Ostro: The Pleasure That Comes from Slowing Down and Cooking with Simple Ingredients
by Julia Busuttil Nishimura
Julia Busuttil Nishimura’s Ostro is a concept book, following a simple philosophy: simple food and slow living is the answer to modern society’s discontent, as exemplified through the book’s warm, hearty recipes. Ostro is the Italian name for the Mediterranean Sea’s southerly wind. Recipes in this book blend Busuttil Nishimura’s Maltese heritage with lessons learned while working in northern Italy. Cooking and the consumption of food are viewed as rituals of life, rather than as a means to an end. Ostro thus illustrates a lifestyle filled with the simpler things, encouraging the meditative aspects of repetitive cooking processes, utilising Julia Busuttil Nishimura’s life as a placard.
The book itself is absolutely stunning, its presentation immaculate. Ostro is a beautiful coffee table book with serenely composed images fit for any viral, interior design Instagram account (indeed, Busuttil Nishimura is a columnist for Country Style Magazine, according to her personal Instagram account).
Photographs of Busuttil Nishimura’s family (including her adorable half-Japanese, half-Italian son) and home are interspersed throughout Ostro, with images of home cooked meals so comforting that the reader could breathe the carbs through the page. The photographer often humanises the dishes through capturing them being held by Busuttil Nishimura, almost personifying the food. You can tell that these hearty dishes form part of the family’s home recipe cycle; for there is truly nothing but hearty, home cooked food.
This book contains homely, simple recipes. Star players include Busuttil Nishimura’s homemade pasta recipe; Potato, Leek and Mozzarella Pie; Bread and Onion Soup with Gruyere; Mushroom and Barley Pie; and Baked Ricotta Cheesecake with Figs and Grapes. Busuttil Nishimura advises cooks to use these recipes as guidelines for cooking, just as you would in Nonna’s kitchen. There is a warmth to the descriptions of personal significance above each recipe, and a general unpretentious simplicity to the layout.
The more advanced chef may be disappointed in Ostro. As promised in its introduction, Ostro provides recipes for homely, hearty handmade food with “Nonna’s specialised tips” associated with more complex, traditional Italian recipes. The book also over-emphasises “slow living,” to an almost comical point.
While this reviewer is all for slowing down, some recipes assume that one has the time and strength to churn butter (just one, slightly-ableist example of many). Additionally, while the photographs of the Busuttil Nishimura household are beautiful, they fill a more-than-significant portion of the cookbook. Some sections of the book thus feel more like an aspirational Pinterest board, or like a Mummy-influencer-who–happens-to-cook’s Instagram account, more so than a cookbook.
Ostro nevertheless takes the cake for slow-living recipe books. The food is wholesome and real, and Busuttil Nishimura melds her personal experiences and lifestyle with simple recipes, through this collation of anecdotes, photographs and recipes.