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REVIEW (AND RECIPE): LA CUCINA

 

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 20 DECEMBER 2009 — This excellent cookery book, which is more an encyclopedia of Italian regional cooking if truth be told, has been compiled by members of the Italian Academy of Cuisine, an organization founded in Milan some sixty years ago.

Around that time, a number of gastronomically minded people began to collect and publish the local recipes from each region of Italy, their goal being to preserve the culinary heritage of the country, from the hearty rustic fare enjoyed by local farmers to the more sophisticated dishes concocted in the homes of the more affluent bourgeoisie. Each small village on the peninsula has been visited and each ingredient of even the most unlikely dish has been faithfully recorded. The book is nothing but authentic; and no short-cuts here.

Thus one can find a humble chickpea soup or a baked polenta and sausage dish alternating with the more unexpected and exotic Brodetto alla Pescarese followed by a torta Sabbiosa. There is even a recipe for the much loved limoncello, the fruity, lemon-flavoured alcoholic drink originating from Salerno, possibly disclosed by the great uncle of someone’s aunt who had guarded the secret from generation to generation.

The 928 pages contain a most impressive number of recipes, although even the most enthusiastic of cooks might find the eighteen ways of dishing up rabbit somewhat disconcerting. Even more daunting, perhaps, is the fact that this worthy tome weighs a good 2 kilos, making it not too easy to balance in one hand while giving your boar stew a stir with the other.

This is possibly not the gift to offer to the amateur cook, a description which qualifies the majority of us. The lack of pictures (there are none) and the dry, factual, although very clear way of writing conveys neither the atmosphere of Child’s sheer joy of cooking nor the warmth and generosity which exudes from Elizabeth David’s accounts of her voyages to the various regions of France.

But recipes alone are not enough, for local cookery implies local products and few readers outside Italy will have access to, let alone the knowledge of, the many ingredients in this book. Personally, I was flummoxed by lardari, cavatelli, cardoons and farro, to mention but a few. And where to buy cuttlefish, chamois (a small, hoofed animal similar to a goat), or even goat or kid itself? Should one want them, of course.

Whilst it might be fun to try the marinated lettuce alla Calabria and truffled potatoes of Piedmont, or  the braised lamb’s intestines Viterbo-style followed by the brain soufflé in kidney and mushroom sauce from Trentino, this is not the book I would offer to my daughter on her wedding day — nor to the over squeamish.

Tripe Soup from Piedmont

Wash 2lbs of fresh white tripe and place in pot with water to cover. Boil several minutes, stir, and cool in cold water. Clean again and cut in 3-inch strips. Chop 2 onions, some parsley, a clove of garlic, a third of a cup of lard, and a celery stalk and boil the lot before adding 8 cups of flavourful beef broth. Cover and simmer 2 hours. Skim off fat and add a handful of mixed herbs and parmesan.

La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy
By The Italian Academy of Cuisine

Hardcover: 928 pages
Rizzoli (October 2009)
ISBN-10: 0847831477
ISBN-13: 978-0847831470
$45.00

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