Italian food is now as much a part of British cuisine as curry. What would we eat without pizza, pasta and ciabatta; focaccia, risotto and a dab of pesto? Where the likes of Carluccio’s and a multitude of Italian delicatessens have brought us the cuisine’s taste, Delizia! fleshes out its history.
Italian food is more complex than the romanticised image of busty mammas and capricious chefs would have us believe, according to John Dickie, an Italian scholar at University College London. He argues that the cuisine of Dante’s land is intrinsically linked to people and places. Each chapter is entitled with a city and a year, and proceeds to tell a specific tasty tale.
We learn, for example, that Tuscany’s simple cucina povera, using soups, beans and a lot of dry bread, comes from its peasant past. And that, in 1974, a group of Bologna’s citizens were so concerned that tortellini should be made correctly that they filed a legal deed specifying the recipe for the filling.
Dickie’s book brings to life the pride that Italians take in their food, and the strong sense of identity that accompanies it. Reading Delizia! all in one go would be a three-course feast, but it is an intriguing and eclectic book that can be dipped into over time.