Monday, February 10, 2014

Gastronomy of Italy by Anna del Conte

Gastronomy of Italy was first published in 1987.  The e-book review-copy I've read, and which I review here, is the e-book edition of the recently released revised version of the book.  This is a book to be read and savored by Italophile foodies.  Ingredients, cooking techniques, regional variations, popular dishes and pastries, recipes for classic dishes, cooking writers, regional specialties of bread and cheese:  the book is exhaustive with information.

The information on Italian cuisine, Italy's regions, and the 200 recipes in this comprehensive book are presented in an A-to-Z dictionary format, with all the defined words in Italian, and sorted by the Italian name.  The e-book edition's Search-feature allows you to easily move through the text to quickly find what interests you the most, and to electronically bookmark the recipes and food preparation techniques that you use most often.  You can also adjust the text size for ease of reading.  There are some beautiful photographs, too.

The author sets out as her goal in the Introduction:  "to give a clear picture of the whole scene of Italian gastronomy".  She proceeds, in the Introduction, to present a concise history of Italian cuisine, from the basics of the Greeks and Etruscans, to the in-depth studies of the Ancient Romans, from the introduction of new ingredients and techniques and flavors by the Arabs, onward to the refining done in the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, including the incorporation of ingredients newly arrived from The New World.  She concludes with the unification of Italy, a momentous event that unified a people and a land, but not a cuisine. 

The variety of Italian cooking is one of its great appeals to the foreign palette.  Where many national cuisines are homogenous in ingredients, methods and flavors, Italian cuisine is most definitely not!  Regional differences abound.  The author describes these differences in her book.  The dictionary entries on the regions are wonderful summaries, touching on the area's culinary strong points.  And many of the ingredient entries explain the history of the item.

A pronunciation guide would have been a nice addition, to accompany each of the Italian words in the book, but I suspect those who already speak some Italian will have the most interest in this book.  It reads like a vocabulary list for student chefs specializing in Italian cooking.  Learning the vocabulary of Italian cuisine is helpful for food lovers when traveling the country.  More photographs would be welcome, too, and of course, more recipes!
It is amusing to read this Anglo-Italian writer insist that many of the pastries of Italy are not made at home, but only purchased in a pastry shop.  The readers of her book are not Italians, so they do not have access to Italian pastry shops.  They read Italian cookbooks precisely to learn how to make these dishes!  True, some desserts can be purchased as packaged items that have been shipped from Italy, but most cannot.  That is when the book's intent is clearly seen; it is a description of traditional Italian cuisine as eaten by traditional Italians.

The book's bibliography is an amazing piece of work, and a place for dreaming by Italophiles, and a place for the loved-ones of Italophiles to search for gift ideas.  The printed edition's index is included in the e-book edition, but the e-book reader's Search-feature should be used to locate the term in the book's text, since page numbers do not exist in e-books.  But to give you an idea of the length of the book, the printed edition has over 540 pages.

From the book's description:
Revised, updated, and illustrated with new photography, this is the seminal work on Italian cooking—its regions, ingredients, and techniques.

This classic book leaves no stone unturned in its exploration of Italian gastronomy. Anna del Conte, the doyenne of Italian cooking, defines the country's regions, ingredients, dishes, and techniques for a new generation in her comprehensive explanation of its culinary terms.

The 200 recipes include the great dishes from every major region of Italy. Variations on the classics—pasta, polenta, gnocchi, risotto, and pizzas—sit alongside Anna's recipes for versions of Italian favorites, such as peperonata, lamb fricasee, and ossobucco. Specially commissioned photographs of the dishes and illustrations of the ingredients and techniques make this a truly unique and invaluable book. Includes dual measures.
The revised Gastronomy of Italy is available in Kindle and Hardback editions.  Here are links to the editions at

Anna del Conte has authored other books of interest to Italophiles.  Here are some of those books, available via

Anova Books, the publisher of this title, has some titles that are of especial interest to Italophiles.  

A fine accompaniment to this book is the BBC TV series Italy Unpacked.  An Italian chef and an art historian travel all of Italy over the course of the three series.  They highlight the regional cuisine, explain the history, and show off each area's top artistic masterpieces.  Here is the intro to Series 3, which is set entirely in Sicily.

This review is by Candida Martinelli, of Candida Martinelli's Italophile Site, and the author of the cozy-murder-mystery novel AN EXTRA VIRGIN PRESSING MURDER, and the young-adult/adult mystery novel series THE VIOLET STRANGE MYSTERIES the first book of which is VIOLET'S PROBLEM.

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