Top positive review
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Enthusiastic, Authentic, and Clear
on 27 June 2011
This is not the first cookbook with authentic Italian recipes, nor is it the most comprehensive. But it is the first to fully convey the joy to be had from the most typical of dishes, from all over Italy, in their most honest form. Each dish is honoured with a paragraph about what exciting memories and sensations it evokes in the author, then instructions for the recipe that are always clear and concise, never pedantic (which would be un-Italian), and a full-page photograph. And its greatest strength is that the recipes are so well chosen. Jacob Kenedy has spent a great deal of time, attentively, in Italy, and perhaps his not being Italian helped to him to be a better judge of what is most special over all; he can select recipes from anywhere in Italy without the interference of the local pride and prejudice that almost defines a true Italian. He makes this point in his book. But I think it has helped him in another way too: he has no anxiety about the humble origins of much Italian food (much of the best Italian food), as so many Italian-born chefs do. In fact his mission has been to glorify the most robust and basic aspects of Italian cookery, convinced that they are what make it specially satisfying and evocative. He is right, of course, which accounts for the success of his Bocca di Lupo restaurant. And this is also what should make this book such a success - it is a restaurant cookbook and yet the recipes will work at home, because they derive only from how Italians actually eat at home (if they are lucky).
Kenedy happens to have put affectionate emphasis on the cooking of Lazio, which is perhaps the simplest, and most maligned of Italian regional cuisines - maligned especially by trendy Romans - and the most adaptable to home kitchens abroad. It is great to see because this is food that has never had much exposure, and these days it is rare enough to find even in Rome; now foreigners will discover the joys of guanciale, fave, and pecorino, just as Romans have turned their noses up at them.
Really, it has become hard even in Italy for a foreigner to eat like this; Italian food is so often adulterated by what is expected of foreign tastes, and by the pointless anxiety of Italian chefs to seem modern, that unless you are invited into a local home, or you are lucky enough to stumble into a trattoria so dingy that it repels the average tourist, you are unlikely to see plates like those in Bocca. That is the last benefit of Bocca: it will show you what to look for in Italian food. (Sometimes Kenedy also directs you to where to find it, in different Italian cities.)
Lastly, mention should be made of the dessert section which, though necessarily more complicated, is excellent, and obviously where a great deal of Kenedy's enthusiasm has been directed.
If you want to know what it is like to eat well in Italy, and how you can eat like that wherever you may be, you should get this book.