When William Black decided to write a book about the cuisine of Italy he also wanted that book to be about himself and his family, a search for Giuseppe Mazzini (a distant ancestor as well as one of united Italy's founding fathers in the 19th century)and, above all, a celebration of Italian culture.
Black's travels took him from the thigh to the pointed toe of this ancient land and to the many islands which, out of choice or otherwise now fly the Italian tricolore. Like any tourist he took in the splendours of Rome, Pisa and Amalfi yet he also subjected his senses to the extremes of Genoa and Naples, the delights of Sicily and Sardinia and the questionable joys of eating lard and attending a frog festival. Throughout it all Black writes with a mixture of typically English irreverence, laced with wit and humour, and an academic's eye for detail. At times he does change style from humour to fact a little too abruptly and this has the effect of breaking any continuity. A shame this as he has plenty to say and has obviously researched his material exhaustively.
Throughout the book Black has included recipes of dishes he sampled on his journey; these range from the commonplace such as Bagna Cauda to the extravagant (Fiori di Zucca Ripieni) to the downright impossible to replicate (Stracotto d'Asino)and are, in the main, the sort of fare to be tried quite easily in their respective region of origin. Simple ingredients from anchovies to zucchini get the thumbs up from Mr Black and the emphasis tends towards tradition and non complexity. An adventurous palate appears to be a necessity these days for any budding food writer and Black strays dangerously close to Tony Bourdain territory with his lavish descriptions of casu marzu (a cheese made by and with maggots for those who must know), tuna milts and frog broth. Not for the sensitive, certainly, but that, in a way, could sum up Italy.
on 24 August 2004
Engaging read and gives good (but not deep) information about Italian cuisine/history and has occasional recipes interjected between passages. Brief synopsis: While the author traces his family history and links to Italy, he describes interesting regional cuisines and travel experiences. However I found the book to be a little unfocused as it zipped from Italian history /family relatives to regional cuisine somewhat haphazardly. Also, the description of food dishes are a little less vivid and appetizing than I had hoped. Overall, it is still a well-written book. I would recommend it to people interested in Italian cuisine and history.