Wednesday, July 08, 2009

After Artusi

Italian food, all cookbook writers agree, is really regional food, despite the unifying influence of Artusi's cookbook (which I wrote about here).

Following on, I've been perusing a variety of cookbooks that treat one or several regions and include food memoirs, history, and a variety of information about cuisines. I haven't tried any recipes yet, but I hope I'll be brave enough to tackle a few soon.

The Good Food of Italy by Claudia Roden, written about 20 years ago, includes a great survey of Italian regional cooking. Most interesting are her specific observations about how much industrialization, the move from rural to urban life, and the resulting prosperity after World War II, changed the way Italians eat.

The Classical Cookbook by Andrew Dalby and Sally Grainger (1996) contains a magnificent collection of images of food and cooking from antiquity. Recipes offer modern methods of making the foods of specific times and places in ancient Greece and Rome, beginning with Odysseus and wrapping up at the Roman baths.

Cucina Paradiso: The Heavenly Food of Sicily by Clifford A. Wright (1992) attempts to identify the Arab influence in the cooking of Sicily from nearly 300 years of Arab rule during the Middle Ages. However, I'm sceptical about the author's scholarship -- he writes "A new invention from the windy and arid regions of the Arab world, the windmill, arrived in the early tenth century. Now more flour could be milled and more bread eaten. Pizzas such as the tasty Carbuciu, a double pizza stuffed with tomatoes, oregano and anchovy, became popular." (p. 28) Really. Tomatoes are a new-world product. They couldn't have reached Sicily until centuries after the Arabs left. Maybe the recipes are better than the author's rather thin summary of history.

The Classic Cuisine of the Italian Jews by Edda Servi Machlin (1981) is one of my favorite food memoirs. Her early life in a small town before the persecution and essential expulsion of the Jews from Italy is very important, and this is a classic record of a lost tradition. I reread it every time I'm in that section of the library.

La Cucina di Lidia by Lidia Bastianich and Jay Jacobs (1990) has intrigued me since I watched one of Lidia's recent cooking shows on the PBS Create channel. She's so unlike the Food Network stars -- modest, and interested in good food and how people enjoy it. This is a celebrity biography, but enjoyable, and I bought the book because I have high hopes for the recipes.

1 comment:

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

I've read many Italian and Italian-American cookbooks over the past year for research I've been doing on a writing project, and one other you might enjoy is:

Italian Festival Food: Recipes and Traditions from Italy's Regional Country Food Fairs by Anne Bianchi