.

So there you go, an awful lot of cheese, all of which I had to cram into my hand luggage!  I’ve really enjoyed devouring these since I’ve been back.  I have no idea if it’s possible to source any of these cheeses elsewhere, but if not have a look out for them if you’re ever in Austria.