Elisabeth Luard

Catnip to the Gastronome

Delizia! The Epic History of the Italians and their Food

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Sceptre 416pp £20 order from our bookshop

The Oxford Companion to Italian Food

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Oxford University Press 637pp £19.99 order from our bookshop

These two books turn a searchlight on the history and habits of the Italian kitchen. One advises abandoning the ‘syrupy stories about how Italian food got where it is today’, while the other provides a scholarly guide to what it actually is.

John Dickie follows Cosa Nostra, his much-praised study of the Sicilian Mafia (scary stuff – I read it in Palermo), with a subject just as likely to earn a knife between the ribs. Delizia! is a page-turner, catnip to the gastronome, delving into the store cupboard of a uniquely rich culinary habit. That said, the basic premise – that the story of Italian food is the story of Italian cities – is open to question.

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