Italian food is meant to be shared
MY FIRST encounter with Italian food was as a primary schoolgirl on the northside of Brisbane - of all places!
A large Italian family (is there any other kind?) moved in across the road from the corner store we owned and I became friends with the youngest daughter.
Any afternoon, huge pots of lush red tomato-coloured sauces would be found simmering on the stove, while the mother would be up to her elbows in flour - making copious quantities of fresh spaghetti, or finely cutting herbs they grew in a sunny spot in the backyard.
But their extended family celebrations took the love of food (and Italian wine) to a whole new level.
Men would gather in one area talking animatedly about the world events; women (those not involved in the kitchen) in another, sharing their family news; and kids running around everywhere.
Long before I had made my first spaghetti bolognaise "international recipe” from my Grade 8 Day To Day Cookery Book, I was fascinated by this new world of language, tastes, aromas, sharing and celebration - in the heart of suburbia.
Those memories are what first attracted me to this offering from former MasterChef contestant Liliana Battle.
You don't have to be Italian by birth to enjoy the Italian way of bringing together family and friends to share a meal in a welcoming, enjoyable - even boisterous - manner.
It's a bit like the good ol' Aussie barbecue that way.
Battle grew up in a Southern Italian family where food was made from scratch and the paddock wasn't too far from the plate.
This is her second cookbook after her debut Easy Home Cooking Italian Style and continues to celebrate traditional recipes passed down to her family while also adding modern-day interpretations of Italian dishes.
At the back of the book is her Basics section: the"absolute essentials”- tomato sauce, bolognaise sauce, Italian bradcrumbs, pangrattato (this adds a final crunch to dishes as an alternative to parmesan) and homemade mayonnaise.
Battle says that by making more than you need and freezing, you may never order takeaway again.
Although her passion is teaching the art of making fresh pasta by hand, she says dried pasta is equally delicious and respected for its texture, countless shapes and sizes and the fact it creates satisfying, simple, inexpensive meals for the family with a minimum of fuss.
So naturally, she has included a large section of recipes for both pasta types.
From breakfast pizza to an Italian twist on avocado smash, to finger food such as toppings for the "blank canvas” of crostini, snacks including sticky balsamic chicken wings and pulled porchetta sliders, to more substantial meals including Pork, Chili and Fennel Meatballs with Creamy Polenta and Easy Last Night's Leftovers Calzone (like a folded pizza) - the recipes scream "try me” from the pages.
One I'm particular happy to oblige with is Baked Fazzoletti with Spinach and Ricotta ("Kind of like an open lasagne but more delicate,” Battle says) with "handkerchiefs” of fresh pasta cut into, filled, folded and baked.
Then there's also her colourful Stained Glass Frittata, Chicken Cacciatore, desserts such as the pavlova bar ("my all-time ultimate shared dessert” that gets guests to create their own toppings to suit their individual tastes) and the retro Bombe Alaska she credits with sparking her interest in cooking as a girl.
Within these pages, home cooks will find the everyday family delights side by side with the wow-factor entertainers, the tried-and-true Italian staples and the soon-to-be favourites.
Battle manages to offer something old, something new, something borrowed but nothing to leave you blue.
And unlike MasterChef, most recipes contain just a few easy steps so anyone can create food for sharing, Italian-style ... though you may like to keep some of it all for yourself.