A review of The Timeless Art of Italian Cuisine by Anna Maria Volpi

This is no ordinary cookbook, although it has as many recipes and will certainly accompany you into the kitchen while you cook. Volpi’s book is also a history, sociology, and geography book, which covers the major regions of Italy, the relationship between historical movements and food, the decline of the Roman empire, the impact of migrants, great families, the Renaissance, conquerors, and food trends.

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

The Timeless Art of Italian Cuisine: Centuries of Scrumptious Dining
by Anna Maria Volpi
Palatino, Sept 2003, softcover, 160 pages, ISBN 0972922903, $24.95usd
www.annamariavolpi.com

There are those to whom a cookbook is a utilitarian item – a tool to follow for the creation of a meal. And then there are those, like me, who enjoy the sensual experience of reading cookbooks as much if not more than using them as kitchen guides. Just as food is more than simply the nutrients it provides, a well written cookbook can provide an experience of pleasure, both aesthetic and intellectual, while stimulating the tastebuds in an anticipation of gustation which can exceed the actual eating pleasure. If you’re the sort of person who is disappointed by Martha Stewart’s lack of prose, or who can pore over a cookbook for several hours without feeling the need to run to the kitchen, you will enjoy Anna Maria Volpi’s The Timeless Art of Italian Cuisine. This is no ordinary cookbook, although it has as many recipes and will certainly accompany you into the kitchen while you cook. Volpi’s book is also a history, sociology, and geography book, which covers the major regions of Italy, the relationship between historical movements and food, the decline of the Roman empire, the impact of migrants, great families, the Renaissance, conquerors, and food trends. It makes for very interesting reading, and even while you are cooking or entertaining, it is so much richer an experience for understanding the traditions out of which a food has grown.

The book is printed on simple light brown paper with black and white etchings and hand drawings which gives it a rustic and comfortable feel. The chapters are divided primarily into regions, with specific reference to Rome, Northern Italy, Tuscany, Southern Italy, and Sicily. Each of these chapters covers both general history of the area, as well as impacts, eating trends, and modern culture, along with many recipes which are relevant to that region, from rustic bread or chickpea soup from rome (both exquisite by the way) to the Risottos and baked salt cod of Northern Italy, the pizzas of Southern Italy, or the stunning eggplant dishes or stuffed rice balls of Sicily. There are also individual chapters devoted specifically to fresh, and dry pasta. For a book which is full of good reading, there are also a surprising number of excellent recipes, many of which are classics and others which are family favourites of the author, or recipes recovered from historical cookbooks. Even the most common dishes such as macaroni and cheese, or basic pizza contain secrets gained by this very experienced cook to ensure that you cook your pasta perfectly al dente, or understand the reasons why a wood fired pizza tastes so different from a home cooked one. This is a book which will inspire the home chef, both intellectually and gastronomically. Many of the recipes are rustic, simple to make and easy enough for everyday family cooking – and that is certainly what Italian food is all about. Other recipes are for the kind of mouth opening complex banquet type of foods that will have you in the kitchen for hours and your guests swooning at the end – such as the Cassata or the lavish Timpano Di Maccheroni.

This is definitely a cookbook which will be used, repeatedly, for both its delectable and fascinating prose, and for the extensive range of repeatable and easy to follow recipes and techniques. This is many books in one but a beautiful addition to any cook’s larder. Anyone who loves Italian food, and that must be a wide proportion of the world’s population, will enjoy this book – a wonderful gift to the world from a woman who obviously has a deep passion for Italy, and its food.

For more information visit: Timeless Art

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