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The Oxford Companion to Italian Food (Oxford Companions) Paperback – April 1, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Admitting that no one book can adequately cover Italian food, Riley, a British author and food historian, promises to “convey the delights and excitement of the pursuit.” She certainly does this in a scholarly yet entertaining volume. The more than 900 entries, arranged in dictionary format, read like essays. There are no recipes as such, but many dishes describe the ingredients and methods of cooking. All aspects of food are mentioned—ingredients, implements and methods of cooking, chefs, regions of the country, etc. Convenience foods, Cookbooks, and Coriander are all described in entries of 2 pages. Chickpeas and Parmesan each merit 3 pages. Pig has 5 pages, followed by separate entries for the fat, head, offal, and other pig parts. Various aspects of pasta are discussed in 11 entries over 13 pages. Riley quotes excerpts from literature (some only in Italian) to illustrate the use of a food. One of her favorite writers is Andrea Camilleri. In the entry for Sand smelt, there is a half-page description of Montalbano (Camilleri’s fictional detective) eating fritters made with the tiny fish. A few small but artful black-and-white photographs accompany the text. A detailed bibliography and a comprehensive index add to the usefulness of this volume as a research tool. Recommended for all culinary reference collections, but those who love Italy or Italian food will enjoy reading it for pleasure. --Christine Bulson --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"Italian Food shouldn't remain on the shelf; instead, it should be savored."--Chicago Tribune

"Exhaustive."--Saveur Top Ten Reads

"Italian food buffs on your list may welcome a mini-encyclopedia that turns out to be almost an anti-encyclopedia: Gillian Riley's determinedly personal, quirky, wide-ranging The Oxford Companion to Italian Food".--Anne Mendelson, The New York Times

"Food historian and gastronome Gillian Riley's witty, expansive compendium deftly deconstructs everything from antipasto ("benign titillation of the palate with only a few delicacies") to zeppole ("overkill can be achieved with a filling of custard")."--Bon Appetit

"A magisterial (recipe-less) book that anyone even mildly interested in the subject must own....encourages you to read entry after entry for the pleasure of learning marvelous oddments about the obscure and the familiar."--The Atlantic

"[Riley is] a good, spunky writer who really knows what she's talking about...a master of the pithy observation."--Russ Parsons, The LA Times Blog

"Erudite, witty, and stuffed with gems"--The Telegraph

"She writes in [a] characteristically colloquial but never too casual tone, a lovely, rare style...laden...with humor, sly political commentary, and a general sense of the author's total immersion in and great passion for Italian cuisine and its connection to all other aspects of Italy."--Bookforum

"A scholarly yet entertaining volume. Recommended for all culinary reference collections, but those who love Italy or Italian food will enjoy reading it for pleasure."--Booklist

"A grand buffet of curious delights. Riley writes to entertain as well as to inform, and never holds back when there is a choice anecdote to relate....essential browsing for the serious Italo-foodlie."--John Dickie, The Guardian

"Authoritative, erudite, and unexpectedly entertaining."--The Independent

"For anyone who takes these styles of cooking seriously, these books are essential....First is Gillian Riley's The Oxford Companion to Italian Food, a fascinating encyclopedia of the Italian food world. Though it contains no recipes, it is a wonderful resource for understanding Italian recipes and how to cook them."--Associated Press

"WORTH READING: [This] new book will do more than spruce up your coffee table...The Oxford Companion to Italian Food reads like a literary dictionary, with entries covering all aspects of Italian cuisine paired with striking illustrations."--La Cucina Italiana

"Gillian Riley has assembled between the covers of this volume more useful information about the foods of Italy than is available in any other form, or in any other language, Italian included. Anyone with more than a passing interest in this seminal cuisine should be grateful to her, as I am."--Marcella Hazan

"Erudite, engaging, and captivating: an indispensable guide for Italophiles, food lovers, and the greedily curious."--Nigella Lawson

"A great tribute to a rich and complex culinary culture: the Italian. It contains all the essential information and more, from the earth to the table, within a historical, artisanal and cultural context. This is a must-have reference book for any serious lover of Italian food."--Lidia Bastianich


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Product Details

  • Series: Oxford Companions
  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (April 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195387104
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195387100
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 1.7 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #966,171 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Ms. Readsalot on November 11, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Love this book - answers any question you have about italian cooking, and in such an engaging writing style - this isn't a boring reference book. I don't know much about Gillian Riley, but I know she clearly loves what she's talking about. A beautiful addition to my food book collection - highly recommended!!!!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Simon Barrett 'Il Penseroso' on August 25, 2012
Format: Paperback
When I first got this for the Italianist in my life I did wonder about its utility; why on earth would one look up cardamom, say, let alone Cesare Evitascandalo*? Why entries for Eating Out or Cucina delle Nonne, indexed under Granny Food? But that's the point. This is a self-indulgent, slightly dotty historical/travelogical/literary/gustatory work vaguely reminiscent of David Thomson on film; one knows one is going to want to read every word - eventually. Its most immediate utility is if you are planning to visit a particular region of Italy (of which there are at least twenty listed; how many do you know?) in order to seek out the slow food (see entry), but prepare in the meantime to be led down many a sunlit byway. Gillian Riley is staunchly, magnificently traditionalist; to her tuna is tunny and sugared almonds comfits. (You might as well know now - the Italian for sugared almonds is confetti, while confetti they call coriander!) This is a book to live and dream with. It does not delight the eye with pictures - well, only little b/w ones, thank goodness; it will not meet you halfway - but if Jane Grigson or Elizabeth David float your boat you may warm to its combination of sensuality with erudition. Yes, you will need to be a little leisured - but heck, what else is leisure for?

* But lots of stuff like him has found its way into the main body of the work, making the - inadequate - index largely into a pale simulacrum of the whole. Then, to take a couple of examples, under Digestivi eight terms are highlighted (including the title itself!) but if one refers to them one is disappointingly referred back to the original article (except for anti-colerici, which is not cross-indexed, though Sambuca, not highlighted, is).
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jackal on July 26, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a very uneaven book. For a companion to food, the book has too much a historical focus - and unfortunately is always pre-20th century history. It is always as if Italian food in 1925, 1950, 1975, and 2000 does not evolve. I would have loved to get the 20th century history of pasta for instance, but this is not something, in which the author is interested. We are only told that pasta became dominant after the second world war. Period. Naturally, this begs the question 'Why?'. The author is silent.

One gets the impression that the author loves Italy and travels there on vacation, but doesn't know any Italians. There is no information about current chefs in Italy, there is nothing about 20th (or 21st) century food trends, etc. The entry on cookbooks only lists Italian cookbooks written by English speaking authors. Where is the information about Italian cookbooks written by Italian speaking authors? My guess is that the author gets all her information from the British Library in London.

The style is similar to Davidson's "Oxford Companion to Food", but that is a much more fascinating book because it covers such a broad spectrum. I wish the current author would have teamed up with an Italian who knows ingredients and what has happened in Italy during the last 50 years. That would have created a very interesting book. The current book can not be recommended to people who just like Italian food, but if you are crazy about Italian food, please check it out.
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Prof. R. Paris on February 11, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an excellent book, but not for beginners. It requires a considerable level of knowledge, but the amount of information -historical, technical, gastronomic- is truly outstanding. Kudos!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Food and Wine Diva on July 11, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It's a wonderful to have if you like knowing the origins of your food or recipes. I found it to be interesting and informative. I know you can always google this kind of stuff.....but I like books and looking through them.
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