Olives & Oranges: Recipes & Flavor Secrets from Italy, Spain, Cyprus & BeyondOlives & Oranges: Recipes & Flavor Secrets from Italy, Spain, Cyprus & Beyond, by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox, has glossy pages with several full color photos. Not every recipe is accompanied by a photograph, but this doesn’t detract from the recipes themselves.

Organization of Contents

The book starts with an Introduction, and then the chapter, “My Flavor Pantry” which covers some basic ingredients. The recipes are organized into the following chapters: Small Plates; Salad; Soup; Pasta, Risotto and Polenta; Fish; Chicken and Other Backyard Livestock; Beef, Veal, Pork, Lamb, and Venison; and Sweets and Cordials. There is also a chapter on sources, followed by an index.

Each recipe is preceded by at least a paragraph of description; as a cookbook reader, this is something that’s important to me. These paragraphs usually serve several purposes: they give the reader a hint of the tastes that are embodied in the recipe, they often sketch in words the culinary environment from which the recipe came, and they often include the authors’ tips on preparation or serving. In the case of Olives & Oranges, the descriptive paragraphs usually had my mouth watering, and often included special flavor tips.

Cooking the Recipes

As is usual with a new cookbook, I sat down with our special cookbook notebook and went through every recipe, writing down all the ones that I’d like to try. When we’re brainstorming a new menu, it’s this special notebook that gets the brunt of our attention, so this preliminary readthrough is pretty important around here.

We can vaguely begin to gauge the success of a particular cookbook in our household by the number of recipes I end up writing down in the notebook (I note the name of the recipe, the cookbook title and the page number). In the case of Olives & Oranges there were definitely signs that this would become a well-used cookbook around here. I seemed to be jotting down recipe titles at nearly every page.

The tastes covered by the recipes ranged from mild and creamy to highly, sometimes even exotically spiced. So far, though, we haven’t had much trouble getting the right ingredients, and where an ingredient may not be easily available, the recipe usually suggests a substitute.

The true test, of course, is in the cooking of the recipes themselves. Sometimes a cookbook looks good, and contains lots of recipes that make your mouth water, but when it comes down to properly instructing you in the making of the recipe, it can fail, hands-down.

I’m pleased to report that this was not the case with Olives & Oranges, which lived up to its original promise. The first recipe we tried out was Seared Cod with Green Olive, Lemon and Parsley Relish. This turned out excellently: it was delicious and flavorful.

Since then we’ve also made the following dishes: Moroccan Salad, Warm Escarole Salad with Hot Anchovy Dressing, Potato, Celery & Leek Soup, Short Pasta with Mushrooms and Mint, Spaghetti with Lemon Sole and North African Spiced Shrimp.  Perhaps even more suggestive are the recipes we’ve already made more than once. Moroccan Salad, Spaghetti with Lemon Sole and North African Spiced Shrimp all fall within this category.

NorthAfricanShrimp2  North African Shrimp

The North African Shrimp was nicely spiced, and made a nice change from the way we normally do shrimp (typically in an Asian stir-fry or on a kebab on the grill). Spices included coriander, Aleppo pepper (we used dried red chili pepper), cumin, ginger and turmeric.

MoroccanSaladMoroccan Salad

The Moroccan Salad was a big hit – it was a refreshing salad and worked well with the more highly spiced dishes (like the North African Shrimp), and as a bonus, leftovers were eagerly scooped up with tortilla chips as a late night snack.

We’re happy with Olives & Oranges; there are still a a lot of recipes we’ve marked down but haven’t tried yet. The mostly Mediterranean flavors are lovely – it’s the perfect cookbook for when you’re tired of the same old thing.

Where to buy:

U.S. (Amazon.com)

Canada (Chapters)

UK (Amazon.co.uk)

Review copy details: published by Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008, Hardcover, 372 pages