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Italian Food (Penguin Classics) Paperback – February 1, 1999
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Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
About the Author
- Publisher : Penguin Classics; Revised edition (February 1, 1999)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 416 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0141181559
- ISBN-13 : 978-0141181554
- Reading age : 18 years and up
- Item Weight : 11.6 ounces
- Dimensions : 7.8 x 5.2 x 0.77 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #333,883 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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For starters, it is a mistake to see Ms. David as `the English Julia Child'. While Julia Child was possibly the most outstanding teacher of cooking methods writing in English, Ms. David was the most distinguished scholar of English, French, and Italian cooking methods and cuisine. The hallmark of that difference was that while Julia Child reworked and expanded traditional recipes so that no detail was left to chance for the amateur American cook, Ms. David goes to equal lengths to describe exactly how Italians really cook, down to the marked inexactness of their measuring.
Unlike all the great modern writers in English on Italian cuisine such as Marcella Hazan, Giuliano Bugialli, and Lydia Bastianich, Ms. David not only gives us a survey of Italian ingredients, recipes, and methods, she gives us a critique of them as well. Can you possibly imagine Marcella Hazan saying that the Italians generally do not cook eggs very well?
Note that Ms. David is as rigorous about her giving the correct Italian names to things as the very best of the Italian writers, but unlike the Italians, she is really seeing Italian cooking through French colored glasses. Today, we commonly think, for example, of a frittata as a distinct type of dish. Ms. David translates `frittata' into `omelet'. Her description of the technique is perfect, something even Mario Batali would be proud to quote, but he may object to the interpretation of the dish as seen by `the F country'.
The importance of Ms. David's achievement, which required a full year's research in Italy, can only be appreciated when you realize that she was working in a climate of opinion in England which saw Italian cuisine as very dull, being nothing more than variations on pasta and veal. As we are well aware today, Ms. David found an enormous wealth of regional diversity in ingredients, methods, and even language, as the same pasta shape can be called three or four different names in different parts of the country.
Since this is a critical and analytical look at Italian cooking, it is done by type of dish rather than by region. And, the book is not intended to be a `complete' survey of Italian dishes. There are a few well known dishes such as `pasta puttanesca' or `timbales' which are not here, and some, such as `spaghetti alla carbonara' which are found under a slightly different name, `Maccheroni alla carbonara' (which is actually more appropriate, as many types of pasta shapes are done with this eggy preparation).
One of the many things that stand out in this book is how well Ms. David's personality and point of view come out on practically every page. In a recent competition for `The next Food Network Star', the judges stated over and over that the contestants must project who they were while presenting the culinary material. Like her great contemporaries, M.F.K. Fisher and Julia Child, this is certainly one thing which Elizabeth David does to great effect. I was especially pleased when she spoke of her connection to the much older travel writer, Norman Douglas. While Ms. David's biography did not clearly reveal the source of Elizabeth's love of food and food writing, the statements in Ms. David's own `Italian Food' make it clear that the elder Norman Douglas was her primary mentor in establishing her professional interest in food and writing about it at a very high standard.
Ms. David's high standards are evident when you compare her writing with that of Tony May in his recent handbook, `Italian Cuisine' where I found several mistakes in identifying ingredients. While the culinary content was sound, Mr. May, and his publisher's copy editors, had relatively low standards for factual accuracy.
A quick look at the back of `Italian Cooking' confirms the fact that this is more a work of scholarship than of a simple book on cookery. There are appendices of bibliographies on both cooking and tourism and notes on wine. One may need to be a little careful with any references, especially on wine and travel, as much in this area has changed in the last 50 years.
Short of stumbling across an autographed copy of the hardcover edition with the original illustrations, you will want to refer to the revised edition, first published by Penguin Books in 1963, as this edition incorporates most of the footnotes into the main text, as the footnoted material was largely segregated due to the 1954 rationing of food in England.
While Ms. David had several major culinary writing disciples, especially Jane Grigson and Claudia Roden, I believe the only place you will find writing at her level of scholarly criticism is from the leading modern columnists such as John Thorne, Jeffrey Steingarten, and James Villas.
You may not want to cook from this book on a daily basis, but as I have, I believe you can use this as your primary source of Italian recipes, and be all the wiser for choosing this volume.
of whole foods, prepared through the ages with regional interpretation, you will build your confidence in formulating and enjoying fine Mediterranean cuisine.
As expected, David's revisions since 1958, and Child's 1991 upgrades, have resulted in a full integration of footnotes into the text. The result is a more readable and useful version of an absolute classic. Five stars. Again.