Two smart and reliable cooks and writers joined forces in the 1980s to give us some of our most enduring and favored cookbooks on Italian cuisine. Viana La Place, who lived and worked in Italy for many years, and Evan Kleiman, then chef/owner of the former Los Angeles restaurant Angeli, offer food that “places few demands on the cook or the eater, except to succumb to the pleasures of the table.”
The byword of Italian home cooks is simplicity. Cucina Fresca (1985), their first book, offers a lively array of cold and room temperature dishes. This genre, popular in Italy, is by definition make-ahead food, and it generally carries the principle of simplicity to the highest level.
Other than salt, pepper, garlic, and olive oil, most of the preparations contain only a handful of ingredients, and even these are regarded as flexible components, the use of which depends on availability and on the cook’s personal preferences.
In print for nearly 40 years, Cucina Fresca has played a significant role in raising general consciousness about Italian home food and, through demonstrating its accessibility, helped bring it to a level at which it began to rival French cuisine in popularity. (When asked what his favorite cookbook is and if absolutely forced to respond—who among us could choose a favorite child?—Matt will pull Fresca off the shelf and wax poetically to rapt customers who are sold on it immediately.)
Pasta Fresca (1988), the second book in the trio, takes the same principles of uncomplicated food and applies it to pasta dishes. Just a handful of ingredients and fresh or dried pasta come together, not as separate entities—sauce and pasta—but as one body, harmonious in flavor and texture, a masterclass on the comforts and pleasures of plain food made with high quality ingredients.
The final book of the trio, published in 1990, Cucina Rustica, is “rooted in country cooking.” A few, truly fresh ingredients brought together artfully with a minimum of effort and bother tells the whole story: risotto with spinach, grilled fish in a plain sauce of parsley and pine nuts, fennel with golden garlic and anchovies. This “rustic cuisine” promotes truly liberated cooking, utterly authentic in its allowance for improvisation, substitutions, and last-minute course corrections.
We offer here all three books in Very Good condition in hardcover, clean and unmarked, save for an ownership stamp on the bottom edge of Fresca. (Cucina Fresca and Rustica remain in print in paperback and are also available on our website.)
A worthwhile collection for those endeared to the pleasures of simple, unfussy, good eating.