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Three years ago we lost a monumental cooking teacher and author. Anna Teresa Callen lived a full 86 years. Her life is outline in her Times obituary:


Outlined there, but some details are missing. If you ever met Anna, you did not forget her. Or take her lightly. She was a lovely person, but intense, not a tad intense, I mean intense.

We were all in the kitchen one day and I had been chopping up some scallions. There were scraps, the tips and some green leaves, that I started to shove to the sink with my knife.

“Oh, no,” she stopped me. For Anna Teresa, there was no such thing as a scrap. Her family was affluent before World War 2 but during that war, and after, life in Italy was a struggle. In her kitchen, or in any kitchen she was in, Anna never wasted a scrap.

Her food? Pick an adjective: sublime, authentic, robust. Good, really, really satisfyingly good. When she put a plate in front of me, I would always smile. I was about to have enjoyment that only wonderful Italian food can provide.

In the past few years, we have seen a rash of lovely slow-cooking cookbooks, ones where a pot and time create a one-pot meal. Anna was way ahead of her time with this book, Italian Classics in One Pot way back in 1997. Except here, the recipes are long on taste but short in time. Anna was a beehive, and she wanted to cook and eat within a four or six hour intermission.

Somewhere in the chapters of this book, or somewhere, you will find recipes that irresistibly pull you to the kitchen. Here’s a tour of the book and some of the particularly special recipes that Anna served up to her loving audience:

Soups Like “Mamma Mia” Used to Make is filled with hearty soups, ones that probably have too much energy for warm summer nights. But you can do what Anna did: make these soups now with fresh summer veggies, then freeze until there is snow on the ground:

Artichoke and Rice Soup

Carrot and Asparagus Soup with Tiny Meatballs

Chicken and Pea Soup with Parmesan Dumplings

Tomato Soup with Angel Hair Pasta and Mozzarella Cheese

Chicken Italian Style celebrates the power of “tastes like chicken” on Anna’s own particular flavor scale:

Chicken Stew with Green Beans, Wine and Prosciutto

Sausage-Stuffed Chicken Cutlets with Spinach

Chicken in Prison [okay, chicken encased in a loaf of bread from the Moors of Sicily]

Duck Stew Perugia-Style [yes, duck, which does not taste like chicken]

Beef and Veal presents recipes for everyday meals, regional classics, and elegant dishes for superior entertaining:

Florentine Beef Stew with Potatoes

Southern Italian Beef Rollatine with Pasta Shells, Pine Nuts, and Raisins

Veal Scaloppini with Prosciutto, Peas, and Artichoke Hearts

Veal Red Onion and Potato Casserole

Pork, Sausages, and Lamb deal with those “other” meats that are offered at tables across Italy in the cities and the countryside:

Stuffed Pork Palermo Style with Salami and Vegetables

Cotechino with Lentils [the Milanese pork sausage is a Christmas favorite]

Rosemary Lamb with Balsamic Vinegar and Fava Beans

With the sea ever so close no matter where you are, the Seafood Mediterraneo chapter presents the authentic “whole fish” recipes so adored by Italians but now in forms using the fish fillets and steaks that we prefer to see in our fish stores. Too bad, for there is nothing quite like a whole fish brought to the table. Still, Anna has presentation ideas of her own:

Baked Red Snapper with Cremini Mushrooms

Steamed Cod and Potatoes with Saffron-Basil Sauce

Baked Sole Stuffed with Shrimp

Trout with Porcini and Bread Stuffing and Roasted Asparagus

Baked Lobster Casserole

Pasta and Risotto had to have been a favorite chapter for Anna. Her pasta dishes offered simplicity and elegance in every bite. Remember Stanley Tucci in the movie Big Night with that grand, extravagant timballo? Anna has ideas for you:

Spaghetti with Three Cheeses

Fettuccine with Swiss Chard and Ham

Timballo of Penne and Cheese

Artichoke and Prosciutto Timballo

Risotto with Cabbage, Pink Beans and Red Wine

There are pasta dishes in Italian Classics and veggie ideas, too, but it is those earlier protein-heavy chapters that make this book so forceful. Anna was just that, forceful. Opinionated, smart, and always one to chip in a final sentence. If you knew her, you had to just step back and laugh. In the kitchen, she was the star performer.

If you did not know her, then from the recipes above you can see that her two favorite words were “with” and “and.” Like that trout with porcini and bread stuffing. Or the veal with prosciutto, peas and artichoke hearts. Anna was never over the top, but she was so very complete. She knew how to make a dish just complex enough to have you wanting seconds from the first forkful you tasted.

While Anna is no longer in the kitchen, her recipes linger here in Italian Classics. Sample some of these ideas and you will wish you had known her.

Suzi and I loved cooking with her and over the coming months we’ll do some of these recipes and post them here. We can offer you pictures and text. For the aromas and those glorious tastes, you’re going to have to cook on your own.