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La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy

Italian Academy of CuisineThe

Reviewed by Mick Vann, Fri., May 28, 2010

Complete Summer Reading

La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy

Edited by the Italian Academy of Cuisine
Rizzoli, 928 pp., $45

Fifty years ago, a group of culinary scholars convened in Milan to try to solve a problem: the preservation of authentic, traditional Italian cooking. They formed the Italian Acad­emy of Cuisine and over the years have cataloged home-cooked dishes from their 7,000 members, gleaned from nonnas, friends, and family cooks from all of Italy's diverse regions. This book of almost 1,000 pages contains 2,000 authentic recipes, many of which will be completely new to the reader. Don't look for glitzy photos or food porn; this is a very serious, content-driven kitchen tool bent on preserving Italy's culinary heritage.

The recipes are arranged by course, in a very logical manner, with all parts of the meal amply represented. Peppered liberally throughout are sidebars called "Local Tradition" which explore in detail certain dishes, ingredients, and elements of their histories. Almost every recipe begins with a head note containing details of the dish, and each recipe has the name in both English and Italian, along with the region represented. There are two indices, enabling the reader to easily locate recipes by either region or principal ingredient.

The variety of the dishes is stunning, and as with many old, traditional recipes, both the preparation and the cooking methods are simple and direct. A simple Sicilian dish called Pasta for Hard Times starts with an unconventional method: smearing cloves of garlic across the bottom of the pan before adding the oil. After adding anchovies crushed in olive oil, white wine, parsley, cooked broccoli, black olives, chile flakes, and toasted bread crumbs, you have a peasant dish fit for a king. For any cook who loves Italian, this is your bible.

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