Cookbook review: Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well by Pelligrino Artusi Restaurants, Wine, Travel, Opinions

Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well by Pellegrino Artusi HeartHeart

Reviewed By

Sue Dyson and Roger McShane

Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well by Pellegrino Artusi is a classic Italian cookbook that is written with passion, humility, irreverence and humour. The many recipes are well worth trying even though the book was written in the late nineteenth century.
We strongly believe that we can all learn a lot from history. This is just as important in cooking as it is in all other areas of human endeavour. Therefore we like to turn to the classic cookbooks to hone our knowledge and skills.
The more we delve into it, the more the classic Italian offering 'Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well' by Pellegrino Artusi inveigles itself into our consciousness.
The development of the book is interesting in itself. Artusi was writing at a time of the forging of the Italian nation where people were looking to highlight the attributes that were common throughout this diverse country. Artusi, on the other hand, was putting together a book that celebrated regional difference and diversity. However, he didn't see what he was doing as in any way diminishing the move to nationhood.
Artusi had a lot of problems getting someone to publish his book as it was thought at the time that no-one would want to but a collection of regional recipes. Yet it was an instant success. First released in 1891 it had reached its fourteenth edition by 1910 when the author died.
In fact its popularity in Italy has lead to some confusion as there are now dozens of editions both in the original Italian and in various translations. (The edition that we have reviewed here is the Lorenzo Da Ponte Italian Library published in 2003.)
Artusi begins with a Preface where he sets the scene;
"Cooking is a troublesome sprite. Often it may drive you to despair. Yet it is also very rewarding, for when you do succeed, or overcome a difficulty in doing so, you feel the satisfaction of great triumph."
Eventually, after diversions into health guidelines and the nutritional value of meats, the recipes begin. They are divided into 23 sections starting with "Broths, Aspic and Sauces" and finishing with Miscellaneous Recipes. The very first recipe is a meat broth for the sick. He then moves into first courses that include pasta shapes for soups, soups, pasta dishes and more - in fact there is a total of 110 recipes in this section alone and most of them would sit very comfortably on today's dinner tables.
Each of the recipes is described and some have been developed with lists and measurements by the current editors.
But we keep going back to his prose and the way in which he describes the recipes.
His sense of humour certainly comes through when he describes a recipe for Polpettone (better known as meat loaf).
'Dear Mr. Meat Loaf, please come forward, do not be shy. I want to introduce you to my readers.
I know you are modest and humble, because, given your background, you feel inferior to many others. But take heart and do not doubt that with a few words in your favour you shall find someone who wants to taste you and who might even reward you with a smile.'
He includes as well a recipe for Polpette di Trippa which he says comes from a treatise dating from 1694. This is almost certainly the treatise of Battolomeo Sacchi who published "On Right Pleasure and Good Health" at about that time. Artusi acknowledges that the original recipe included raisins and pine nuts but he has omitted them from his version.
Also check out his recipe for sausages with red grapes - we found it to be a great combination of flavours.
In all there are 790 recipes in this edition and all of them are interesting and relevant. This is a must-have book for all food lovers.
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