by Gillian Riley
Designed for cooks and consumers alike, this is the kind of book you can sit down with anytime you’ve got a few free moments, read one entry and come away enlightened and entertained. The Oxford Companion to Italian Food is filed with witty and erudite mini-essays covering all aspects of the history and culture of Italian gastronomy, from dishes, ingredients, and delicacies to cooking methods and implements, regional specialties, influences from outside Italy, and much more. Gillian Riley brings equal measures of enthusiasm and expertise to her writing about tradition and innovation in Italian cooking, and covers an extraordinary range of information, from Anonimo Toscano, a medieval cookbook, to Bartolomeo Bimbi, a Florentine painter commissioned by Cosimo de Medici to paint portraits of vegetables, to Paglierina di Rifreddo, a young cheese made of unskimmed cows’ milk, to zuppa inglese, a dessert invented by 19th-century Neapolitan pastry chefs. The entry for Parmesan, for example, includes information on its remarkable nutritional value, the region where it is produced, the breed of cow used to produce it (the razza reggiana, or vacche rosse), the role of the cheese maker, the origin of its name, Moliere’s deathbed demand for it, its frequent and lustrous depiction in 16th- and 17th-century paintings, and the proper method of serving. Such is the scope and flavor of The Oxford Companion to Italian Food.