Italian

The Most Influential People in Italian Cooking

April  9, 2016

You know Marcella, and Lidia, and Mario. You love them all, and rightly so. But Italy is a big place, with a long and varied food history—as our Associate Editor Ali Slagle said, "There are so! many! people who have shaped Italian cuisines." She reached out to the Hotline, asking you to share the names of the Italian forefathers and mothers who have influenced Italian cooking and the recipes that you find synonymous with them.

You responded with gusto, sharing names, cookbooks, and recipes that have inspired and enlightened you on all things pasta and prosciutto:

Cv started us off with Pellegrino Artusi, who is also a favorite of longtime contributor Emiko Davies. Artusi published his Scienza in Cucina e l'Arte di Mangiare Bene (or, Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well) in 1891—125 years later, it's still an authoritative window into the food of Tuscany.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Maureen Fant is also the co-author along with my good friend Howard Isaacs of The Dictionary of Italian Cuisine. Published by Ecco in 1998, it is now out of print. I know the authors were able to buy back the rights but I don't know if they've done anything with them yet. I'll see what I can find out.”
— pierino
Comment

Writes cv:

It must be noted that at the time, Italy had only been unified for thirty years and many people strongly associated themselves with their region rather than the country. There was no concept of "Italian cuisine", it was regional...Unusual at the time, it was intended for housewives. This is the most famous of pre-WWI Italian cookbooks.

Pierino points to Oretta Zanini de Vita, "an elderly Roman lady who Italian cooks make pilgrimages to visit." The New York Times describes her as the "pre-eminent Italian food historian."

Some of her work has been translated with the help of Maureen Fant, who co-authored Sauces and Shapes: Pasta the Italian Way. Below, a handful of our favorite recipes from that book:

Windischgirl likes Carol Field, the baker, food writer, and author of The Italian Baker who has inspired everyone from David Lebovitz to Emiko Davies.

Cv also put in a plug for The Silver Spoon Cookbook, originally published in 1950 by a design and architecture magazine called Domus. The massive work contains more than 2,000 recipes and has gone through eight editions.

See below for our top tips from the tome:

Finally, Nancy included a shout out to a number of people who "helped introduce, familiarize, and chronicle Italian food in English-speaking Western countries," one of whom was Thomas Jefferson. He's said to have introduced macaroni and cheese to America, and while that's likely not the case according to archivists at his home in Monticello, he did help popularize pasta by serving it at dinner parties.

Check out what one of his dinner guests wrote of macaroni and cheese—evidently, he didn't warm to the dish quite as much as Jefferson did:

Dined at the President's...Dinner not as elegant as when we dined before. [Among other dishes] a pie called macaroni, which appeared to be a rich crust filled with the strillions of onions, or shallots, which I took it to be, tasted very strong, and not agreeable. Mr. Lewis told me there were none in it; it was an Italian dish, and what appeared like onions was made of flour and butter, with a particularly strong liquor mixed with them.

Cook your way through some of the classics:

Which Italian greats did we leave out? Tell us about them in the comments!

4 Comments

Nancy B. April 10, 2016
Eddy Servin Machlin introduced me to the cuisine of the Italian Jews. Here's a link to an article in which she describes (via Marian Burros) "distinctive Jewish Italian foods:<br />www.storylines.com/1982/03/31/distinctive-foods-of-the-italian-jews.html?pagewanted=all<br />
 
Emiko April 25, 2016
I absolutely love Edda Machlin Servi's cookbook, The Classic Cuisine of the Italian Jews. It's out of print but second hand copies still float around. A real treasure if you come across it.
 
pierino April 9, 2016
Maureen Fant is also the co-author along with my good friend Howard Isaacs of The Dictionary of Italian Cuisine. Published by Ecco in 1998, it is now out of print. I know the authors were able to buy back the rights but I don't know if they've done anything with them yet. I'll see what I can find out.
 
cv April 9, 2016
The glaring omission here is Ada Boni and her classic cookbook "Il talismano della felicità." This is the "Joy of Cooking" for Italians since its publication in 1929 and the most influential book on Italian cuisine written in the 20th century.<br /><br />Pretty much every single post-WWII document on Italian cuisine with a bibliography will cite "Il talismano."