Cover Image: A Tomato Grows in Brooklyn

A Tomato Grows in Brooklyn

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Member Reviews

I have wanted a good Italian cookbook for some time.  This is quite an interesting cookbook that samples Italian-American cooking as practiced in Brooklyn.  It isn’t comprehensive but rather selective in the recipes chosen.  The introductions to the recipes include helpful advice on cooking and serving, and the stories in-between are one-of-a-kind.  

David Ruggiero grew up watching his grandmother cook and that is what saved him from a life of crime, prison, and I’m sure, early death.  Because of his devotion to cooking, he is now a person who can knowledgeably but humbly discuss real food.  His tone is friendly and casual with no airs of being a great chef.

There are some holiday recipes included but this work mainly focuses on Cucina Povera, or literally, “poor kitchen.”  This is what the poor Southern Italians brought with them to the United States and also what sustained them in hard times.  It is the food of a culture, a place, and a time, but it isn’t outdated.  

I found numerous recipes that I will make, some that depend upon my finding certain ingredients like guanciale or a reasonable substitute.  Many things can be purchased online; for the canned or bottled goods, that is just what I may have to do.  Where I live in the winter in Florida there are many people from New York and New Jersey but only a couple of specialty markets within driving distance.  Where I live in the summer, there are none.  So I was a little limited in finding ingredients for a couple of recipes that I could try out for this review.  

The first recipe I tried was Spaghetti alla Chitarra.  I bought imported dry Spaghetti alla Chitarra and Bottarga di Tonno online.  (Bottarga di Tonno is dried, grated tuna caviar or roe.)  The fresh ingredients were available locally.  I made the marinara recipe from the Pantry section of the book first.  The marinara was a beautiful deep red, tasted wonderful, and had an excellent fragrance, but I would pare down the olive oil used.  Reason?  My husband and I aren’t used to consuming a lot of oil or other fats in anything and it is an issue of digestion for us.  Otherwise, it had a lot of flavor and was really easy.

I made the Sicilian breadcrumbs next.  I obtained a loaf of Italian Bread and proceeded to toast and run the toasted slices through my Ninja (the bread was too fresh to break apart easily).  Otherwise, this was also an easy recipe from the Pantry section of the book.

I made the main part of the Spaghetti alla Chitarra, which wasn’t hard at all.  The spaghetti itself took longer to cook than what author Ruggiero states (2-3 minutes!); it was what the package said for the al dente end of the spectrum, 9 minutes.  He must’ve meant 2-3 minutes for fresh pasta.  This instruction could trip someone up.

The Spaghetti alla Chitarra tasted great and was completely different from anything either of us had tried before.  I would make it again!  I intend to use the rest of the Bottarga di Tonno in other recipes as an umami topping since the lable warns that it must be used within 2 weeks of opening.

The second recipe I tried from this cookbook was Spaghetti Puttanesca.  This was an easy recipe that turned into a truly wonderful entree.  This dish is full of flavor and does not take a long time to make.  Bravo!  

The author’s section at the end about canning plum tomatoes is right on.  I came from a family of farmers (both sides of my family) in which survival in years past depended upon what you could can and store in the cellar.  I participated in canning for many years; it’s not just Italian-Americans that have a tradition of food preservation, it’s Norwegian-Americans (and many others) too.  So the author’s recommendations are sound and yes, the “Ball Bluebook of Preserving” (Jan. 1, 2020), “The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving” (May 1, 2020), or “The All New Ball Book of Canning and Preserving” (May 31, 2016)  are tremendous resources.  (I have a predecessor of these texts!)  

Overall I enjoyed this book and it was a fast read.  I wish there had been more recipes including shrimp, something that I can get fresh from the Gulf of Mexico when I am there during the winter.  I realize there are always space considerations in planning a book, and perhaps shrimp just wasn’t something that graced his family’s table except for dishes like Insalata di Frutta di Mare.  

Also, I haven’t seen fresh bay leaves for sale or I would’ve bought them already!  I go through a ton:  always a handful in savory dishes, especially soup unless it is an ethnic recipe that does not have those flavors.  And, I have been in high-end grocery stores in Naples, Florida with voluptuous produce displays: still no fresh bay leaves!  I will need to make do.

A big thank-you to Black Rose Writing, author David Ruggiero, and NetGalley for allowing me to read the eGalley of this book.  I have not received anything for writing a review and this review contains my original opinions and photography.  No use of photos without prior written permission (photos included on my Goodreads review)..
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This is a very unique cookbook.  The recipes are taken from an Italian American experience and they have some great recipes like savory chick peas with prosciutto, pistachio and dark chocolate torte, bomba calabrese (pepper spread), pizza a Ogge a Otto (fried stuffed pizza) and the slightly different take on many traditional dishes are all delicious.  They are also easy to follow recipes.

I would  highly recommend the book.
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I am neither Italian nor American, but having travelled extensively in Italy, I love Italian food. I really enjoyed browsing through this book; the stories were interesting, told in a down to earth and often irreverent manner, but underpinned by a love of family (and especially grandmother Mary) and a love of genuine Italian food.
The recipes were “real Italian” and reminded me of some of the food served in little off-the-beaten-track restaurants in Italy, so the traditions have remained for Italian families in Brooklyn.  I made the Creamy Chicken Marsala and the Gemelli Pasta with Tomato Accented Pesto and both were very successful; quick to make, yet tasty. I have bookmarked others to try!
Tidbits at the end of recipes – for example, what variety of pear to eat raw or cooked, types of rice for risotto etc. were a great addition to the recipes and the balance of stories to recipes worked well.
Some negative points include not having any index and I found the frequent “STOP!” “Hold on a moment” type comments in the introduction to the recipes rather repetitive. A typo – tartlettes became tattletales – was amusing, but can suggest that the book was not proofread carefully.  However, these are minor points and would not stop me recommending the book to other lovers of Italian food.
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Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this book. I loved this insight into the Italian scene in Brooklyn. Touching and warm, it was a great memoir and a compelling read as well as providing beautifully presented recipe which I am working my way through!.  Recommended for anyone with interest in the cuisine.
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My mother-in-law was Sicilian. 1st generation American. She cooked the most amazing spaghetti sauces, cannoli, and pizzellas.    From a large family of all girls, she was the only one who spent time in the  family kitchen learning to cook from her mother! She would have loved this book. 
David Ruggerio has done  fabulous job of collecting all the great recipes from his neighborhood in N.Y. I plan on getting this book as a gift for my daughter, so she can continue learning to cook like her grandmother! Anyone wanting to learn a bit of Italian immigrant experiences in this country, along with learning to ccok great meals, should get this book. Instructions are clear and concise. And while the book does not have step by step photos, it does have photos of the finished products! I look forward to seeing this book in color!
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David Ruggerio writes with such fondness of where he grew up in Brooklyn. The recipes capture that love and respect for the Italian community. The recipes are rustic and hearty and sound utterly delicious. These are Italian American recipes rather than traditionally Italian and well worth exploring.
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A Tomato Grows in Brooklyn is a cookbook interspersed with warm memoir recollections by David Ruggerio. Due out 12th Oct 2021 from Black Rose Writing, it's 252 pages and will be available in hardcover and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this book is included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free.

This is an unvarnished memoir written in chapters through Chef Ruggerio's childhood and professional life. He talks plainly in a direct voice with the reader about his difficult childhood, trouble with the law, and eventual redemption and professional success as a culinary professional. He is unabashedly plain spoken, brash even, and his recollections and reminiscences are often bittersweet. He doesn't dwell on the tragedies (he was orphaned at 5 years old) or the systemic racism which Southern Italians experienced - they are just facts of life to be gotten around or compensated for. What does come through clearly is his love of and respect for food and family which are inextricably entwined. In fact, the recipes are gathered in each memoir chapter in a sort of stream-of-consciousness manner, and only coded with their uses: a (appetizer), b (breakfast/brunch), m (main course), c (side dish/contorni), and d (dessert). At least in the pre-release ARC I received for review, there was no comprehensive index, which will make the recipes a challenge to find without a systematic read-through of the book.

I was entranced by the brash style of the memoir and his unapologetic (and presumably) unvarnished reminiscences of growing up in the 70s in Brooklyn. The comforting home life with scents of olive oil, tomatoes simmering with basil, and handmade traditional sausages are there, related on the same page as violence on the doorstep with drug abuse, stabbings, and murder. The dichotomy is dizzying and somehow fascinating at the same time.

Recipes are written with names in both Italian and English, the aforementioned code (breakfast, appetizer, main dish, dessert), an introduction and recipe ingredients listed bullet-style in a sidebar. Ingredients are given with American standard measures (no metric equivalents given), followed by step by step preparation instructions. Roughly a third of the recipes are accompanied by photographs. The food is not overstyled and looks genuinely appetizing and real. Serving photos are appealing and appropriate. Most recipes are written for family sized portions (generally 4-8 servings, sometimes more).

There are a number of "fancier" dishes which aren't generally available outside of specialty cookbooks, as well as quite a number of specific holiday recipes (Saints days, Christmas, etc). My major problem with the book was the apparent lack of a table of contents or index. Both of these issues are possibly fixed in the release copy. The memoir itself is quite worthwhile and I compensated for the lack of index by bookmarking recipes I wanted to revisit as I read through the book. Not ideal, but workable.

Three and a half stars, rounded up for the unvarnished and enlightening memoir.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.
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I really enjoyed this book and I will definitely be making a ton of these recipes. They were simple and easy to follow recipes.
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