Cuisines come and go in fashion these days and while the official Best Restaurant In The World (at the moment) is Osteria Francescana in Italy, Italian food often doesn’t get the critical love that other foods do.
Why? Well for the most part is has no real countrywide examples, it’s a food world of regions. Down south you will find olive oil being used in abundance, while in the cooler north butter is king. Polenta versus pasta? It depends where you live. And in Tuscany it’s hard to escape the beans.
So, while there are regional cookbooks, there has never really been a real Italian Food Cookbook from an English writer. In a country where people can’t even agree to disagree on how to make pizza or risotto, it’s probably impossible. Go down five kilometres and even a local dish will be made that bit differently each time
Valentina Harris, who with 30 cookbooks to her name, knows more than most about Italian food has created The Italian Regional Cookbook to meet a need. Why search a library of books when you can pull just the one off the shelf. And so Valentina travels around the twenty regions, literally as she had the chance to do so for a BBC series some years ago and this book comes directly from the research she did then.
She describes each region first, it’s cultural heritage, its local ingredients, the geography that makes it unique and gives it the food and wines it enjoys. Much of Italy eats and drinks what it does because it had to, they ate seasonally and locally because there was no other choice and even today, with easier transport and connections, they still do.
It’s a book to travel through, to perhaps start at the beginning and work your way through, cooking all the way to the end. Or visit a region – Tuscany, Calabria, Sicily or Piedmont. In each you’ll find dishes you’ve certainly heard of and quite a few that you probably haven’t.
Over 325 recipes and 1500 photos, not just of finished dishes but of cooking stages as well, make this a mighty heavy tome, you may have to reinforce your bookshelf and pump some iron before using.
It is however a cookbook that cries out to be used regularly and which promises success combining clarity of instruction with deep knowledge of its subject.