To put it simply, Il Buco: Stories and Recipes written by Donna Lennard with Joshua David Stein is a terrific book.
I found it fascinating to read not only for its delicious looking recipes but also for the story behind the famous New York restaurant – now in its 25th year – and its owner and founder the award-winning restaurateur Donna Lennard.
Also included are the stories of the people who have helped put the restaurant and its companion restaurants and enterprises on the world’s foody map; about trips to Europe in search of perfect, often elusive ingredients; as well as comments about life and relationships.
How Il Buco came about
The stories begin by the telling of how the restaurant came about, and of Donna’s formative years both in America and during a six week visit to Sardinia where she became captivated by the aroma of deliciously cooked food, and the fresh ingredients which were to become so important to her.
Another of her interests was the buying and selling of antiques and crafts, an enterprise which eventually led to the inclusion of a tapas bar in the shop, it proved to be an excellent means of drawing customers in – and encouraging them to linger!
Between each recipe chapter is text that takes the reader to different Mediterranean destinations in search of ingredients such as a perfectly aged balsamic vinegar, interesting wines, cured meats, salt and olive oil. We go to Sicily to find the best wheat and grains for bread making. We scour Italy in search of artisan crafts for the shop Alimentari. And at each destination we meet the various producers and learn about their work and how they have played a significant role in Donna’s life and philosophy.
The 80 or so recipes, are the favourites of many of the chefs who have worked at the restaurant over the years, and who eventually went on to become world famous chefs (Donna doesn’t claim to be a chef). Okay, some recipes I won’t be able to manage as I won’t be able to source the ingredients, but I reckon that with a bit of planning I can possibly use substitutes, and other recipe ingredients are readily available.
I’ve not tried cooking any of the dishes yet, but I have carefully read them all. They are clearly printed and set out, and the Method for each recipe is meticulously written and helpful, and they are accompanied by at least one photograph.
Desserts, sides, mains and tapas
Included amongst the recipes are scrummy desserts and sweet treats, think panna cotta with balsamic vinegar, lemon curd with fresh berries, olive oil and chocolate cakes, and a fresh fruit crostata.
Some interesting side dishes have been included; there are also wonderful looking recipes for roast pork and rib eye steak; pasta; flavourful soups and salads. There is one long section on making different types of dough, sourdough and focaccia plus a basic pizza dough which even I can manage. There is an excellent chapter on antipasti and another on tapas.
An inspirational book
Along with the sensitively written text by Donna with writer, editor and obvious food lover Joshua David Stein is a foreward by Alice Waters. Plus there are occasional delightful pages of kaleidoscopic-style pictures of people, places and objects – even the restaurant cat.
Il Buco : Stories and Recipes is an inspirational, sometimes thought provoking, and always interesting book. It will become a fixture on our book shelves – and a shelf that will be conveniently close to the kitchen too!
Il Buco: Stories and Recipes. Donna Lennard with Joshua David Stein. Photography by Gentl & Hyers. ISBN: 978-0-06-295838-9. UK £45, USA $60, CAN $75. Harper Design. www.hc.com