I was really excited when this cookbook landed on my desk for review, not only because I love cookbooks but because I love – LOVE – cookbooks that have a story behind them. I want to read about how the recipe came about, who the cooks where that created and built on this recipe, and who they cooked it for. This book has all of this in abundance!

Tanya Bartolini’s grandparents and great grandparents emigrated from Italy to Australia to forge a better future for their children, and along the way the whole family have adapted traditional recipes to suit what was available and delicious in their new home. Some genius adaptations have resulted, but Tanya also shares some authentic old school Italian recipes as well. I have been pestering a tight lipped Italian friend for years for her recipe for spaghetti sauce to no avail, and I was delighted to find that thankfully, Tanya shares her Nonna Ida’s recipe! Tanya is obviously very generous to share her families recipes, and was kind enough to answer some questions.

 Your cookbook is gorgeous!
Did you always plan to write one that showcased your family history so
I hadn’t always planned to write a
family story/cookbook, but as I grew to learn more about my grandparents story
and my passion for food especially Italian only grew stronger I wanted to share
this with people. I only hoped that people would relate to my story and
appreciate the recipes.
The recollections from your
grandparents bought tears to my eyes! Was it difficult to hear them open up?
It was difficult at times, my
grandfather still struggled to talk about it and that’s why I think he felt it
was easier to write his story down on paper for me. It is so hard to relate to
what they went through but the thought of what they endured and the fact that
they came to Australia
to help give me the life I live today is nothing short of inspirational.
 There are some amazing family
recipes in your book, where there any secret recipes that you were not allowed
to share?
No secret recipes at all. I think my
family were just thrilled that I had decided to write the book and happy to
share with others. My theory is that if our food encourages others to cook then
that is a good thing. Why keep good food to ourselves, it is when you share
food and recipes that wonderful memories are created not just for us but others
What are your five favourite ingredients that you couldn’t live without?
1. White wine
2. 00 Flour
3. Bottled tomatoes
4. Garlic
5. Rosemary
Your Nonno sounds like a
marvel in the vegetable garden! Has his talent been passed down to you? What
are your favourite herbs to grow and cook with?
Oh my goodness I only wish I was
fortunate to get the green thumb of both of my nonno’s. Unfortunately no I did
not get their talents in the garden. I do grow rosemary, thyme, mint, basil and
sage and I was also growing silverbeet quite well however I only have a very
small yard and have not yet ventured into tomatoes which is on my to grow list
next. I have gotten better over time but just remembering to water them some
days  can be tough.
Blending the
Cultures seems to be all about using what you have, however are there any
particular Italian items that you cannot do without?
love Pandoro which is an Italian cake that comes out every Christmas. There are
so many things you can do with a store bought Pandoro. Eat as is for breakfast
with a cup of coffee or make a fantastic dessert. I recently posted an Italian
Chocolate Espresso Pudding on my website http://thekitchenbench.com.au/
which uses Pandoro.
Who are your
favourite suppliers in Brisbane, or the
rest of Australia for
that matter?
I am really enjoying the Fine
Italian produce from Benfatti Fine Italian Foods. Ben Cleary imports in
fantastic Italian products such as bottled tomatoes from Sicily, olive oil and amazing balsamic
vinegars. I also recently discovered a great little store in Kenmore in
Brisbane which stocks fresh organic produce from local South East QLD farmers
and pantry staples called Julia’s Pantry. I purchase my cold meats and olives
usually from Clayfield Fresh Markets in Brisbane.
I love that
Blending the Cultures contains some very authentic recipes that use ingredients
such as rice bran oil, to great effect. What is the strangest ingredient you
have found in a traditional Italian recipe?
Some of the recipes you will notice
especially in the second part of the book are very traditional Italian recipes
with a very Australian twist, for example the rice bran oil inclusion. I would
have to say that my Nonno Ida’s crumbed chicken which has always been one of my
favourite dishes of hers has a very surprising ingredient. Nonna puts Scotch
Whiskey in her eggs and marinates the chicken in the egg mixture. The scotch
gives the chicken a fabulous taste. 
I was disappointed that there
was no recipe for Nonno Angelos liquid sunshine, Limoncello!  Are you
planning a follow up cookbook with more recipes?
I have so many more recipes to
include in a second book. Recipes of my grandparents, recipes inspired by my
travels and also inspired by my family in Italy. Watch this space. 
Sounds exciting!  What else is next for you? 

At the moment I am very focused on
selling my book, obviously however I have many ideas of where to take The
Kitchen Bench and Italian/Australian food and traditions. I am really focused
on sharing some of the many Italian traditions that still take place here in Australia today but may have been altered
slightly over the years to either adjust to our different climate here in Australia or
different produce. Some of these traditions are slowly dying with a smaller
focus on being self sufficient. We are too busy and so it is too easy to obtain
pre packed food. Now I do purchase good quality pre made food at times to cover
me on the days when I don’t have any leftovers in the freezer so I am not
saying that people should not do that but I want to help encourage people to
have the confidence to be able to cook a good quality meal even if you only
have 10 minutes to spare.

Would you like to win your very own copy of Blending the Cultures, by Tanya Bartolini? Just leave a comment about cooking. I would love to hear how you improved on a family recipe or what your secret ingredient is, but hey, you are the cook, it’s up to you! 
This is a competition of skill. The winner will be announced on the 18th of December. Make sure you have a valid email address so I can let you know, and hopefully you will receive this in time for Christmas! The prize will only be sent to an Australian address. Good luck!

The winner of this beautiful cookbook is EMILY! Thank you to everyone that entered.
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15 thoughts on “Cookbook Review, Interview and Giveaway!

  • 12/12/2013 at 2:51 AM

    I'm sure it's not a scratch on Nonna Ida's spaghetti sauce recipe but mine goes down a treat with my family (my stepdad likes it more than my mum's – whoops!) My secret ingredient in my spaghetti sauce is…wait for it…milk! Yep, once all the tomato-y, saucey, meaty goodness has simmered for a little while I add a small splash of milk (you can even use it to rinse the last bit of tomato sauce out of the jar) and stir it through to simmer for a little longer. It adds such a rich sort creaminess to the sauce and brings out the depth of flavours in the rest of the ingredients. The end result sauce is like a big warm soft silky rich cuddle through a doona. If I'm feeling fancy I'll also chuck in some olives from time to time.

    • 12/12/2013 at 3:39 AM

      Wow, really? I have never heard of that, but I sure like the sound of a big warm soft silky rich cuddle through a doona!

    • 12/12/2013 at 5:07 AM

      Try it! Fo realz! It's not actually creamy, it's still all red and tomato-y…it's just all thick and rich and soft and sorta creamy…it's hard to explain you just gotta try it lol

  • 12/12/2013 at 7:13 AM

    Great interview and review. I'm not entering because I don't know enough about cooking to leave a good comment – actually, I am entering, because that's exactly why I need this book!

    The only thing I do to a recipe is replace green onions with spring onions in Asian cooking because easier to find and cheaper! GENIUS.

    Thanks for hosting the comp.

    • 12/13/2013 at 9:15 AM

      Hi Emily! Umm….I think green onions and spring onions are the same thing? Sounds like you need this cookbook. Fingers crossed! xx

  • 12/12/2013 at 10:46 PM

    I love the look of this book, as I also have many family recipes that have been handed down over the years. One of my most treasured items is a very crappy looking yellow 2-ring binder that has all our family recipes within. Including a typed up list from 1968 (the year my parents married) of my father's favourite foods, that my grandmother gave to my mother. Complete with many of the recipes. The main change I make to many of the savoury family recipes is to add a couple of drops of Tabasco, particularly to mum's spaghetti Bolognese recipe – it just lifts it a little. Yum!

    • 12/13/2013 at 9:16 AM

      Mel that sounds like the best kind of heirloom! Very thoughtful of your grandmother to provide your mum with such a list. Tabasco is delicious, one of my faves 🙂

  • 12/15/2013 at 8:07 AM

    My cooking secret is to use a pressure cooker. I whip out delicious home made meals in minutes! Pressure cooking is also far more efficient than using multiple pots on separate burners, and can result in significant energy savings.

    • 12/18/2013 at 11:03 AM

      Hi Cyndie! I've never used a pressure cooker but I remember my cousin using one to explode a Christmas pudding all over the ceiling. Exciting!

  • 12/16/2013 at 9:56 AM

    I love my soy sauce. It makes all my cooking tastes awesome.

    • 12/18/2013 at 11:03 AM

      Do you know, KK, I don't think I could survive without soy sauce.

  • 12/17/2013 at 12:05 AM

    I use nasturtium leaves and flowers from my garden. The flowers brighten up salads and platters. The leaves are peppery and can be used in salads also or used as the base of pesto. Blend the leaves with a little oil to make a paste that replaces wasabi in sushi. Added to that it's good for you, looks great in the garden and is easy to grow!

    • 12/18/2013 at 11:05 AM

      Helen I was just thinking recently that I needed to grow some nasturtium so that I could have a cream cheese and nasturtium sandwich! I've never heard of using it in pesto, but I can't wait to give it a try.

  • 12/18/2013 at 5:20 AM

    My favouritethings to cook with are onion, garlic and chilli, sauce and spice, they make everything taste great!

    • 12/18/2013 at 11:05 AM

      I cook with onion and garlic every day 😉

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