Unstoppable Foodie Cookbook Club – March 2021
Old World Italian – Recipes & Secrets from Our Travels in Italy – Mimi Thorisson
Our featured cookbook for March 2021 is Old World Italian – Recipes & Secrets from Our Travels in Italy by Mimi Thorisson. I received this book as a Valentine’s Day gift from my wife Valarie. This beautiful book is not only worthy of gift giving to the special people in your life, but it will become a classic found on cookbook shelves and in kitchens throughout the world. Just as the recipes shared within this book are handed down from generation to generation, I can easily see this cookbook being handed down from one generation to the next.
We stumbled across Mimi Thorisson back in 2015 when our French exchange student, Theo, bought us her first cookbook as a Christmas gift. He picked up a copy of Mimi’s first Cookbook, A Kitchen in France (affiliate link) – A Year of Cooking in My Farmhouse. We instantly fell in love with the recipes, the story behind them and the beautiful photography by her husband Oddur. That cookbook transports you to the French countryside, allowing you to slow down time and appreciate all the blessings in life. This is the case with Old World Italian as well. only this time you are transported to beautiful regions within Italy celebrating and honoring all the timeless splendor and elegance which defines the country. In Old World Italian, Mimi describes Italian and French cooking as the “two great kitchens.” Valarie and I couldn’t agree more.
In Old World Italian, she pauses her life in the French countryside for a culinary adventure through Italy to satisfy her endless curiosity and passion for Italian cooking. She states, “Italian cooking has a reputation for being simpler, easier, more ingredient-based.” It is within this framework that her and her family set off to Italy to scratch that culinary itch.
Old World Italian features the recipes inspired by the people and places Mimi loves most. Her philosophy on food is to be “bright, beautiful and positively cozy.” Her work ethic of “work harder than anyone else” is evident throughout the book, by her well researched culinary history, recipes, and most importantly her connections to the people behind the food. It is this connection that draws people to Mimi and her husband Oddur through their cookbooks and workshops in France and Italy. These philosophies truly shine through as you read through the book and prepare her recipes.
Food is truly the fabric of life, the pleasure and passion. A humble necessity and the highest honor.
This book leads you on a timeless culinary adventure, one steeped in beautiful Italian culture and their love and appreciation for food and family. Gathering around well-prepared food is a blessing, one to be cherish with those special people in your life. This book provides endless inspiration and recipes to make your time around the table memorable and priceless.
Mimi sets the stage for their Italian journey in the “From Bordeaux to Torino, Setting the Stage” section (page 13). of how they were all in on their decision to relocate to Italy. They had planned for years to write a cookbook like this about Italy, but in the end decided the only way to truly bring the book to life was to move to Italy fulltime. She describes her new life in Italy, the markets, the piazza they live on and the local cafes and pasta making classes. These all allowed her to final fully immerse their family into the Italian culture and not just partake in it as a visitor. This all occurred during the pandemic as well, adding a logistical challenge.
She also walks you through regional Italian cooking. My dear friend, Chef Justin Naylor always reminds me there truly is no Italian food, but from regions like Rome, Naples, Bologna, and Milan. Each region heavily influenced by the climate and the produce of that region. She also talks about a recipe title like Risotto alla Milanese or Ragù Bolognese showcases its regional influence. She also takes a deep dive in the book and describes what it means to eat Italian. She talks about how the ingredients are always the focus of the dish. She also discusses the endless dishes found in traditional Italian dining starting with cured meats and olives, moving through vegetables, pasts, the proteins (pork, beef, poultry, and seafood) and finally desert. Italian dining is like a marathon where you pace yourself, versus the usually sprint of eating American style where the goal for many restaurants is to turn tables as fast as they can.
I especially love the sections in the book, where Mimi asks her husband to share his insights on Italian coffee and Italian restaurants. In the “Notes on Italian Coffee” section (page 40), Oddur reminds us the best coffee in the world is found in Italy. He reinforces that fact the Espresso was invented in Italy, so all coffee bars are essentially serving an Italian invention. He is also quick to point out that Italian coffee is not about the bean, but technique. That said, he shares his thoughts that if he had a choice between a mediocre barman with great coffee beans or a great barman with mediocre coffee beans, he would choose the later. He states at the end of the day, it is technique or a series of technique that makes great coffee and this rings true in cooking as well.
The “Notes on an Italian Restaurant” section (page 75) in this book walks you through the scenario of walking down an alley to find a restaurant somebody recommended to you. He walks you through all the steps of walking in what the décor may look like, the dishes you may eat and you looking over at the dessert cart wondering if you have room for two. He then pops the question you need to ask yourself, “Is there some other place, anywhere in the world you would rather be?” When the answer is no and everything looks, feels and tastes amazing, you are in a good Italian restaurant. It is one that is usually filled with regulars, they know you well and they will save you a slice of your favorite dessert from the dessert cart. It is these types of insights on coffee and restaurants that make Mimi and Oddur a perfect team to create these wonderful cookbooks and share their intimate knowledge of food and culture in their cooking workshops as well.
The recipes shared within this book remind us that less is more and the “ingredients are always the star of the dish” as a dear friend and chef always reminds me. There is a reason these recipes are cherished and passed down from one generation to the next. We recommend starting with a few of our favorites listed below.
Old World Italian recipes are divided into five classic categories – Apertivi & Antipasta (Drinks & Starters, Primi (Pasta), Secondi (Meat and Seafood), Controni (Vegetables), and Dolci (Dessert). Before diving into these sections, it is imperative you read the section, (Unlocking) The Secrets to Italian Cooking. Mimi takes a deep dive into the importance of stock in Italian cooking. She shares three foundational recipes for proper stocks – Oxtail, Chicken and Vegetable.
Below are a few memorable recipes worth spending time with and enjoying:
- Sardinian Ragú with Saffron Tagliatelle – This recipe Mimi made for her husband on his birthday and used a special pasta cutter to give the pasta a jewel like finish. (page 120)
- Meatballs in Cream Sauce (Polpette Di Sophia Loren) – The story behind Mimi finding this recipe is great. She found Sophia Loren’s cookbook during the winter in a bookstore in Iceland. She mentions this is now a family favorite in her household. (page212)
- Brasato al Barolo (Beef braised in Barolo wine) – Mimi describes this recipe from Piedmonte as one fit for a King. It is a noble piece of meat braised for hours in fine wine. (page 236)
- Fiona’s Diavola Sauce – A twin named Fiona Corsini from Sicily shared this recipe with Mimi. Apparently, she carries a jar of this homemade sauce with her everywhere on the Island. There are four simple ingredients with one habanero pepper providing the heat. (page 256)
- Pistachio and Lemon Pound Cake – This beautiful dessert is found along the Amalfi coast. Using beautiful local ingredients like pistachios and lemons, this cake is soon to be one of your favorite desserts as well. (page 190)
Photography / Styling / Publisher
The photography and food styling come together to help tell stories of each dish. The synergy of Mimi’s editorial background and Oddur’s photography background with Condé Nast Traveler shine through in this book, making the book come alive in your hands. In many of the photos, you feel like you can just pull a chair and start enjoying the lovely Italian dish.
As with their other two cookbooks, this book is graphically clean with a white background allowing the photographs to jump off the pages. The book comes in at 304 pages with the index and there is at least one photo on every page, minus the sections where Mimi or Oddur go a little deeper on the subject at hand.
The book was published in 2020 by Clarkson Potter Publishers, New York. Clarkson Potter publishers is a division within Penguin Random House founded in 1959. They produce some of the finest books in the lifestyle category.
Buy this book! I hope that this recommendation is strong enough. This is one of those special books that just happens to be a cookbook that brings joy to your life at every turn of the page. This book represents and is an extension of all the beauty found in Italy’s culture, specifically the people and their food. It will become a timeless classic just the like the content inside. A must have, order a copy today and be sure to gift on to those special people in your life.
Unstoppable Foodie Cookbook Club
Valarie and I love cookbooks. No matter where you sit in our house, a book is no more than an arm’s length away. We have multiple copies of digital cookbooks on our devices, but there is nothing like holding a bound cookbook in your hands, especially one filled with amazing stories and recipes. It is no surprise, whenever you open a cookbook from our shelves, you will see notes in the columns, tabbed pages, and printed out recipes or ingredient lists stuffed between the covers. Cookbooks are meant to be used just like any other tool in the kitchen.
We love the practicality and usefulness of cookbooks, but we are always hooked by the stories behind the recipes in a cookbook. In that spirit, we combined our intellectual curiosity with our passion for great food. “Exploring the World, One Dish at a Time” will always be our passion and the mission behind Unstoppable Foodie and Unstoppable Foodie Cookbook Club!
We would love to eventually roll the book club into an in-person cooking event, but for now we will keep it a virtual activity of sharing recipes from our favorite cookbooks on social media. We are looking to eventually offer an online class where we can cook together real time through a live stream platform.
The goal of the book club is simply to inspire you to cook more by elevating your home cooking skills. It is meant to be fun. Regardless of your current skill level, we look forward to you joining us. We are sure through this experience you will undoubtably increase your skills in the kitchen.
Please share your photos or your dishes with us so we can feature them on our socials and on our blog. Be sure to use the #unstoppablefoodie or #unstoppablefoodiecookbookclub. The Unstoppable Foodie Cookbook Club is meant to be a social activity and a two-way street for all of us to get better at cooking and spending more time in the kitchen. We hope you join us on this culinary adventure!
In addition to our monthly blog post featuring our favorite cookbooks, we will give away a new copy of the featured cookbook on Instagram.