Thursday, July 02, 2009

The Two Top Books of 100 years ago in Italy

Pellegrino Artusi's cookbook The Art of Eating Well and Alessandro Manzoni's historical novel The Betrothed are said to have been in "every middle-class household, from the top to the toe of the [Italian] peninsula." At least so I read in the Oxford Companion to Italian Food. I've been exploring various topics based on my browsing in this encyclopedic treatment of all matters of Italian cuisine, so I decided to read Artusi. And I recently read a long biography of Manzoni, which made me curious about him. So I have both of these classics checked out of the library. (See my earlier posts: From ABBACCHIO to ZUPPA INGLESE and Manzoni.)

I started with Artusi, whose book "made a greater contribution to the unification of Italy than all the efforts by politicians and linguists to bring a country of separate entities with their own languages and dialects into a coherent nation." His collection of dishes contributed to the unification of Italian food, as did his choice to write in Italian without any French terms. (Quotes from OCIF p. 28)

I think this iconic cookbook -- which I've been hearing about for ages -- is so widely influential that it doesn't offer too many surprises. Italian cooking has simply permeated American culinary thought for as long as I've been cooking and eating in restaurants. The presence of the all-American pizza restaurant, the popularity of spaghetti from before my childhood (and its later renaming as "pasta"), and the influence of Italian ideas on many modern American restaurants (like my favorites in La Jolla, Barbarella and Piatti) cause me to find Artusi an interesting but not eye-opening author. The notes and historical background by Kyle M. Phillips, the translator, make it worth looking through.

I'm around 1/3 through the 700+ pages of The Betrothed. I find it readable and enjoyable. I can fit it very well into the European literary trends of its day, when people had more time for this sort of reading. I'll write a more thorough review on the other blog when I finish it.

1 comment:

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

I keep getting great book suggestions from you. When do you have time to do all this reading?