I came to Extra Virgin: Recipes and Love From Our Tuscan Kitchen, the new cookbook by actress Debi Mazar and her Tuscan husband, Gabriele Corcos, not very well-acquainted with the couple or their Cooking Channel TV show. A (ahem) virgin, of sorts, when it came to them. I had flirted with an episode or two ages ago (it first aired in 2011), and only remembered finding the couple tremendously likable. The popularity of the show and of their website seems to indicate that their devoted fans feel similarly.
Mazar and Corcos' food-media reign is built on the amiability and charisma that the couple sloshes around like olive oil. Her: beautiful, funny, spicy New-Yorker/Hollywood starlet. Him: sexy, doting, sentimental Italian. Two adorable daughters. Palpable passion for life and for each other, with food as both object of affection and a way to show love. He wooed her with his cooking, and together they tenderly feed their family and friends. That lovey-dovey narrative comes through in the recipes they share in Extra Virgin: Traditional, rustic dishes that come straight from Corcos' childhood in Tuscany, like his grandmother's Red Sauce; lighter, New-World anomalies influenced by Mazar's LA lifestyle, like Guacamole with Baked Beet Chips; and some creations that seem to describe what happens when an Italian and an American love each other very much, like the Super Tuscan Burger (a meatball-meets-burger topped with avocado).
The cookbook certainly does have heart. Each recipe is introduced by either Mazar or Corcos, warmly offering advice or situating it in the scope of their life together. It covers the meal from antipasti to dolci, and though there's a decent amount of decadence, they generally gravitate toward nutritious, conscientious eating. As for the recipes themselves, they weren't flawless. I found the cooking times to be a bit off, occasionally the instructions did not entirely align with the photograph (a pet-peeve), and there were a couple of larger issues with execution. But with some common sense adaptations, the reward was flavorful, straight-forward food that I was very happy to eat. They're not breaking any new ground here, and similar recipes for similar food abound, but this is a solid and sincere effort to share something meaningful with their fans, and I appreciate that. It may not have rocked my world, but it left me fully satisfied.
We'll start this week with pasta in a seductively simple red sauce, Pici All'Aglione, then lighten things up with Grilled Squid with Arugula and Grapefruit Vinaigrette. Roasted Pork Loin with a milky pan sauce will take us almost all the way there, and we'll finish off the week with the unabashedly gratifying Proscuitto and Taleggio Sandwich with Fig Preserves.
As always with Cook the Book, we have 5 copies of Extra Virgin: Recipes and Love from our Tuscan Kitchen to give away, thanks to our friends at Clarkson Potter. Just tell us what foods make you feel the love in the comments below.