Louise's Reviews > Italian Food

Italian Food by Elizabeth David
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Aug 29, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: non-fiction, travel
Read from April 10 to 18, 2012

Maybe I was Italian in a past, past life. Reading this book made me yearn for those magical few days in Italy, eating outside, drinking cheap wine, and eating fresh, simply prepared food.

A lot of criticism for this book is that the recipes aren't very detailed. As one who never follows recipes and rather takes them as "suggestions," the book was perfect for me. I like that David doesn't dumb down the recipes for readers and already assumes some knowledge of cooking and general kitchen skills. The "recipes" are more like small nuggets of ideas that can be used to spark creativity in the kitchen.

The book was also pretty funny in how anti-French it was. David clearly sees a bias towards French cooking from her research and on her trips to the boot-shaped country. It was also good to keep in-mind the different time in which she wrote this book. I guess England was not as international-food friendly back then.

Disclaimer: I skipped the section of the book about land meat and game, because I don't usually cook or eat those animals anymore.
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Reading Progress

04/10/2012 page 100
24.0% "I love the hilarious pokes at the French." 2 comments
04/15/2012 page 236
57.0% "Reading this makes me hungry."

Comments (showing 1-12 of 12) (12 new)

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message 1: by Ettore (last edited Apr 18, 2012 01:08PM) (new)

Ettore Pasquini Your review got my attention toward this book, and by reading a few of the initial pages on the Google Preview it looks like the author "got it"... especially the bit about not compromising on the quality of the ingredients and the simplicity of many Italian dishes. Which makes me so angry at why wouldn't Italian restaurants in the US even get close to the original flavors! It's not hard.

BTW during my recent travel home I noticed that some dishes were so flipping good they made me euphoric.... After 3 years abroad I got unaccustomed to that goodness I suppose. Oh and I did observe my mom and dad going to the grocery store and bakery every single day (sometimes more than once a day). I also smiled looking at their tiny and basically empty fridge.


message 2: by Brian (new)

Brian i missed something...you shelved it as 'china' but don't think i see anything suggesting that in your review?


message 3: by Patrick (new) - added it

Patrick Brown Ettore wrote: "Your review got my attention toward this book, and by reading a few of the initial pages on the Google Preview it looks like the author "got it"... especially the bit about not compromising on the ..."

That dish you posted to Facebook looked pretty damn good.


Louise Oops, thanks for pointing that out BP. I must have fat-fingered it.


message 5: by rivka (new)

rivka Ettore wrote: "Which makes me so angry at why wouldn't Italian restaurants in the US even get close to the original flavors! It's not hard."

Ettore wrote: "going to the grocery store and bakery every single day (sometimes more than once a day). I also smiled looking at their tiny and basically empty fridge."

Question asked, question answered. ;) In all seriousness, Americans (including the ones who run the restaurants) view convenience as far too important to want to go shopping every day. Even restaurants, which have their supplies delivered, are unlikely to pay for fresh supplies each and every day, unless absolutely necessary (fresh fish).

In most cities, there are SOME exceptions to the rule. Are there really NO good Italian restaurants in the whole Bay Area?


message 6: by Will (new)

Will The ingredients here (even when they're fresh and local) are not going to be the same, so that may in fact be part of why the food tastes different here. It's a double-bind for chefs, because if they fly in the ingredients from Italy, they may not be as fresh as they could be, but if they follow the ethos of Italian cooking but with ingredients local to here, the taste will also be different. I think an ideal restaurant would strike a balance between the two. When the dish hangs on that one type of tomato or the one type of bread, it's never going to taste like home to you when it's made with American ingredients.

I think expectations are part of it too - most Americans are used to a specific style of Italian-American food. I think there's a growing interest in regional cuisine, but there's still a long way to go. And, I think Americans maybe take a slightly different approach to eating too.

Italian food and Chinese food have a lot of interesting parallels, even though they're very different on the surface. Both, historically, at least, have an extreme regionalism (where each town or area specializes in something, and it may change slightly from town to town), and they share a love and respect for food, sourced ingredients locally before it was trendy, and I think people in both areas have this kind of sense of things you would or wouldn't do (things you would or wouldn't combine, etc.). For example, not pairing cheese and fish, or not being willing to make pesto without cheese, etc.


message 7: by Ettore (new)

Ettore Pasquini I think you are right all the way Will, especially about balancing ingredients: any ingredient, actually. If the raw ingredient is good, it's ok to take advantage of necessity (e.g. if this kind of tomato is missing, I'll use this other one, or not use tomatoes at all and adapt accordingly; many italian recipes goes along the lines of "add ingredient XYZ if you have it")... because it all comes down to how you balance things instead of (e.g.) submerging your pasta with garlic or 2 pounds of meat, which for some reason happens frequently in Italian-American restaurants.

Rivka, to answer your question, I have found 1 or maybe 2 authentic Italian restaurants in the Bay Area. Anything else may still be good but it's not Italian.


Louise Ettore, curious which Italian restaurants do you like in the Bay Area?


message 9: by rivka (new)

rivka 1 or 2 in a given urban area sounds about right, sadly. And I completely understand your distinction between merely good and authentic. And sometimes only the latter will do!


message 10: by Ettore (new)

Ettore Pasquini This is my favorite: http://etuttoqua.com/ (warning: the website is horrible!)

The other one is this: http://www.ceraunavolta.us but it really depends if it's the owner cooking the day you go... if he does it's great, otherwise it's just so-so. (I know Rudy, the owner, he's great.)


message 11: by Misty (new)

Misty I don't know how authentic it is... but Ettore, I still think you should try SPQR (http://www.spqrsf.com/) on Fillmore. It is the best italian restaurant I have been to ever.


message 12: by Lindig (new)

Lindig Several years ago, here in Asheville NC, a "Northern Italian" restaurant opened (Vincenzo's). I stopped by one night and ordered ravioli with bolognese sauce. I took one bite and said, "OMG it's really northern Italian!!!!" Turns out the owner's father had just retired from running a restaurant in Milano and she dragged him over here to cook. I used to live in Livorno Italy and was so thrilled to get authentic taste, I went often and tried everything (and got to practice my Italian). Sadly, he's gone and it was sold to new owners and now not at all authentic. Good, but not northern Italian.


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