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Sharing Gifts of Food for Christmas, by the Book : 1988’s Holiday Volumes Address Topics From Cookies to Environmental Toxins

Gastronomy of Italy by Anna Del Conte (Prentice Hall Press: $35, 384 pp., illustrated)

Written in dictionary form, this book is a godsend for Californians trying to interpret the menus of the Italian restaurants that are springing up in great numbers here. In Italy, it is so highly regarded that it was awarded the Duchessa Maria Luigia de Parma special prize for 1988. Anna Del Conte was born and raised in Milan and now lives in London. She not only translates food terms but tells the origin of many dishes, contrasts regional variations of the same dish, and makes one hunger to try the recipes scattered throughout.

Some interesting facts gleaned from the listings: Pesto is of Persian origin; chicken cacciatore is not necessarily a tomato-soaked dish (Del Conte gives a version that is seasoned with vinegar and rosemary); the popular dessert tiramisu was created some 20 years ago at a restaurant called El Touia in Treviso; an old custom is to make the sign of the cross before cutting a loaf of bread.

Americans who dote on pizza and pasta need not feel that their tastes are humble. “Good pizzas are not simple food, and they are not simple to make,” Del Conte writes. Pasta, she reveals, was once a luxury dish reserved for the wealthy or for special occasions. Although fresh pasta has acquired an elite reputation here, in Italy it “is rarely eaten and is by no means necessarily a treat,” she notes.

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The book is handsomely illustrated with full-page color photos of market scenes, food shops, a country wedding, prepared dishes, ingredients and paintings that feature food.


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