I have to confess my ignorance and admit that I had never heard of Ursula Ferrigno before this hardback, posh-looking recipe book landed on the worktable in my kitchen and I was asked to write a review.
She is described as a “leading authority on Italian cooking” and is said, on the cover of Trattoria, to embody “the Italian passion for good food”. She cooks, talks, writes, teaches and appears in TV about food. She looks pretty and happy, and very 'nigellaesque’.
Most of the emphasis about Ferrigno and her recipe books is on her Italian origins and the fact that she lives between Italy and England, as if these two factors alone were already a guarantee for the true 'italianity’ of her recipes, for the genuineness of the dishes she proposes and prepares. Italians, I can guarantee you, are extremely fussy, amongst other things, about the following three topics: food, image and their language.
Ursula keeps repeating the definition of trattoria food (in her words “far from sophisticated: seasonal, locally produced, simply cooked and always tasty”) all throughout the book. And the choice of simple recipes she puts in this Trattoria is quite impressive and includes dishes not normally, or not yet, findable on your typical Italian-restaurant-abroad menus, such as pickled onions alla Bolognese or fennel, endive and orange salad or again fricassee of lamb and artichokes. Other recipes are hers, and she seems to be at her best when she improvises, such as with crostini with tapenade or veal and pork meatballs. Some other times she plays tricks, putting one of her variations under a classic name (such as with salmoriglio – the Sicilian lemon dressing for fish – where Ursula adds garlic, which is a nice variation I myself and many Sicilians use sometimes, but which might get her scolded in some real Sicilian seaside trattoria!).
The book is also a collection of fantastic pictures that portray dishes, ingredients, people, kitchens, and restaurant scenes. The photographer is Francesca Yorke, who – surprise, surprise – also illustrated Lawson’s Nigella Bites: From Family Meals to Elegant Dinners — Easy, Delectable Recipes for Any Occasion, as well as a small number of other gardening and gastronomy books. The photos really give a sense of the good food and the love for food that inspired the book. They depict places and scenes which are at the same time inevitably stereotypical (it’s not always summer in Italy! not all small restaurants have checked tablecloths!) and sincerely captivating (I dare anyone not to get hungry or nostalgic flicking through the book!).
I like Ferrigno’s style: she gives her preferences and encourages the reader to experiment. She likes to give a small introduction before each recipe and there she enforces her mantra about simplicity and seasonality of the dishes prepared in trattoria and Trattoria, although rarely she indicates for instance which is the best season to find this or that ingredient. But this is not the point I’d like to make about Ferrigno’s style: the real scandal is that she often manages to get the wrong spelling for Italian ingredients, dishes, restaurants or friends she mentions, massacring the beautiful language approximately every couple of pages. The list would be endless, and in any case most probably meaningless in English; what’s worse however, in my humble (and Italian) opinion, is that an editorial failing like sloppy proof reading could let out a book which claims to be the quintessential 'truly Italian’ recipe collection and yet can’t spell dish and restaurant names in Italian…
TRATTORIA, Italian food for family and friends is a lovely and well-presented book, that certainly gives the flavour of the rustic eating out experience in Italy. Regrettably, the author has permitted to the publishers to be carried away with the Under a Tuscan sun vibe, or vice versa she has provided her English publisher the confirmation that the Italian cook book must include smiling kids, dirty handed robust cooks, checked tablecloths and spelling mistakes.