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Italy the Beautiful Cookbook by Lorenza De Medici: Authentic Recipes From the Regions of Italy (Knapp Press: $39.95, 256 pp., illustrated)

If you do nothing more than look at the photographs in this extraordinary coffee table book, you will be that much more ahead in understanding the generous spirit and incredible variety and artistry of the Italian cuisine.

Study the book from cover to cover and you’ll want to penetrate further into the culinary labyrinths of one of the most intriguing cuisines in the world.

You will have had, to be sure, a wonderful introduction through the eyes and exquisite palate of the perfect guide: Lorenza De Medici, a descendant of Lorenzo De Medici and today an author and instructor of cooking at Badia a Coltibuono (Abbey of the Good Harvest), her 11th-Century villa in Tuscany.

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In this book, she chooses the regions of Italy as a focal point--Northwest (the region including Lombardy, Piedmont, Val D’Aosta and Liguria); Northeast (Venice, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adige); Central Italy (Tuscany, Lazio, Umbria, Marche, Emilia-Romagna); Southern (Campania, Abruzzi, Molise, Basicata, Puglia, Calabria); and the islands of Sicily and Sardinia.

You get representative recipes from each region, including the wonderful Tuscan pizza bread and bruschetta, the Ligurian torta pasqualina (Easter pie), the Milanese osso buco, the bollito of Piedmont, the bread soups of the northeast.

Not only are the recipes an education, but so is the scholarly copy. It informs readers that when Catherine De Medici became the bride of the King of France, she took with her not only the rudiments of good table manners but also the recipe for a famous pasta pie called Maccheroni alla Medici, which included among its ingredients thrushes, truffles and a sauce of mushrooms. Other juicy information: “tortellino derived its characteristic shape from the navel of the beautiful daughter of an Emilian country innkeeper; the Cardinal of Bologna’s cook, traveling to Rome with his master, is supposed to have fallen in love with her and been inspired by his love to invent tortellini.”

If any cookbook can serve as both a recipe and history document, this one is it. It’s also an incredibly alluring picture travelogue through Italy’s regions, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself at the airline counter booking a ticket to Italy the beautiful.

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