Review: Cooking Through Italian History

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The Timeless Art of Italian Cuisine
By Anna Maria Volpi
ISBN: 0972922903
Publisher: Palatino Inc./Anna Maria Volpi
Publication date: September 2003
Format: paperback
List price: $25 (Canada, UK)
Type: Ethnic: Italian
Sample recipe: Panna Cotta
intended audience: novice advanced beginner good home cook gourmet professional
apparent goal: stocking stuffer sampler comprehensive Biblical stature coffee-table
competition: outclassed also-ran midrange strong challenger leads the pack
# of recipes: <50 <100 <200 <300 >300
practical recipes: <20% <40% <60% <80% >80%
# of ingredients: <3 <6 <9 <12 >12
ingredient hunt: 7-11 pantry supermarket online airfare required
recipe complexity: baby steps simple medium intense professional
instructions: inadequate bare bones full figured educational verbose
time conscious: outright lies speed of light fairly quick takes time takes all day
photos/drawings: skimpy adequate decorative instructive glorious
recipe results: dorm food casual food family meals fancy food fit for royalty
flavor quotient: disappointing fair good delicious exceptional
layout: ick cluttered clean kind to cooks work of art
legibility: microscopic challenging adequate clear brilliant
production quality: cheesy questionable years of service gift-quality stunning
value: ouch! a little pricey on the money excellent worth splurging
Ease of Use
page numbers: invisible hard to find spotty adequate obvious
table of contents: missing frustrating passable useful helpful
index quality: none tragic adequate good excellent
page flipping: infuriating tedious acceptable rare never
writer: hack cook turned writer writer turned cook comedian auteur
cook: self-taught non-restaurant chef teacher celebrity
overall rating: fair good above average excellent Ochef Top 100
Comments: We thought the world really, really, really didn't need another comprehensive Italian cookbook — that in a world with Hazan, Bastianich, Bugiali, Esposito, etc., all the bases had been covered. Frankly, the English-language cookbook publishers think so, too. But Anna Maria Volpi was convinced there was room for at least one more book and published it herself.

We have to admit she was right. What sets her book apart is the historical information it contains, covering the country from north to south (and including Sicily), reaching back hundreds and occasionally thousands of years. Since Italian cuisine is not troubled by the rest of the world's madness for fusion, innovation, and nouvelle-everything, a historical record of Italian cooking, recipes, and procedures has lasting value. The dishes these recipes produce are at least on par with those of the Italian standards on most people's bookshelves.

There are flaws here that are inherent in a self-published book — misspellings, typos, and certain conventions missing that major cookbook publishers have worked out over decades that make their books and recipes easier to follow. Despite drawings that illustrate certain processes, some of the directions will be confusing to novice cooks. Nonetheless, a solid cook will appreciate learning more about Italian cuisine while turning out really good food.