When I was given the opportunity to review The Macaroni’s in the Basement I couldn't resist. The name alone sold me on this book so I was really excited when it arrived. The book is a collection of stories and recipes from author Fran Claro involving four Italian-American grandmothers who lives in post-WWII Brooklyn revolve around family, church events and of course food.
The book is divided into Seasons and accompanying each reminiscent story is a traditional Italian recipe courtesy of one or more of the Nonne. As you would expect from 4 opinionated, no nonsense Italian Grandmothers (Maddelana, Giuseppina, Concetta and Aniella) there are many disagreements as to whose recipe is the best but it is accompanied by wit and charm that makes you instantly feel right at home with them and more so eager to pull up a chair in their kitchens and fill your plates with their wonderful food.
Within the book there are 66 recipes and out of those I tested 5.
Fig Pizza (From ‘Covering a Fig Tree’)
Chicken Milanese & Salad (From ‘Fire Hydrant Days’)
Sausage and Peppers & Bread Salad (From ‘Hurry Up…. The Bride’s Getting Out of the Car’)
The first recipe to be put to the test was the Fig Pizza. I couldn’t resist this due to my own experience with an Italian Nonna on my last trip to Italy and her generous Bucket of Figs. Additionally figs were perfectly in season at the time so I just had to try it. The recipe doesn’t include a recipe for the dough but rather suggests you use either store-bought or homemade so I instantly set to work making my favourite pizza dough. Since my figs were so large I also reduced the quantity from what was suggested and it was just as well as this pizza would have been laden with them! The pizza was easy to assemble although there was way too much ricotta. Unfortunately there was also too much oil for our liking so the end pizza took longer to cook (in order to get a crisp crust) and was far too oily. That being said, the taste was fantastic so I would definitely make this again with a few modifications. Next time I would half the amount of Ricotta cheese and do without the garlic oil, reserving it instead for after it comes out of the oven and just drizzling a very small amount over. Taste wise though this was a great recipe.
Next up and I couldn’t resist the Chicken Milanese & Salad, since Wee One absolutely loves chicken strips (which is basically what this Chicken Milanese is). I have never baked them before so I loved this idea and dipping the chicken in olive oil rather than traditional egg was a lovely touch and felt very genuinely Italian. They were very easy to prepare although I didn’t sprinkle the chicken with the remaining oil from dipping as I felt there was enough. They took a little bit longer to cook than the recipe suggested (possibly from the lack of oil helping to crisp them up) but other than that everything went well. The Salad that you served them with was very straightforward and full of plenty of delicious flavours and was a great accompaniment to the Chicken Milanese, however one thing I did find strange (and Scott agreed with me) was that it suggested serving the salad on top of the Chicken Milanese….. I didn’t as I prefer it on the side or alternatively with the chicken on top of the salad so that it doesn’t go soggy, but you do as you please! Another win as I will definitely make the chicken like that again. The salad was certainly good but nothing new so really you could serve it with any salad you like.
The final recipes to be put to the test were the first two recipes from the book, Sausage and Peppers and Bread Salad. I love the flavour combination of Sausages and Peppers (who doesn’t?!) so I was really keen to give this a go for a nice mid-week meal. The only problem was I couldn’t get any “Italian green frying peppers” so I opted for yellow and orange bell peppers instead since I seriously dislike green bell peppers. The recipe was fairly straightforward although I did find a couple of the directions a little confusing, (for example it tells you in the ingredients list to cut the (raw) sausages into 1-inch slices and then later in the instructions to pierce the sausage…. I decided to ignore the piercing part since they were already cut!) however I continued on determined to make it work! In the end the dish was really delicious. At first I felt it was missing something and I wasn’t entirely convinced with what it should be served with but with each bite I forgot about it and just enjoyed it on its own! The sausages were really delicious with so much flavour from the wine and our only complaint was that the peppers were far too oily which I had already anticipated, so next time I would half or even quarter the amount of oil used to sauté the peppers. I made the Bread Salad which accompanied the story to go with it although I’m not entirely convinced if that is the intention but it sounded lovely so I thought it would work. The Bread Salad was easy to make and right up my alley and even though Scott doesn’t like fresh tomatoes he was able to work around it to enjoy the delicious tomato-soaked bread. I have to say it really tasted like I was eating a delicious sun-drenched bowl of bruschetta (which makes sense since it is all of the ingredients used to make bruschetta but a lot easier to eat!). This was another recipe success and everyone enjoyed it so I will make it again but again with a few of my own modifications.
As well as the recipes I managed to test I have bookmarked the following recipes to try in the future. Those marked * are top of the list!
Friday Night Fish Soup
Porchetta or Roast Pork*
Romano Beans in Sauce
Baked Pork and Beans*
Slow-Fried Hot Peppers*
Pasta with Peas and Pancetta
Macaroni and Gravy
Eggs in Purgatory
Codfish in Tomato Sauce
I love how this book is divided up into Seasonal Chapters with every recipe being accompanied by a recipe or two. Some of the stories are about the recipe, others are just lovely tales from days gone by with a seasonal recipe included. One big downside to this book is that there are very few photographs which is always a big disadvantage to me and unfortunately the ones that did accompany the recipes I found to be of not the best quality. My final criticism was that I found some recipes and instructions to be a little vague and confusing and at times missing steps although it didn’t involve anything major where I noticed it.
There are a few ingredients that I wasn’t able to get (for example the Green Peppers) however these ingredients can be substituted or I’m sure sourced from a good Italian deli if you have one close to you. Since it is an American book measurements are in cups which I’m not a huge fan of but I didn’t have any problems with the recipes that I tried.
Learn anything new?
Well it was my first time dipping chicken in olive oil (which I would do again) so I guess that is something new, but as far as for techniques and so on, then no.
I’m not going to lie I had a hard time deciding whether this book was getting the Vanilla Clouds and Lemon Drops Stamp of Approval or not. In all honesty when I asked myself would I buy it myself the answer would be probably not, however, that being said the recipes that I tested I did enjoy. They might need some changes but really at the root of it they are nice recipes that we all enjoyed they just need a few tweaks. On top of that I did enjoy the stories as they instantly transported you to the Nonne’s corner of the world and into their bickering but generous and caring lives.
*The Macaroni's in the Basement is now available to buy from Amazon.com and other good book stores.
**All opinions expressed for the purpose of this review are my own and have not been influenced by anyone else.