THE classic Italian cookbook has come out in English (translated
by our WebWeaver, Kyle Phillips)! Cappelletti, Saltimbocca alla Romana, Vitello
Tonnato, Gnocchi alla Romana, Cacciucco (Livorno's fiery fish stew), Mamme
Ripiene (stuffed artichokes), Ricciarelli di Siena,
Nocino... They're all here, along with
hundreds of other forgotten delicacies and clever variations on perennial
favorites of the Italian table.
But first, a bit of background:
In 1891, Pellegrino Artusi, a 71-year-old retired silk merchant, gave up on trying to find a publisher for his cookbook, La Scienza in Cucina e L'Arte di Mangiar Bene (The Science of cookery and the Art of Eating Well), and self-published it. It took him four years to sell a thousand copies.
The next edition sold faster, so he increased the print-run of the third. Then, a miracle happened: The book was discovered by the middle class. Sales skyrocketed, and continue undiminished to this day. L'Artusi, as the book is called in Italy, is a household icon, a source of inspiration for generations of cooks, a family heirloom passed from mother to daughter.
Why, you might wonder, would somebody prefer a book by a retired silk merchant to one by a professional chef? For several reasons. First, Artusi wrote his book entirely in Italian - this at a time when most professional chefs were French-trained, and their books were so sprinkled with French terminology that they were (and are) hard for the uninitiated to follow.
Second, Artusi provided his readers with tasty, easy to follow recipes. Though he concentrated on the dishes of his native Romagna and his adopted Tuscany, people throughout the peninsula sent him recipes, and he included those he thought would be accepted nationally to the successive editions of his book. Thus, the cook who leafed through L'Artusi was almost certain to find something that whetted his or her fancy. And, in the mean time, he or she had a collection of clearly written recipes upon which to build, as well as advice on serving combinations and menus. In this sense, as many food historians have pointed out, Artusi laid the foundations for Italian cuisine as we know it.
The third, and perhaps most important reason for Artusi's continued
popularity, is that the book is fun. Artusi was a bon-vivant, a noted
raconteur, and a celebrated host; he knew many of the leading figures of his
day and read widely in the arts and sciences. Almost half his recipes contain
anecdotes or snippets of advice on subjects as varied as regional dialects and
public health: While you may open the book to find out how to make Minestrone
or a German cake, you will probably read on to find out how Artusi escaped
cholera, or what the Austrian troops who occupied Northern Italy in the 1840's
The Art of Eating Well has just come out, from
Random House. Within its covers you
will find Artusi's recipes faithfully reproduced as he wrote them, with
extensive annotations to help you prepare his dishes as he meant them to
"As it frequently occurs that one finds himself unsure of what dishes to
select when one has to offer a dinner" Artusi wrote, "I thought it well to
provide this appendix, which gives the menus for an elegant dinner for each
month of the year, as well as several menus tailored for specific holidays.
I've omitted desserts because the seasons, with their various fruits, will
council you better than I could. Even if you can't follow these menus to the
letter, they'll at least give you some ideas that will make your selections
A festive spring menu:
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