I love the way Mario quite honestly confesses to having lifted most of his recipes from Italian grandmothers, as he believes that the best Italian cooking is done in the home and not in the Restaurante. In spite of his heart being with Italian cuisine, he is never disrespectful of American food and produce, especially when the American product is superior to the Italian.
This book is comprised of recipes primarily from the extended three-year stage he served in a little trattoria in Emilia-Romagna, a stones throw from the border with Toscana. But, it does contain several recipes from other parts of Emilia-Romagna, Toscana, Lazio (Rome) and even Sicily. His two `villages' are Porretta Terme in Italy and Greenwich Village in Manhattan.
The book has six chapters of recipes, these being:
Antipasti, 43 recipes including crostini, bruschetta, polenta, pickled vegetables, mushrooms, and cured fish.
Primi (pasta or rice), 49 recipes including recipes for fresh pastas, gnocchi, couscous, and risottos.
Seconde (main dish)
Pesce (fish), 27 recipes including scallops, calamari, prawns, crabs, lobster, snapper, and even frogs' legs.
Carne (meat), 32 recipes including rabbit, pheasant, lamb, veal, beef, sausage, liver, and sweetmeats.
Contorni (side dishes) 26 recipes including polenta, many vegetable dishes, grilled, fried, and pickled.
Formaggi & Dolce (cheese and sweets) 27 recipes including fruit and confections with funny names.
Each section includes pantry recipes for sauces and dressings not included in this count.
I would recommend this book primarily for the reading of Mario's unvarnished enthusiasm for food and the Italian dedication to (relative) simplicity of method and freshness of your `prima materia'. I would also highly recommend his basic tomato sauce (I make it all the time) and his recipes using fresh pasta. As he points out, there is a big difference between the fresh pasta of the north and the dry pasta of the south both in the way they are made, in the types of flour used, and in the sauces appropriate to each. Mario's recommendations on making and dressing pasta are worth the price of admission.
The black and white or sepia photographs of Mario and his colleagues at the trattoria lend a warm `gemutlichkeit' (sorry, I don't know the Italian word) to the proceedings. The color photos are better than average, in that the photographer succeeds in getting the entire dish in focus.
I highly recommend the book for the authenticity of the recipes and his introduction into a deeper appreciation of Italian food. It is not a complete presentation of Italian dishes, but it is a great partner to a broader treatment done by Marcella Hazan, Lydia Bastianich, Giuliano Bugialli, or the Cooks Illustrated volume on Classic Italian recipes. I agree with those who warn that the book is not for novices, but is the sort of book which can show the way from innocence to experience.
Anyone who has watched Batali's show, or anyone who reads the introduction to this book will find out that what he is referring to is the use of a few, excellent ingredients in each dish, as opposed to a long list of ingredients that will require one whole cart at the grocery store to carry. Most of the recipes require 6 or 7 ingredients, tops. Some are exotic (most have easy substitutes), yet one of Batali's primary but often-missed points is that the kind of ingredient isn't important, but its quality. I'm surprised by how few a number of people took this concept away from the book.
The recipes turn out delicious. They can be intensive at times, particularly the pasta dishes. Most of the meat dishes also require long periods of braising. Few of the dishes are quick-prepares. THAT'S FINE IF THAT IS WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR.
So look through the book a little bit before buying and determine if this is what you are expecting. If so, you'll likely enjoy it.