Suggested Reading List
[pc-pvt-content allow=”149″ message=”Please log in to view content.”][/pc-pvt-content]There has been little written in English regarding the food of Puglia and serious students of the southern Italian kitchen should consider the rewards of self-translating first-hand texts, however arduous.
What follows is a list of recommended books in English—with noted reservations—followed by a list of books in Italian, and then recommended reading on the subject of food itself, “Take to Bed” books.
*We’ve included the books of two celebrity chefs here, not because they are particularly well-written, but because they represent who is actually selling cookbooks these days. Serious readers should consider seeking out more well-traveled and authoritative authors, which is where the bulk of celebrity chefs gather their information anyway. Further, these first-hand texts are in jeopardy of falling out of print each time the world scrambles to buy another book featuring Nigella licking a spoon or Rachel and her thirty minute Sloppy Joes. If you’re serious about books about food, now is the time to support your favourite authors. Still in doubt, glance at any bibliography and you’ll see the same authors’ names keep popping up. Those are the books to buy and they will be the books that still mean something long after the celebrity chef phase is over.
BOOKS IN ENGLISH
The Flavors of Puglia, Nancy Harmon Jenkins
Without a doubt, THE book on the food of Puglia in English. Jenkins can always be counted on for two things: sober and thorough research, and elegant and enviable prose. Available in its last printing in the States and England, and now born again in a recent reissue, currently available only in Italy. Buy this when you’re here!
The Mediterranean Diet Cook Book, Nancy Harmon Jenkins
This book explores the vast health benefits of eating the classic Mediterranean diet- olive oil, little red meat, fish, lots of vegetables—as opposed to offering yet another “diet,” as in a “weight loss diet,” as the title may suggest to many. Worth buying, as many of the non-Italian and non-Pugliesi recipes have kissing cousins in Puglia. Like all her books, it’s decidedly geared towards American kitchens, supermarkets. European and Asian readers will have no problem with conversations.
Holiday Food, Mario Batali*
Not even Pugliese but the book reveals profound similarities between Amalfi and Puglia, both historically poor and coastal. I also recommend it for its take on southern Italian winter foods, which are often overlooked as their season doesn’t co-inside with the holidays of many.
Jamie’s Italy, Jamie Oliver*
Recommend but with reservations. For those seeking Tuesday night quasi-traditional Pan-Italian menu suggestions, this is a good book to have. For anyone looking deeper than that, Oliver’s habit for writing books without ever bothering to read one will continue to disappoint (he doesn’t even to pretend that he didn’t pick up the majority of the recipes while working for Carluccio and Rose and Ruth, in London). Still, he does beautifully what he set out to do: to provide young londonesi with the owner’s manual for Sainsbury and Mark’s and Spencer.
Red, White and Greens, Faith Willinger
It’s with great reluctance that we recommend such a Tuscan-centric book, for two reasons: there are so many of them, and that so many of them treat Tuscany as the single cookie, the rest of Italy being little more than the wasted dough surrounding the cookie cutter, what’s left there on the countertop. But it’s included both for its thoroughness of content, and for its sense of actual time spent in Italy, which has unfortunately never been a prerequisite for actually writing a book about the foods of Italy. Faith knows what she’s talking about.
BOOKS IN ITALIAN AND DIALECT
La Cucina Pugliese, Luigi Sada
Perhaps the most famous and well-respected historical writer on the foods of Puglia. His instructions, like many on this Italian language list, appear more as strategies rather than recipes, an annoyance to many that have grown accustomed to recipes in modern English, which operate on the assumption that cooking is based on the scientific method, that results are repeatable each time. Experience cooks know that ingredients, cooking methods and even choice of vessel place scientific method far from the kitchen. The less-that-exactness of such items as un bicchiere d’olio, “a glass of oil” genuinely teaches in ways that exact amounts never will.
Oltre le Orecchiette, Tonio Piceci
Salentinboca, Tonio Piceci
Without a doubt the modern authority on the food of Puglia. The language dabbles in dialect, local slang and is particularly traditional, even if his restaurant is often criticized for the opposite. ‘Scholarly’ isn’t too strong a word for his writing, a rarity for chefs. Particularly moving are his lists of similar items found under different names short distances from Lecce. These reveal the remarkably, even shockingly pristine quality of the culinary cannons of these small towns, many with an hour’s walk of Lecce. Ex. Aggiungano una cipollina a Surbo, un cucchiaio d’aceto a San Pietro in Lama. (They add a small onion in Surbo (a 5-minute drive), a spoonful of vinegar in San Pietro in Lama (10 minutes). He is wise to go traditional with his books, as he is atypical among famous chefs, the majority that see fit to “sign” each dish, making it theirs personally, rather than theirs, as part of a community. These are the two first Italian-language books to buy for any student of the cooking of the Salento.
“TAKE TO BED” BOOKS
Honey From a Weed, Patience Gray
A quirky and intriguing peek into the life of a nomadic English cook. What astounds is how much life has been lived just below the surface of the page, such as radical relocation, new languages and the adjustment to new obstacles that, to many would stand as towering barriers. Her cooking is macho, in that cowboy, bandit and sailor sort of way, gathered snails and weeds, cooked over the pieces of a broken chair, in a black cauldron, in the middle of an open field.
The Cook and the Gardener, Amanda Hesser
A sober but charming first-person as written by a young American woman charged with cooking in a French chateau, and the resulting relationship with the curmudgeon of a French gardener. Highly recommended for its slice of French life and its avoidance of cliché, even if the recipes are occasionally, decidedly non-French (olive oil in Burgundy, etc). Highly re-readable, and none-the-less inviting each time.
Mediterranean Seafood, Alan Davidson
A pragmatic, but fascinating book, decidedly not about any one place (fish are listed both European and North African names). If sales have suffered—it’s currently in its third addition—it’s only because those that have access to the Mediterranean tend to not to seek out the methods of other places: cultural inertia breeds what to others could be called monotony. Those that do seek out the methods of other places, most likely don’t have access to Mediterranean seafood. If this were not the case, this book would still appear here, just above.
Cod, Mark Kurlansky
Every so often a simple little book comes along that seems to reinvent the wheel and this is one of those books: it’s about, of all things, the cod fish, and yet it’s nearly impossible to put down. If you’ve ever wondered why Italy, a nation with so many coasts, was so taken with Scandinavian salt cod for more than a thousand years, this is a book for you.
On The Omnivores Dilemma, Michael Pollen
The food book that all self-proclaimed ‘foodies’ need to read. An alternative title could have been, What Sanctimonious and Smug Wealthy Folks Don’t Know About Whole Foods. The ‘Supersize Me’ of the ‘organic’ movement. A brilliant book. As driving as the Davinci Codes but, well, true. Where does your ‘organic’ food come from? The answers are surprising, especially for those that think that paying more in pretty surroundings means becoming part of the solution.
The Man Who Ate Everything, Jeffrey Steingarten
It must Have Been Something I Ate, Jeffrey Steingarten
Quirky, often laugh-out-loud funny, Steingarten’s eponymous articles from his food column at Vogue (perhaps the only one on the payroll allowed to actually eat). Where too many food articles tend to be escapades in the reinforcement of truisms, Steingarten actually investigates, often exhaustingly. The overall effect is to feel like Tanto or Robin along for an adventure, but only this time the objective is how to perfectly roast a chicken, or find the perfect bottle of water.
The River Cottage Year, Hugh Fearnley-WhittingStall
The River Cottage Cookbook, Hugh Fearnley-WhittingStall
The River Cottage Meat Book, Hugh Fearnley-WhittingStall
A back to the woods, or rather, farm-type, that never lost his journalist, or broadcaster’s (if you came to him through his show’s versus books) appeal. His weaknesses are that he tries to appeal to the tree huggers a bit much- cooking their fresh placenta for a lesbian couple, a preference for a mouse exorcism versus the hard-science of traps. His strength is that he is just a few steps ahead of the reader in learning how to raise his own pigs, or grow his own broad beans, rather than a true farmer that can’t relate to city folks in the first place. It’s contagious and his books appeal on a voyeuristic, almost pornographic level: ‘I wish that were me raising those rabbits in the countryside, I wish it were me that making that raspberry marmalade!’ If he aims to inspire us to eat better and take an active role in that, job well-done.
Pot On The Fire, John Thorne
Serious Pig, John Thorne
What food writing should be, but rarely is. Thorne writes in a quiet, comfortable voice about the food around him, indigenous to his home in Maine. His enviable gift is his ability to write at length on subjects that few of us would—a favourite knife, a bean pot, a family restaurant that doesn’t serve alcohol—making each seem like the most interesting subject on earth, if only the reader would take the time to take a closer look. By far the most important American writer on food in English, if only because he asks Americans to re-examine what they have, rather than instructing them on how to import, the overwhelming function of most cookbooks. Non-Americans will take away as much, if not more, especially as there is so little available internationally about the food of America that doesn’t start with a witch hunt over introducing the world to fast food.