Italian Food (Penguin handbooks)

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9780140460988: Italian Food (Penguin handbooks)

Elizabeth David's Italian Food was one of the first books to demonstrate the enormous range of Italy's regional cooking. For the foods of Italy, explained David, expanded far beyond minestrone and ravioli, to the complex traditions of Tuscany, Sicily, Lombardy, Umbria, and many other regions. David imparts her knowledge from her many years in Italy, exploring, researching, tasting and testing dishes. Her passion for real food, luscious, hearty, fresh, and totally authentic, will inspire anyone who wishes to recreate the abundant and highly unique regional dishes of Italy.

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.

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About the Author:

Elizabeth David (1913–1992) published eight books during her lifetime, from the evocative Book of Mediterranean Food in ration-bound 1950 to the masterly English Bread and Yeast Cookery in 1977. Her books are acclaimed not only for their recipes but also for their literary depth. French Provincial Cooking and Italian Food were reissued as Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics in 1999.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

TWENTIETH-CENTURY CLASSICS

ITALIAN FOOD

Elizabeth David discovered her taste for good food and wine when she lived with a French family while studying history and literature at the Sorbonne. A few years after her return to England she made up her mind to learn to cook so that she could reproduce for herself and her friends some of the food that she had come to appreciate in France. Subsequently, Mrs David lived and kept house in France, Italy, Greece, Egypt and India, as well as in England. She found not only the practical side but also the literature of cookery of absorbing interest and studied it throughout her life.

Her first book, Mediterranean Food, appeared in 1950. French Country Cooking followed in 1951, Italian Food, after a year of research in Italy, in 1954, Summer Cooking in 1955 and French Provincial Cooking in 1960. These books and a stream of often provocative articles in magazines and newspapers changed the outlook of English cooks forever.

In her later works she explored the traditions of English cooking (Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen, 1970) and with English Bread and Yeast Cookery (1977) became the champion of a long overdue movement for good bread. An Omelette and a Glass of Wine (1984) is a selection of articles first written for the Spectator, Vogue, Nova and a range of other journals. The posthumously published Harvest of the Cold Months (1994) is a fascinating historical account of aspects of food preservation, the worldwide ice-trade and the early days of refrigeration. South Wind Through the Kitchen, an anthology of recipes and articles from Mrs David’s nine books, selected by her family and friends and by the chefs and writers she inspired, was published in 1997, and acts as a reminder of what made Elizabeth David one of the most influential and loved of English food writers.

In 1973 her contribution to the gastronomic arts was recognized with the award of the first André Simon memorial prize. An OBE followed in 1976, and in 1977 she was made a Chevalier de l’Ordre du Mérite Agricole. In the same year English Bread and Yeast Cookery won Elizabeth David the Glenfiddich Writer of the Year award. The universities of Essex and Bristol conferred honorary doctorates on her in 1979 and 1988 respectively. In 1982 she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and in 1986 was awarded a CBE. Elizabeth David died in 1992.

Elizabeth David

Italian Food

REVISED EDITION

PENGUIN BOOKS

CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION

THIS 1987 edition of Italian Food differs from several of its predecessors chiefly in that revisions made over many years in the form of footnotes to recipes have now been incorporated into the main body of the text. References to numerous shops, at one time sources of supply of imported Italian foodstuffs, but now vanished, have been eliminated. When it came to my original chapter on the wines of Italy I found that almost everything I wrote in 1954 had receded into history. In fact already by the 1970s it wasn’t only the variety and diversity of Italian wines available to us in England which had changed beyond recognition, it was the entire Italian wine industry which had undergone a revolution.

In 1954, and I suppose until 1960 or thereabouts, we bought unidentified—and perhaps unidentifiable—Chiantis, flabby Soaves and rough Valpolicellas, plus the odd bottle of Marsala kept handy for concocting a little sauce for a veal piccata or to add the necessary alcoholic kick to a zabaglione. Then one day, when writing this book, I came across a reference by André Simon, at the time the most revered of wine gurus, to white Orvieto, a wine of which I had affectionate memories. But all that André could find to say about it was that it made a good accompaniment to pineapple. That struck me, and strikes me still, as uncommonly unhelpful, not to say insulting to a wine which at its best has much character and which even at its worst would hardly be improved by marriage with so sharp and acid a fruit as pineapple. I realized that the attitude of French experts such as André to Italian wine and, although to a slightly lesser degree, to Italian food, was uncurably patronizing. Only the French—oh well perhaps at a pinch the Germans too—knew how to make wine, only the French could compose and cook a decent meal. The realization of what that attitude implied wasn’t encouraging to someone already fully committed to the writing of a full-length book on the cooking of Italy. Well, it was no time to turn back. At last, in November 1954 the book crept into print, predictably too late for reviews in the Christmas numbers of the monthlies. One piece of news, a Recommendation by the Book Society—unheard of at that time for a cookery book—was cheering, and eventually there were enthusiastic reviews, two of them by writers of the stature of Freya Stark and Margaret Lane. I am still grateful to those two much respected authors for their support, all the more so because although I had never met them I was aware that in both cases their knowledge of the subject would have justified sharp criticism had either of them felt inclined to make it.

The mid-1950s, it must be said, were not the most propitious times for the sales of cookery books. Food rationing, first imposed in 1939, came to an end only in the summer of 1954, and many ingredients vital to Italian cookery returned very gradually. Maybe you could at last buy veal, but if your butcher knew how to cut escalopes you were lucky. The purchase of a supply of olive oil, and for that matter even a small amount of Parmesan in the piece, entailed a bus trip to the Italian provision shops of Soho and heavily laden shopping bags to tote home. Still, the efforts involved did make cooking and entertaining in those days very rewarding and enjoyable. Then came the early sixties, the heyday of Italian fashion, Italian knitwear, Italian furniture, Enzo Apicella’s Italian trattorias, in short of anything Italian from Parma ham to Ferragamo shoes. It was in 1963, at the height of Italy-fever, that Penguin books acquired Italian Food for paperback publication, but it was not until 1971 that the same firm judged that popular interest in Italian wine was growing sufficiently to justify a paperback edition of Cyril Ray’s Wines of Italy. To the best of my knowledge this was the first English book, and Cyril Ray the first English author, to treat the subject in depth. Italian wines were at last to be taken seriously by English wine experts and English wine merchants.

Apart from a brief new chapter on Italian wines written for this 1987 edition, together with a list of English-language books on the same subject, for those interested there are much expanded lists of Italian cookery books, of guides to food and wine in Italy, and of relevant reference books. A list entirely new to this edition is one which I have called Visitors’ Books, in other words a selection from the accounts written by scores of English and French visitors to Italy from the end of the fifteenth century down to the 1980s. This list gives hardly more than a hint of the vast range of relevant books—shamefully, for example, I now see that I have omitted any mention of Stendhal, most celebrated of French observers of the Italian scene. My only excuse for that and any other omissions of similar enormity is that my lists were compiled while I was in hospital and without benefit of reference to my own books or of a check in libraries.

To my original Introduction I have made only one significant revision, and that concerns the paragraph dealing with the influence on French cookery traditionally exercised by Catherine de Medici and the Florentine cooks she is said to have brought with her to France. Those cooks, I now find, are part of a myth originating in mid-nineteenth-century France, perhaps in the imagination of one of the popular historical novelists who flourished at that period, and certainly without existence in historical fact. As briefly as possible, what is historical fact is that when Catherine arrived in France in 1533 to marry Henri Duke of Orleans, younger brother of the Dauphin, she was fourteen years old, had barely emerged from the Florentine convent in which she had been brought up, and had already been granted French nationality. All her attendants were French.

Whatever the Italian influence exercised on French cultural life in general and on culinary developments in particular by Catherine’s marriage to the boy who was later to become Henri II of France, that transalpine influence had already been active at least since the end of the previous century. It was Charles VIII, King of France from 1483 to 1498, and indirect predecessor of Catherine’s father-in-law, François Icr, who had imported Italian gardeners to recreate in the Loire valley gardens such as he had seen in Italy, and to cultivate in France the attractive green vegetables, the garden peas, the cauliflowers, the spinach, some say even the artichokes, which had so impressed him in Italy when in 1495 he had attempted, unsuccessfully, to seize the Kingdom of Naples. One of those imported gardeners, Paolo di Mercogliero, had even planted orange trees in the grounds of the royal Château Gaillard, not in an orangery, but over-optimistically in the open air. Unsurprisingly, the trees never bore fruit.

Catherine’s own reign as Queen Consort, and for thirty more years as Queen Dowager—many of them as officially recognized Regent—from 1559 until her death in 1589 did inevitably coincide with a great deal of artistic and cultural activity on the part of Italians working in France. Jewellers, glove-makers, sugar-workers, pastrycooks, confectioners, were brought from Italy by Catherine during the years of her widowhood. One of her pastrycooks is credited with the invention or at any rate with the introduction of flaky pastry, but then so are other personages, among them the much later painter Claude Lorraine, who is said to have learned how to make it in Rome. Many food historians would say that some form of fine-leaved pastry had been known at least since the days of the Romans, and I think they would be right, but equally I have doubts about the claim that Catherine’s pastrycooks made their feuilleté with butter rather than with oil or lard. One does not hear much about the use of butter in France at this period. But then almost as many legends are attached to Catherine’s name as later became encrusted around that of Napoleon. In Catherine’s case, many of the stories, whether apocryphal or factual, do point to the advanced state of civilized life in Italy as compared with that of France in the first half of the sixteenth century, and to the improvements achieved by the French during the second half. That some of those improvements were directly due to Catherine and her Italian craftsmen and architects, cooks and confectioners is undeniable. To credit her with all of them would be a distortion of history.

E.D. 1987

INTRODUCTION TO THE

FIRST EDITION

THE origins of Italian cooking are Greek, Roman, and to a lesser extent, Byzantine and oriental.

The Romans, having evolved their cookery from the sane traditions of Greece, proceeded in the course of time to indulge in those excesses of gluttony which are too well known to bear repetition here; but what must in fact have been a considerable understanding of the intricacies of cookery has been overlooked in the astonishment of less robust ages at their gigantic appetites and at the apparently grotesque dishes they consumed. Owing to the necessities of preservation, a good deal of the food of those days must have been intolerably salt; to counteract this, and also presumably to disguise a flavour which must often have been none too fresh, the Romans added honey, sweet wine, dried fruit, and vinegar to meat, game, and fish, which were, besides, heavily spiced and perfumed with musk, amber, pepper, coriander, rue.

Similar methods of cookery prevailed in all the more primitive parts of Europe until the nineteenth century, when the development of rapid transport began to make the large-scale salting and pickling of food unnecessary. In Italy Roman tastes are still echoed in the agrodolce or sweet-sour sauces, which the Italians like with wild boar, hare and venison. The Roman taste for little song-birds—larks, thrushes and nightingales—also persists in Italy to this day; so does the cooking with wine, oil, and cheese, and the Roman fondness for pork, veal, and all kinds of sausages.

When all the arts of a civilized world were swept away by the waves of barbarism which engulfed Europe after the final extinction of the Roman Empire, the art of cooking also vanished, surviving only in the books preserved in the monasteries. With the fifteenth-century renaissance of art and letters, fostered by the great families of Venice, Milan, Florence, Rome, Genoa, and Naples, came the renewal of interest in the food and cooking of classical times. The first printed culinary work, written by Bartolomeo Sacchi, librarian at the Vatican, appeared about 1474; it is a sign of the great interest displayed in the subject that the book, called Platina de honesta voluptate et valetudine vulgare, usually known as Platina’s book, was printed in six different editions within the next thirty years.

Some twenty years after the first printing of Sacchi’s book the so-called book of Apicius was printed in Milan (1498; there had been an earlier printed edition of this work undated, in Venice). This was the cookery book purporting to contain fragments of the culinary writings of Marcus Apicius, noble and erudite Roman gourmet of the time of Tiberius. Apicius is said to have derived his gastronomic learning from Greek cookery books and to have founded a school devoted to the culinaryarts. His own manuscript was in fact lost, and the work which was printed under his name was derived from notes supposed to have been written by one of his pupils; these notes were copied, apparently, two hundred years after the death of Apicius. (Having spent a vast fortune in the course of a dissolute life, he committed suicide at the age of fifty-five, about A.D. 30, rather than be forced to modify his way of living.) Throughout the Middle Ages various copies of the manuscript were made.

These enthusiastic studies of Greek and Roman methods of cooking found expression in the vast banquets and displays of gorgeous splendour with which the Doges of Venice, the Medici, the Este, the Borgia, the Visconti, the Sforza, the Doria, and the rest of the powerful Italian rulers impressed each other, the populace, and foreign potentates.

The spice trade, which had originated with the Phoenicians and never entirely died out, had a lasting influence on Italian cookery. Spices from the East Indies, Southern India, and Ceylon were shipped from Calicut, on the south-west coast of India, via the Red Sea port of Jidda to Suez; from Suez they were transported across the desert to Cairo, thence down the Nile to Rosetta; from Rosetta the cargoes were shipped to Alexandria, from Alexandria to Venice and to Genoa. At each stage of the journey there were import dues, landing charges, and transport costs to be paid. In their turn the Genoese and the Venetians exacted heavy toll and grew rich on the profits. It was, in fact, not only the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and the consequent threat to the spice route, but the ever more exorbitant profits demanded by these traders, and the promise of vast financi...

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