The Discovery of Pasta: A History in Ten Dishes
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Italian food historian Luca Cesari admits "it's a little strange that a single country in the heart of the Mediterranean developed a culture with hundreds of pasta dishes, up and down the peninsula, that characterize its cuisine more than anything else."
What's more, he asserts, the ideas that many contemporary Italians have about how pasta should be made, shaped, cooked, and served are disconnected from their culinary roots.
So in this very readable survey of what is known about the origins of dishes such as fettucine Alfredo, pesto alla genovese, and ragu alla bolognese, Cesari draws on a wide variety of sources (documented in endnotes, thankfully), that range from Horace and Boccaccio to histories of Italian bandit leaders, and from 18th-century Friulian agronomists to Gualtiero Marchesi.
Cesari's research is thorough, comparing one edition of an early 19th-century Sicilian cookbook against another. And he resists the urge to determine authenticity when evidence of evolution is much more interesting. He reprints early recipes, such as a Neapolitan lasagne from 1773, and a potatoless gnocchi drawn from a 14th-century manuscript in the library of the University of Bologna, not because he necessarily expects you to cook them, but because they bear out just how much things have changed.
Entertaining and thoughtful.