Book Reviews

Book Review: How Italian Food Conquered the World.

The author J. F. Mariani is esquire magazine’s Food and Travel correspondent, and is of Italian origin.

He knows authentic Italian food and appreciates its attributes. His depth of knowledge is impressive, and his writing superb.

With this well researched book, except a small omission, he covers to a large extent, the history of food in the U S A, and Italian immigrants, mainly from the south, introduced their specialties. If and when ingredients were unavailable, they persuaded farmers to grow them if possible, and if not, simply imported.

Parmiginao-Reggiano cannot be produced in the U S A, and the only way to get is to import, the same applies to Grana Padano, Gorgonzola and other cheeses.

This is a comprehensive study of a very large subject, but the author manages to explain it as well as possible so that anyone can form an opinion about authentic Italian food, versus Americanized versions and false perceptions.

Mariani tells the story of chef Boyardee and “canned spaghetti”. He also tells how and where Caesar salad was invented, although I have heard of another version. I have no doubt he researched the source.

His anecdotes and thumbnail sketches of various Italian chefs in the U S A are enlightening.

For many Americans, Italian food consists of not much more than pizza, spaghetti and meatballs, may be bistecca Fiorentina. This is clearly the wrong perception.

Italian food is much more than that. It is mostly regional, and seasonal. It is frugal, time consuming in preparation, flavourful and texturally interesting.

There was never a royal court cuisine like in France or China, but rich families in Tuscany and Lombardy always ate well. Vatican clergy always ate and drank the best, prepared with great care.

This is a very valuable book for anyone interested in food, particularly Italian food, but I am wondering how the evolution of Italian food in Australia, or Canada was left out.

In Japan and Russia there are many successful Italian restaurants yet their development was never mentioned.


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