Absorbing the Flavours of Italy: Books to Read During Lockdown

May 29, 2020
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Presenting four books by four masters of the art of Italian cuisine.

While we sit at home in coronavirus isolation, dreaming of returning to the serene waterside setting of our favourite Italian restaurant in the Cayman Islands, here are four books to read in lockdown that magnificently conjure up the essence of the Italian food experience that will hopefully tide us over until the good times return.

Antonio Carluccio – A Recipe for Life Carluccio earned his moniker “the godfather of Italian gastronomy” during a career spanning more than 50 years. He wrote 20 books on Italian cuisine, most famously his 2012 autobiography A Recipe for Life.

As much a memoir and a commentary on Italian food as a cookbook, Recipe for Life is written with passion and honesty and full of often heartbreaking stories of a life with many ups and downs.

In this book he recounts the early years, from his first experience cooking simple suppers to his sudden, and unexpected, rise to fame as one of the UK’s most prominent restaurateurs. As a prolific author and a successful television presenter, he is perhaps best known for his television appearances, including his partnership with fellow Italian chef Gennaro Contaldo, in the BBC television series Two Greedy Italians.

Over the course of his 50-year career Carluccio inspired thousands of people with his no-fuss Italian cooking and passion for good food and wine.

Elizabeth David – Italian Food David’s third book, first published in 1954, was revised and updated numerous times. She spent many months in the country researching Italian Food and it was one of the first books to demonstrate the enormous range of Italy’s regional cooking.

David imparts her knowledge from her many years touring Italy, exploring, researching, tasting and testing dishes. Lovers of Italian food admire her passion for real food, luscious, hearty, fresh, and totally authentic, that will inspire anyone missing their favourite Italian food in the Cayman Islands to recreate the country’s unique regional dishes at home.

Along with the many recipes, David includes a wealth of background that includes the histories of the dishes as well as advice on serving wine with the meals. With meticulous research, she gathered everything she could about the subject, including guide books and written accounts of travels in Italy.

More than 40 years after it was first published, the 1999 Penguin Classics edition of Italian Food incorporated all David’s revisions over the years as well as a new introduction.

Marcella Hazan – Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking: A Cookbook Hazan has been credited with expanding Italian cuisine into the homes of American cooks whose knowledge and ambition until then had been little more than spaghetti with meatballs. This 1992 book is a combined and revised edition of The Classic Italian Cook Book (1973) and More Classic Italian Cooking (1978).

In addition to the delicious collection of recipes, this book serves as an excellent basic manual for cooks of every skill level and includes a new chapter full of information about the herbs, spices, and cheeses used in Italian kitchens.

Hazan has been credited with starting the craze for balsamic vinegar, something she later said she regretted as she thought people were overusing it. She also said garlic presses should be avoided at all costs, claiming garlic crushed in a press has an inferior flavor compared to other forms of garlic.

Massimo Bottura – Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef Published in 2014, this was the first book from Bottura – dubbed “the Jimi Hendrix of Italian chefs” and acknowledged by many as the leading figure in modern Italian gastronomy. He is known for taking familiar dishes and classical flavours and techniques and turning them on their head.

Bottura runs Osteria Francescana, a three Michelin star restaurant based in Modena, Italy, that has been ranked #3 in the highly influential World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards. Massimo grew up in Modena and developed an interest in cooking from a young age observing his mother, grandmother and aunt in the kitchen.

In Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef, Bottura combines story-telling, art and recipes beautifully. It is an amazing book for anyone who loves being in the kitchen, but is probably not a book for the average cook, containing a lot of recipes that are difficult or near impossible to cook at home. But the stories Bottura tells, as well as the stunning photography, make it an absorbing and educational read.

Reading about it is no substitute for the real thing offered in your favourite restaurant in Grand Cayman, but we hope these recommended books can go a little way to help satisfy your appetite until this pandemic is behind us.