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Italian Food

In Italian Food, Elizabeth David was the first to help us understand the real country cooking of Italy.

Italian Food was an inspiration to British cooks when it was first published in 1954 - and it remains so to this day. Embracing the variety, richness and vibrancy of Italian cooking, with particularly reference to regional variation, Elizabeth David provides a magnificent and inspiring collection of favourite dishes as well as those more rarely


With straightforward recipes for meals such as Piedmontese cheese fondue, fettuccine with fresh tomato sauce and chicken breasts with ham and cheese, Elizabeth David brings us the authentic taste of Italian food.

'Elizabeth David's clear and unpretentious directions for the enjoyment of good food have never been surpassed' Daily Mail

'Not only did she transform the way we cooked but she is a delight to read' Express on...

Penguin UK
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Elizabeth David


Revised Edition



Introduction to the First Edition

Introduction to the First Penguin Edition




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Elizabeth David discovered her taste for good food and wine when she lived with a French family while studying history and literature at the Sorbonne. A few years after her return to England she made up her mind to learn to cook so that she could reproduce for herself and her friends some of the food that she had come to appreciate in France. Subsequently, Mrs David lived and kept house in France, Italy, Greece, Egypt and India, as well as in England. She found not only the practical side but also the literature of cookery of absorbing interest and studied it throughout her life.

Her first book, Mediterranean Food, appeared in 1950. French Country Cooking followed in 1951, Italian Food, after a year of research in Italy, in 1954, Summer Cooking in 1955 and French Provincial Cooking in 1960. These books and a stream of often provocative articles in magazines and newspapers changed the outlook of English cooks for ever.

In her later works she explored the traditions of English cooking (Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen, 1970) and with English Bread and Yeast Cookery (1977) became the champion of a long overdue movement for good bread. An Omelette and a Glass of Wine (1984) is a selection of articles first written for the Spectator, Vogue, Nova and a range of other journals. ; The posthumously published Harvest of the Cold Months (1994) is a fascinating historical account of aspects of food preservation, the world-wide ice trade and the early days of refrigeration. South Wind Through the Kitchen, an anthology of recipes and articles from Mrs David’s nine books, selected by her family and friends, and by the chefs and writers she inspired, was published in 1997, and acts as a reminder of what made Elizabeth David one of the most influential and loved of English food writers. A final anthology of unpublished recipes, uncollected articles and essays entitled Is There a Nutmeg in the House? was published in 2000. This was followed in 2003 by Elizabeth David’s Christmas. In 2010, to mark fifty years since publication of Mediterranean Food, Penguin published At Elizabeth David’s Table, a collection of her best recipes and articles, illustrated for the first time with photographs.

In 1973 her contribution to gastronomy was recognized with the award of the first André Simon Memorial Fund Book Award. An OBE followed in 1976, and in 1977 she was made a chevalier de l’ordre du Mérite Agricole. In the same year English Bread and Yeast Cookery won Elizabeth David the Glenfiddich Writer of the Year Award. The universities of Essex and Bristol conferred honorary doctorates on her in 1979 and 1988 respectively. In 1982 she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and in 1986 was awarded a CBE. Elizabeth David died in 1992.

Illustrations of kitchen equipment and cooking utensils are from Bartolomeo Scappi’s Opera, or Work, first published 1570, and later subtitled Dell’ Arte del Cucinare, The Art of Cookery. Scappi was private cook to Pope Pius V, who reigned 1566–1572.


This 1987 edition of Italian Food differs from several of its predecessors chiefly in that revisions made over many years in the form of footnotes to recipes have now been incorporated into the main body of the text. References to numerous shops, at one time sources of supply of imported Italian foodstuffs, but now vanished, have been eliminated. When it came to my original chapter on the wines of Italy I found that almost everything I wrote in 1954 had receded into history. In fact already by the 1970s it wasn’t only the variety and diversity of Italian wines available to us in England which had changed beyond recognition, it was the entire Italian wine industry which had undergone a revolution.

In 1954, and I suppose until 1960 or thereabouts, we bought unidentified – and perhaps unidentifiable – Chiantis, flabby Soaves and rough Valpolicellas, plus the odd bottle of Marsala kept handy for concocting a little sauce for a veal piccata or to add the necessary alcoholic kick to a zabaglione. Then one day, when writing this book, I came across a reference by André Simon, at the time the most revered of wine gurus, to white Orvieto, a wine of which I had affectionate memories. But all that André could find to say about it was that it made a good accompaniment to pineapple. That struck me, and strikes me still, as uncommonly unhelpful, not to say insulting to a wine which at its best has much character and which even at its worst would hardly be improved by marriage with so sharp and acid a fruit as pineapple. I realized that the attitude of French experts such as André to Italian wine and, although to a slightly lesser degree, to Italian food, was uncurably patronizing. Only the French – oh well perhaps at a pinch the Germans too – knew how to make wine, only the French could compose and cook a decent meal. The realization of what that attitude implied wasn’t encouraging to someone already fully committed to the writing of a full-length book on the cooking of Italy. Well, it was no time to turn back. At last, in November 1954 the book crept into print, predictably too late for reviews in the Christmas numbers of the monthlies. One piece of news, a Recommendation by the Book Society – unheard of at that time for a cookery book – was cheering, and eventually there were enthusiastic reviews, two of them by writers of the stature of Freya Stark and Margaret Lane. I am still grateful to those two much respected authors for their support, all the more so because although I had never met them I was aware that in both cases their knowledge of the subject would have justified sharp criticism had either of them felt inclined to make it.

The mid-1950s, it must be said, were not the most propitious times for the sales of cookery books. Food rationing, first imposed in 1939, came to an end only in the summer of 1954, and many ingredients vital to Italian cookery returned very gradually. Maybe you could at last buy veal, but if your butcher knew how to cut escalopes you were lucky. The purchase of a supply of olive oil, and for that matter even a small amount of Parmesan in the piece, entailed a bus trip to the Italian provision shops of Soho and heavily laden shopping bags to tote home. Still, the efforts involved did make cooking and entertaining in those days very rewarding and enjoyable. Then came the early sixties, the heyday of Italian fashion, Italian knitwear, Italian furniture, Enzo Apicella’s Italian trattorias, in short of anything Italian from Parma ham to Ferragamo shoes. It was in 1963, at the height of Italy-fever, that Penguin books acquired Italian Food for paperback publication, but it was not until 1971 that the same firm judged that popular interest in Italian wine was growing sufficiently to justify a paperback edition of Cyril Ray’s Wines of Italy. To the best of my knowledge this was the first English book, and Cyril Ray the first English author, to treat the subject in depth. Italian wines were at last to be taken seriously by English wine experts and English wine merchants.

Apart from a brief new chapter on Italian wines written for this 1987 edition, together with a list of English-language books on the same subject, for those interested there are much expanded lists of Italian cookery books, of guides to food and wine in Italy, and of relevant reference books. A list entirely new to this edition is one which I have called Visitors’ Books, in other words a selection from the accounts written by scores of English and French visitors to Italy from the end of the fifteenth century down to the 1980s. This list gives hardly more than a hint of the vast range of relevant books – shamefully, for example, I now see that I have omitted any mention of Stendhal, most celebrated of French observers of the Italian scene. My only excuse for that and any other omissions of similar enormity is that my lists were compiled while I was in hospital and without benefit of reference to my own books or of a check in libraries.

To my original Introduction I have made only one significant revision, and that concerns the paragraph dealing with the influence on French cookery traditionally exercised by Catherine de Medici and the Florentine cooks she is said to have brought with her to France. Those cooks, I now find, are part of a myth originating in mid-nineteenth-century France, perhaps in the imagination of one of the popular historical novelists who flourished at that period, and certainly without existence in historical fact. As briefly as possible, what is historical fact is that when Catherine arrived in France in 1533 to marry Henri Duke of Orleans, younger brother of the Dauphin, she was fourteen years old, had barely emerged from the Florentine convent in which she had been brought up, and had already been granted French nationality. All her attendants were French.

Whatever the Italian influence exercised on French cultural life in general and on culinary developments in particular by Catherine’s marriage to the boy who was later to become Henri II of France, that transalpine influence had already been active at least since the end of the previous century. It was Charles VIII, King of France from 1483 to 1498, and indirect predecessor of Catherine’s father-in-law, François 1er, who had imported Italian gardeners to recreate in the Loire valley gardens such as he had seen in Italy, and to cultivate in France the attractive green vegetables, the garden peas, the cauliflowers, the spinach, some say even the artichokes, which had so impressed him in Italy when in 1495 he had attempted, unsuccessfully, to seize the Kingdom of Naples. One of those imported gardeners, Paolo di Mercogliero, had even planted orange trees in the grounds of the royal Château Gaillard, not in an orangery, but over-optimistically in the open air. Unsurprisingly, the trees never bore fruit.

Catherine’s own reign as Queen Consort, and for thirty more years as Queen Dowager – many of them as officially recognized Regent – from 1559 until her death in 1589 did inevitably coincide with a great deal of artistic and cultural activity on the part of Italians working in France. Jewellers, glove-makers, sugar-workers, pastrycooks, confectioners, were brought from Italy by Catherine during the years of her widowhood. One of her pastrycooks is credited with the invention or at any rate with the introduction of flaky pastry, but then so are other personages, among them the much later painter Claude Lorraine, who is said to have learned how to make it in Rome. Many food historians would say that some form of fine-leaved pastry had been known at least since the days of the Romans, and I think they would be right, but equally I have doubts about the claim that Catherine’s pastrycooks made their feuilleté with butter rather than with oil or lard. One does not hear much about the use of butter in France at this period. But then almost as many legends are attached to Catherine’s name as later became encrusted around that of Napoleon. In Catherine’s case, many of the stories, whether apocryphal or factual, do point to the advanced state of civilized life in Italy as compared with that of France in the first half of the sixteenth century, and to the improvements achieved by the French during the second half. That some of those improvements were directly due to Catherine and her Italian craftsmen and architects, cooks and confectioners is undeniable. To credit her with all of them would be a distortion of history.

E. D. 1987


The origins of Italian cooking are Greek, Roman, and to a lesser extent, Byzantine and oriental.

The Romans, having evolved their cookery from the sane traditions of Greece, proceeded in the course of time to indulge in those excesses of gluttony which are too well known to bear repetition here; but what must in fact have been a considerable understanding of the intricacies of cookery has been overlooked in the astonishment of less robust ages at their gigantic appetites and at the apparently grotesque dishes they consumed. Owing to the necessities of preservation, a good deal of the food of those days must have been intolerably salty; to counteract this, and also presumably to disguise a flavour which must often have been none too fresh, the Romans added honey, sweet wine, dried fruit, and vinegar to meat, game, and fish, which were, besides, heavily spiced and perfumed with musk, amber, pepper, coriander, rue.

Similar methods of cookery prevailed in all the more primitive parts of Europe until the nineteenth century, when the development of rapid transport began to make the large-scale salting and pickling of food unnecessary. In Italy Roman tastes are still echoed in the agrodolce or sweet-sour sauces, which the Italians like with wild boar, hare and venison. The Roman taste for little song-birds – larks, thrushes and nightingales – also persists in Italy to this day; so does the cooking with wine, oil, and cheese, and the Roman fondness for pork, veal, and all kinds of sausages.

When all the arts of a civilized world were swept away by the waves of barbarism which engulfed Europe after the final extinction of the Roman Empire, the art of cooking also vanished, surviving only in the books preserved in the monasteries. With the fifteenth-century renaissance of art and letters, fostered by the great families of Venice, Milan, Florence, Rome, Genoa, and Naples, came the renewal of interest in the food and cooking of classical times. The first printed culinary work, written by Bartolomeo Sacchi, librarian at the Vatican, appeared about 1474; it is a sign of the great interest displayed in the subject that the book, called Platina de honesta voluptate et valetudine vulgare, usually known as Platina’s book, was printed in six different editions within the next thirty years.

Some twenty years after the first printing of Sacchi’s book the so-called book of Apicius was printed in Milan (1498; there had been an earlier printed edition of this work undated, in Venice). This was the cookery book purporting to contain fragments of the culinary writings of Marcus Apicius, noble and erudite Roman gourmet of the time of Tiberius. Apicius is said to have derived his gastronomic learning from Greek cookery books and to have founded a school devoted to the culinary arts. His own manuscript was in fact lost, and the work which was printed under his name was derived from notes supposed to have been written by one of his pupils; these notes were copied, apparently, two hundred years after the death of Apicius. (Having spent a vast fortune in the course of a dissolute life, he committed suicide at the age of fifty-five, about A.D. 30, rather than be forced to modify his way of living.) Throughout the Middle Ages various copies of the manuscript were made.

These enthusiastic studies of Greek and Roman methods of cooking found expression in the vast banquets and displays of gorgeous splendour with which the Doges of Venice, the Medici, the Este, the Borgia, the Visconti, the Sforza, the Doria, and the rest of the powerful Italian rulers impressed each other, the populace, and foreign potentates.

The spice trade, which had originated with the Phoenicians and never entirely died out, had a lasting influence on Italian cookery. Spices from the East Indies, Southern India, and Ceylon were shipped from Calicut, on the south-west coast of India, via the Red Sea port of Jidda to Suez; from Suez they were transported across the desert to Cairo, thence down the Nile to Rosetta; from Rosetta the cargoes were shipped to Alexandria, from Alexandria to Venice and to Genoa. At each stage of the journey there were import dues, landing charges, and transport costs to be paid. In their turn the Genoese and the Venetians exacted heavy toll and grew rich on the profits. It was, in fact, not only the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and the consequent threat to the spice route, but the ever more exorbitant profits demanded by these traders, and the promise of vast financial reward which spurred on the search for a sea route to India and the spice islands. Although that route was discovered by Vasco da Gama in 1498, the Venetians continued to handle the bulk of the spice and sugar trade via the overland route to Europe for the next fifty years. In those days the galleys of the Venetian merchants must have been a familiar sight in English seaports.

At about the same time as the sound teachings of the Medical School of Salerno with regard to diet and health were penetrating for the first time to England, Catherine de Medici became the bride of the Duke of Orleans who in 1547 succeeded as Henri II of France. The marriage was solemnized in Marseille in 1533, when bride and bridegroom were both fourteen years old, and while it is no doubt true that at the time the French were a long way behind the Florentines and the Venetians in knowledge of the culinary arts, it was much later, during the reign of Catherine’s third son, Henri III (he succeeded his elder brother Charles IX in 1575), that the Italian influence in the skills of elegant cookery became effective.

By 1600, when a second Medici bride, Maria, arrived in France as the new Queen of Henri IV, the French had seemingly absorbed Italian cookery to a point where among others the Venetian chronicler Gerolamo Zanetti was complaining that imported French cooks were ruining Venetian stomachs ‘with so much porcherie (filth), sauces, broths, extracts … garlic and onion in every dish … meat and fish so transformed that they are scarcely recognizable by the time they get to table … Everything masked and mixed, with a hundred herbs, spices, sauces …’

Complex cookery of the kind castigated by Zanetti would have been confined to the tables of the rich, and even then probably only to banquets and ceremonial occasions. The everyday food of the Italian people can have been little affected by the import of French cooks, and remained, as it does to this day, very much their own, based on local ingredients and traditional methods.

Whereas only the very credulous would suppose that today that diet consists entirely of pasta asciutta and veal escalopes, the enormous variety of local dishes to be found in Italy remains little appreciated by the general public and is grasped only by those who have actually set out in search of it, or have studied cookery books dealing with the subject.

The term ‘Italian’ used in relation to food would in fact mean very little to most Italians. To them there is Florentine cooking, Venetian cooking, there are the dishes of Genoa, Piedmont, Romagna; of Rome, Naples, and the Abruzzi; of Sardinia and Sicily; of Lombardy, Umbria, and the Adriatic coast. United Italy was created only in 1861, and not only have the provinces retained their own traditions of cookery, but many of their products remain localized.

In London or Paris can be found (or could be, before the system of export and import became so fanciful) the best of everything which England or France produces. In Italy the best fish is actually to be eaten on the coast, the finest Parmesan cheese in and around Parma, the tenderest beef in Tuscany, where the cattle are raised. So the tourist, having arrived in Italy via Naples and there mistakenly ordered a beef steak which turns out to be a rather shrivelled slice of veal, will thereafter avoid bistecca, so that when he visits Florence he will miss that remarkable bistecca alla Fiorentina, a vast steak, grilled over a wood fire, which, tender and aromatic, is a dish worth going some way to eat. How many transatlantic travellers landing in Genoa have dined in some Grand Hotel or other and gone on their way without ever suspecting that Genoa possesses a cookery of a most highly individual nature, unique in Europe? Everyone has heard of the mortadella sausage of Bologna, but how many hurrying motorists drive past the rose and ochre coloured arcades of Bologna quite unaware that behind modest doorways are some of the best restaurants in Italy? Alas for them, they will remain ignorant of those remarkable dishes consisting of a breast of chicken or turkey cooked in butter, smothered with fine slices of those white truffles which are one of the glories of Italian cooking. Every Italian restaurant abroad serves a dish of so called tagliatelle Bolognese; it is worth visiting Bologna to find out what this dish really tastes like, and to accompany it with a bottle of that odd but delicious Lambrusco wine which combines so well with the rich Bolognese cooking. In Venice, nursing aggrieved memories of woolly Mediterranean fish, the traveller will refuse sole on the grounds that it can be eaten only in London or Paris. He will miss a treat, for the soles of the Adriatic have a particularly fine flavour. In Parma he will scarcely fail to eat Parma ham; but if he is not sufficiently inquisitive he will not taste another first-class local speciality, the Felino salame, which is one of the most excellent sausages produced in Italy. Now, the blame for this state of affairs lies to a certain extent with the waiters and restaurant keepers. So convinced are these gentlemen that foreigners will accept only spaghetti in tomato sauce, to be followed by a veal cutlet, that the traveller, unless of an unusually determined nature, gives in over and over again, and finally returns home with the conviction that there is nothing else to be had in the whole country.

In Italy, therefore, it is always worth finding out what is to be had in the locality in the way of wines, cheeses, hams, sausages, fruit, and vegetables. They should be asked for, if possible, beforehand; but at the same time it must be borne in mind that as in any country which relies largely on its own agricultural produce, the seasonal character of the food remains intact. Although in Italy, as in France, frozen food has made deep inroads it is still happily quite useless to ask for, say, figs in January or white truffles in July. There are still dishes which are made in certain seasons or for certain festivals and at no other time of the year. Heavy winter dishes such as the polenta pasticciata of Lombardy, the lasagne verdi al forno of Bologna and the brown bean soup of the Veneto give way after Easter to lighter dishes of pasta in brodo, or antipasti (hors d’œuvre) of raw vegetables, or little crostini, fried bread with cheese and anchovies. One of the summer dishes common to all Italy is vitello tonnato, cold veal with a tunny fish flavoured sauce (this sounds outlandish, but is, in fact, a most excellent combination).

The names of Italian dishes are, to say the least, confusing, and vary immensely from region to region. Ravioli as we think of it in England is called ravioli only in Piedmont and Genoa, but it is never stuffed with the coarse mixture met with outside Italy and never smothered with an oily tomato sauce. In other districts there are endless varieties of ravioli called tortellini, anolini, tortelli, cappelletti, malfatti, agnolotti. The pasta which we should call noodles, is known variously as fettuccine, tagliatelle, tagliarini, pappardelle; there are thin, match-like strips of the same paste called tagliolini in Florence, trenette in Genoa, tonnarelli in Rome. Pasticciata is a meat stew in Verona, a polenta au gratin in Milan. The names of fish are particularly hard to disentangle. The squid and cuttle-fish family are known as seppie, totani, calamari, calamaretti, moscardini, fragole di mare, sepolini, and several other names according to the local dialect. Mussels are cozze in Naples, peoci in Venice, telline in Florence: they are also known as muscoli and mitili, and telline are also clams, which are vongole in Rome and Naples, capperozzoli in Venice, arselle in Genoa and Sardinia.

Saltimbocca, bocconcini, quagliette di vitello, braciolette, uccelletti scappati, gropetti, involtini are all variations of the same little slices of veal with a piece of ham or some kind of stuffing inside; they may be rolled up or they may be flattened out, they may be fried or baked or grilled. Frittelle may indicate anything from a very small rissole of meat and herbs (also called polpette) to a huge rustic potato cake made with yeast. Its unpredictable nature adds the charm of surprise to the discovery of Italian cooking, a charm which will perhaps replace that operetta conception of romantic Italy in which the tourist lolled in eternal sunshine on a vine-hung terrace, drinking wine for a song, while the villagers in peasant costume danced and sang in the piazza below. The present-day traveller in Italy will be quick to perceive that those cherished fantasies bear about as much relation to the Italy of today as does modern Britain to Merrie England.

The sober facts are that in a town of any size at all the nerve-racking, ceaseless roar and screech of traffic make eating in the open air an endurance test. As for the singing, there is no lack of it. In Rome, Naples, Capri, Genoa, Venice, those romantic musicians with their guitars, their violin bows which may well get entangled with your spaghetti, and their operatic voices vibrating in too confined a space, soon become exasperating … Summer visitors to the Bay of Naples and the Sorrento peninsula should not expect too much; it is not in overgrown seaside villages or tourist-infested islands in the heat of a Mediterranean summer that gastronomic treats will be found. On the other hand, there is no need to depart from the well worn pilgrim roads of Italy in the search for good food. It can be successfully sought in the small and famous towns of Tuscany and Umbria, in Siena and Perugia, at Aquila in the Abruzzi, at Ancona and the port of Ravenna on the Adriatic coast, at Ascoli and Rimini and in the Veneto, in Turin and Modena and Mantua, in Parma, Bologna, Verona and Vicenza. In Italy, the traveller who arrives at any hour within the bounds of reason need rarely make do with a sandwich at his hotel; it is, in fact, a mistake to eat at grand hotels (there are exceptions, naturally), and in any case the display of food in the restaurants is always worth seeing. Pink hams, golden coils of pasta, pale green fennel and dark green artichokes, rose-coloured scampi and mullet, in the autumn the orange and scarlet and brown of funghi, the whites and creams of cheeses spread out on a table so that the customers can choose, are an important part of the enjoyment of eating in an Italian restaurant. As for the splendid food markets of Florence, Bologna, Turin, Genoa, and Venice, especially Venice, few sightseers bother to go and look at them. A pity, for they are fascinating and beautiful, and an integral part of the life of any great city.

E. D. 1954


It is now well over ten years since I returned to England after nearly a year spent in Italy for the express purpose of collecting material for the book which eventually became Italian Food.

When about to embark on my travels, English friends who knew Italy far better than I did at the time had been ready with un-encouraging predictions. ‘All that pasta,’ they said. ‘We’ve got enough stodge here already; you won’t find much else in Italy. You’ll have to invent.’

How we cling to our myths, we English. The French, we believe, have been forced to perfect the art of cooking owing to what we like to think is a necessity to disguise poor materials. We ourselves have, we comfortably imagine, no need for either art or artifice in the kitchen. Our basic ingredients are too superb to need the application of intelligence or training to their preparation. As for the Italians, they live, according to our mythology, on veal and tomatoes, spaghetti, cheese, and olive oil.

In the original edition of Household Management, published in 1861, the very year of the unification of Italy under the rule of the House of Savoy, young Mrs Beeton asserted that ‘modern Romans are merged in the general name of Italians, who, with the exception of macaroni, have no specially characteristic article of food’. She was expressing, no doubt, the general belief of her day – and, I fancy, very largely of our own, one hundred years on.

It is now 1963. During the last decade provision shops and supermarkets selling a high proportion of Italian and other imported produce have multiplied. In our big towns new Italian restaurants open almost monthly. The Espresso Coffee Bar, phenomenon of the early fifties, has developed into the Roman or Neapolitan-type trattoria, and spreads far beyond the confines of Soho into the outer suburbs of London and our great industrial cities and seaports. Scarcely a week passes but somebody writes an article in a national newspaper or magazine extolling the glories and subtleties of Italian cooking. Every year appear new cookery books giving more or less accurate versions of the best Italian recipes. And still the general public finds it difficult to equate these happenings with anything having any bearing upon Italy itself as a nation or a geographical entity.

Italy is a place to which you go for a summer holiday. (That is very much what it would have been to me, had I not had the opportunity of writing this book.) You go to Positano, to Capri, to Amalfi, to the Italian Riviera, to the Adriatic coast. You go to soak up sun and to soak in Mediterranean waters. Fair enough. And fair enough, too, is the food you get in Italian seaside resorts. It is representative of holiday food everywhere in Southern Europe. The hotels and restaurants are crowded. The staffs are overworked. The cooking may have an Italian accent, but the majority of foreign visitors (of whom vast numbers are German and Scandinavian as well as British) would be too suspicious of the unknown to accept genuine regional specialities were they offered. Besides, there is the language difficulty and there is the question of what is suitable or in season during the hot summer months, and for people uprooted from familiar routine and surroundings and therefore peculiarly sensitive to changes of diet. So the cooking is reduced to a general level of international mediocrity. Indifferent beefsteaks, chips, the ubiquitous veal, spaghetti and tomato sauce, the evening broth thickened with pasta, the eternal Bel Paese cheese; and, in the land of fresh figs and peaches, apricots, grapes, and pears, there will be imported bananas for dessert.

Oh yes, I know those meals; too well I know them. And their French equivalents too. And every time I am faced with one and feel angry and frustrated, I remember also the kind of meals served in our own seaside hotels and in the English counterparts of an Italian pensione; then I think, well, after all, would I in such establishments expect fine smoked Scotch salmon and roast English lamb? Bradenham ham, home-made Cumberland sauce, and matured Lancashire cheese? Breakfast mushrooms picked in the meadows and bacon sweet-cured according to a traditional Suffolk farmhouse recipe?

On the whole I think it is easier to find the best Italian cooking in Italy than to come by its English equivalent in our own country.

In England – apart from a few obvious delicacies such as the afore-mentioned smoked salmon, and luxuries like oysters and grouse, which may be found and enjoyed by anyone who can, in the appropriate seasons, afford the most expensive restaurants and hotels – good native English cooking is confined mainly to private houses. For the casual tourist it would be difficult to locate.

In Italy, matters are markedly different. In the south, it is true, careful cooking is not common, although I am told that the opening up of Calabria to tourists has improved the standards of cooking and accommodation almost beyond recognition since the days when Norman Douglas wrote such thundering denunciations of both. In central Italy, however, and in the north, in the provinces of Lombardy, Piedmont, the Veneto, Tuscany, Umbria, Emilia, Parma, and Lazio, restaurants serving the local regional specialities abound. To get such dishes one does, to be sure, need to know a little kitchen and menu Italian. It is a help, and one out of all proportion to the small amount of preparatory study involved, to have some idea of what the regional traditions of cooking are and of what the particular geographical, climatic, and agricultural conditions of the country have produced.

I tried, when I wrote this book, to indicate some of these circumstances and to explain a little how to get the best of Italian food in whichever province one happens to find oneself. A few people have been kind enough to say that in this respect it has helped them to enjoy their visits to Italy, and has been a stepping-stone to further discoveries of their own. That is reward enough for the work I put into the book.

I know that finding the kind of food one is looking for in Italy can be hard work. My own voyage of discovery in that country was far from easy. My command of the Italian language is decidedly the wrong side of adequate. The amount of money I had to spend was not boundless. Neither is my eating capacity. Italians are on the whole abstemious drinkers but big eaters. Sometimes I was asked to plough through a five-course meal and then start all over again with some dish for which I had particularly asked. My kind hosts would be astonished, and cease to believe that I was at all a serious person, when I could do no more than taste a spoonful. There were times when I was very close to despair at the proverbial Italian disregard for their own and other people’s time. When it came to getting details of a recipe there were days when I scarcely knew how to find the patience to wait. There was the occasion when I hung about in Anacapri for some three weeks inquiring daily of Mafalda at the Caffé whether today she considered the red peppers just sufficiently and precisely ripe enough to make her bottled peperoni.

Another time, after I had already spent far too long dawdling about Sardinia, someone said: ‘Ah, Signora, wait a few more days. There will be a festa. A wild boar will be roasted in such and such a village.’ Such opportunities are not after all to be resisted, at least not by anyone with the curiosity which in the first place makes me undertake these journeys and which sometimes I find myself regretting. Anxiety to return home and get down to practical work on my notes nearly – thank heavens, not quite – prevented me from breaking my homeward journey at Turin in order to eat those magical white truffles brought straight in from Alba at the peak of their season, towards the end of November.

I had been naggingly aware, even during long and contented days spent in other people’s kitchens, that a tremendous task still awaited me when I should return to England. For one thing, scales appear to be almost unknown in many Italian kitchens, and neither do Italian cooks use the American cup-and-spoon method of measuring ingredients. They use their memories, their instincts, and, literally, their hands.

‘Signora,’ I would say, ‘what weight, do you think, is a handful of cheese?’ ‘Ah, now, let us see, perhaps one etto.’ (One etto is 100 grammes or just over 3 oz; I subsequently discovered that this standard reply was very far indeed from reliable.)

‘Then how much is a handful of spinach?’ ‘One bunch.’

For liquid measurements there were bowls, glasses, cups: each cook using vessels of different sizes and capacity. Some of my recipes I had in fact worked out on the spot, but all, in any case, had to be cooked with ingredients as far as possible available in England.

And rationing was still with us.

Eggs, butter and cream were scarce. (At one time I was buying turkey eggs at 1s. 3d. apiece for my experiments.*) With meat, it was not only a question of the restricted quantity: cuts were often unidentifiable – they were hunks of meat designated as suitable for roasting, frying, grilling, or stewing. To ask your butcher for special cuts (and foreign ones at that) was to ask also for a sardonic laugh or a counter-request to remove your registration elsewhere.

In Soho, but almost nowhere else, such things as Italian pasta and Parmesan cheese, olive oil, salame, and occasionally Parma ham were to be had. There too Italian rice, Tuscan haricot beans, chick peas, and brown lentils were beginning to come back. In the rest of the country such commodities were all but unobtainable. With southern vegetables such as aubergines, red and green peppers, fennel, the tiny marrows called by the French courgettes and in Italy zucchini, much the same situation prevailed. The only cream cheeses at all possible for cooking, unless you made your own – and milk was still rationed – were the French Gervais and a Scandinavian boxed product. Meat stock, fresh herbs such as basil and tarragon, and for that matter even dried ones, and minor ingredients such as pine nuts and various spices were stumbling blocks. Flour was of very poor quality, bad for sauces, inadequate for pasta, and worse for pastry.

Writing of the feelings of authors towards their own work, Mr Raymond Mortimer once observed that they usually prefer, perhaps wrongly, the book which has given them the most trouble.

That this book was uncommonly troublesome cannot be denied. But I do not think that was the only reason that I felt, and feel, less detached from it than from any other work I have done before or since.

Italy was a country to which I had come long after Provence and Greece had put me under lasting spells. Towards Italy I felt more critical, my emotions were less engaged. It was possibly for this reason that the sense of discovery which in the end Italian cooking brought me was so potent. As recipe after recipe came out and I realized how much I was learning, and how enormously these dishes were enlarging my own scope and enjoyment, the fever to communicate them grew every day more urgent.

How wrong they had been, all those pessimists, from Mrs Beeton down to my own contemporaries. Where had they been looking? Had they been looking at all? Invent indeed. I had so much material that a vast deal had to be rejected. (Anyone who truly knows Italy and Italian food will know also that this is nothing but the truth.) What I kept were mainly those recipes which would, I believed, be of use in our own kitchens when normal conditions returned. Those I thought entirely unpractical or hopeless to attempt in England I confined to references or descriptions. Even so, when finally I delivered my typescript to my publishers they looked at it coldly. I had been a long time about it – it was twice as long as they had been led to expect … paper shortage … printing costs … they hoped the expenditure would be justified.

I hoped so too. And went home to a house empty, divested of the evidence of two years’ work.

The whole Italian project was relegated to the back of my mind. During the long months while the typescript was going through the first stages of production and printing, I occupied myself with work on another and less taxing book.

As I have already mentioned on page viii, reviewers were unimaginably kind and welcoming. (So far as I remember only one expressed the view that Italian food should be left to the Italians and we to our puddings and cabbage.)

When Mr Evelyn Waugh, a writer whose books have given me more pleasure than I have powers to acknowledge, actually named this book in the Sunday Times as one of the two which in the year 1954 had given him the most pleasure I was, and still am, stunned by the compliment and by Mr Waugh’s tolerance of my amateur’s efforts at writing.

Do not think I wish to imply that criticisms, queries, and corrections from readers did not come in. They did and do. I do not think there is one which has not been enlightening, constructive, and encouraging. It is in view of such criticisms and requests for more detailed explanations, and in the light of ten years’ further cooking experience, as well as in consideration of conditions much changed during these ten years, that I have made some highly necessary revisions to my recipes and instructions.

Because so many of the recipes have become trusted familiars in my own kitchen, some have evolved over the years, as recipes do, into something rather different from the originals; most of my revisions have been made in the form of footnotes.*

This is, I think, a book for those readers and cooks who prefer to know what the original dishes are supposed to be like, and to be given the option of making their own adaptations and alterations according to their taste and their circumstances. There is, I know, a school of writers who seem to believe that English housewives are weak in the head and must not be exposed to the truth about the cooking of other countries; must not be shocked by the idea of making a yeast dough, cleaning an inkfish, adding nutritive value to a soup with olive oil, cutting the breast off a raw chicken in order to fry it in butter rather than buying a packet of something called ‘chicken parts’ from the deep-freeze and cooking them in a cheap fat or tasteless oil substitute.

If I believed that English women really needed this kind of protection – censorship it almost amounts to – I would have packed in cookery writing long ago.

What I in fact believe is that the English are now more creative and inquiring about cooking than they have ever been before. I am sure that they are – and rightly so – annoyed and exasperated when recipes for celebrated foreign specialities dished out to them in books, magazines, and newspapers prove to be false. As I write this, I have just come across, in a respected monthly magazine, a recipe for a risotto made with twice-cooked Patna rice and a tin of tomato soup. What way is that of enlarging our knowledge and arousing our interest? Minestrone, that hefty, rough-and-ready, but nutritionally sound traditional midday soup of northern Italian agricultural and manual workers, features frequently in such publications. Often the readers are told that it can be made with some such ingredients as a bouillon cube, a tin of chicken noodle soup, and a few frozen french beans. A crumpet or a made-up scone-mix spread with tomato purée and a slice of processed cheese turns up regularly as a Neapolitan pizza.

I can’t help wondering how we should feel if Italian cookery writers were to retaliate by asserting that a Welsh rarebit is made with polenta cakes and Gorgonzola, or steak and kidney pudding with veal and tomatoes and a covering of macaroni. The point is, how far can you go in attaching the names of internationally known specialities to concoctions which have only the flimsiest relation to the originals? To what extent can you rely on the ignorance of your readers to get away with the practice? Should that ignorance be exploited in the cause of selling some nationally advertised ingredient? Should it be exploited at all?

Adaptations do of course have to be made, alternatives to the original ingredients sometimes used. Knowledge, they say, is power. Knowledge, as Norman Douglas observed, is also fun. Knowledge in the case in point helps one to discriminate in the matter of deciding what is or is not an acceptable substitute or alternative in a recipe.

In London and in other big cities, or in any town or village where there are enterprising delicatessen stores and enlightened greengrocers, such manipulation of recipes may these days indeed be unnecessary. I have also taken into consideration that there are still many towns and country areas where no such shops exist, where imported vegetables are still rare, fresh herbs other than parsley unknown, and even such commodities as Italian pasta and rice hard to come by. For these reasons I have left as I wrote them ten years ago the suggestions I then made as to ways of getting round the difficulties. (Some cannot be got round. In those cases best leave the recipes alone; there are still very many for which quite everyday ingredients only are required.) Here and there I have appended a footnote to the effect that I no longer entirely agree with what I thought in 1953, or in some cases that there are now better alternatives than those of that far-off period.

For the rest, I do ask, although diffidently, that readers unfamiliar with Italian ingredients, or in doubt as to what to buy, should summon up the courage and the patience to have a look at the chapter in this book which is entitled The Italian Store Cupboard, as well as at the introductory pages to each section of recipes.

E. D. 1963

Various cooking vessels. Top two rows are tart pans, shallow and deep. Their covers, designed to hold coals so that the pastry cooked between two fires, are in row four. Rows three and five show boiling pots, a colander and, far right, a pan for fried eggs. Bottom row, cauldrons.


The difficulties of reproducing Italian cooking abroad are much the same as the difficulties attendant upon any good cooking outside its country of origin, and usually they can be overcome.

Italians, unlike the thrifty French, are very extravagant with raw materials. Butter, cheese, oil, the best cuts of meat, chicken and turkey breasts, eggs, chicken and meat broth, raw and cooked ham are used not so much with reckless abandon as with a precise awareness of what good quality does for the cooking.

In most Italian households the marketing is done twice a day. Everything is freshly cooked for every meal. What the Italian kitchen misses in the form of concentrated meat glazes, fumets of fish and game, the fonds de cuisine of the French, it makes up for in the extreme freshness and lavishness of its raw materials. It is worth bearing in mind that when an Italian has not the where-withal to cook one of the traditional extravagant dishes she doesn’t attempt to produce an imitation. No amount of propaganda could persuade her to see the point of making, let us say, a steak and kidney pudding with tinned beef and no kidneys, neither would she bother to make a ravioli stuffing with leftovers, because the results would not at all resemble the dish as it should be, and would therefore be valueless. So her method would be to produce some attractive and nourishing little dish out of two ounces of cheese and a slice of ham, or a pound of spinach and a couple of eggs. A hefty pizza made of bread dough and baked in the oven with tomatoes, cheese and herbs costs very little and is comforting, savoury food. Gnocchi made of potatoes, or of semolina flour, or of spinach and ricotta (fresh white sheep’s milk cheese*), are cheap and easy to make, so are little envelopes of paste containing slices of cheese and mortadella sausage, and mozzarella in carrozza, a fried cheese sandwich. Because Parmesan cheese is expensive, many people eat their spaghetti in the rough-and-ready but extremely good Neapolitan way, with olive oil and garlic. From such methods I believe we could learn much of value from the Italians. Not that Italian cookery is without its faults. The excessive use of cheese, the too frequent appearance of tomato sauce, the overworking of the frying pan (expert as Italian cooks are with it), too heavy a hand with powerful herbs, are some of the points at which fault could be found with the Italian kitchen.

There is no reason, however, why we should not combine the best which it has to offer (and the best in Italy is extremely good) with materials at our disposal in this country. The number of different ways of making use, for example, of a small quantity of veal is astounding. (I have given a dozen such recipes in this book, and there are plenty more.) We could benefit from Italian methods of frying and grilling fish; and as we have not one single fish soup in common use in this country, could we not invent one? Again, once the delicate flavour of genuine Bolognese or Parma stuffings for anolini or cappelletti have been compared with the coarse mixtures contained in bought ravioli, the idea of making these things at home cannot fail to appeal.

The delicacy and intrinsic goodness of the simplest white risotto eaten only with Parmesan cheese and good fresh butter will also quickly be appreciated. Tied as we are by tradition in the matter of the roast turkey, we complain that it is a dull and dry bird, but continue to eat it cooked in the same way; the Italian fashion of cooking the breast with butter, ham and cheese will be a revelation. Home-made cream cheese can be turned to good account in twenty different dishes in the Italian manner. To make pasta at home may sound a formidable undertaking, but if any Italian peasant girl can make it without effort we should presumably be able, after two or three attempts, to master the technique. And now of course pasta machines, whether hand-operated or electrically powered, are easily obtainable.

Some interesting sidelights emerge from a study of Italian cooking. The beautiful colours of their food is one most characteristic point. The vivid scarlet dishes of the south, the tomato sauce and the pimentos, the oranges and pinks of fish soups, the red and white of a Neapolitan pizza, contrast strikingly with the unique green food of central and northern Italy; the spinach gnocchi of Tuscany, the lasagne verdi of Bologna, the green pesto sauce of Genoa, the green peas and rice of the Veneto, green artichokes in pies, in omelettes, in salads; the green and yellow marbled stuffings of rolled beef and veal dishes – such food can scarcely fail to charm. Then there is the point of the endless hours Italian cooks are willing to spend over the pounding of intricate stuffings and sauces, and the startling rapidity with which the actual cooking is carried out (five minutes in boiling water for the ravioli, into the frying pan and out with the polpette, the crocchette and the frittelle which have been most patiently chopped, sieved, and rolled out on the pastry board).

The seemingly deliberate misunderstanding by French cooks of Italian food is another curious point. ‘Two tablespoons of rice for a risotto for four’; ‘the Milanese like their rice half-cooked’ – one reads with astonishment such instructions from otherwise irreproachable French cookery books. Ali-Bab, in his monumental work Gastronomie Pratique, falls into the common trap of asserting that ‘poultry and butcher’s meats are (in Italy) frankly mediocre’, and ‘the most common vegetables are broccoli and fennel’. It is scarcely to be wondered at that in their turn a good many Italians just jeer at French cooking (French dishes are rarely well cooked in Italy), although they make a mistake in deriding the slowly simmered, patiently amalgamated dishes of wine, meat, and vegetables which play such an important part in the marvellous regional food of France. There are long-cooked meat dishes in the Italian kitchen, and soups containing haricot beans or chick peas which must be cooked for several hours; but on the whole Italian cooks neither like nor understand these methods. As I have already sufficiently explained, quality and freshness of flavour are the all-important elements in Italian cooking; and in describing the dishes in this book I have deviated as little as possible from the correct ingredients and quantities, so that the food may retain its authentic flavour.




SWEET BASIL (Lat. ocymum basilium, It. basilico). Why is this lovely aromatic herb now so rare in England? It is true that it needs sunshine and a certain amount of care in cultivation, but I have myself grown it with success even in boxes on a London roof. It was introduced into England in the sixteenth century and evidently flourished, for English herbalists, among them Tusser (Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry, 1577), Parkinson (The Earthly Paradise, 1629), and Culpeper (The English Physitian, 1652), appear to take its presence in the herb garden for granted, although it was employed for perfumes and as a strewing herb rather than in the kitchen. Its only traditional use in English cooking is as an ingredient of turtle soup, so presumably it must have been common during the nineteenth century.

Basil has a deliciously spicy and aromatic scent, and is worth growing for that reason alone. In Italy basil leaves are used a great deal to flavour tomato sauce, salads, and soups, especially in the south, and are essential to the marvellous Genoese pesto, perhaps the best sauce yet invented for all kinds of pasta.

Nothing can replace the lovely flavour of this herb. If I had to choose just one plant from the whole herb garden I should be content with basil. Norman Douglas, who had a great fondness for this herb, would never allow his cook to chop the leaves or even to cut them with scissors; they must be gently torn up, he said, or the flavour would be spoilt. I never agreed with him on this point, for the pounding of basil seems, on the contrary, to bring out its flavour. Possibly he had been influenced by the legend, which I discovered only after it was too late to ask him, that ‘the properties of that hearbe was that being gently handled it gave a pleasant smell but being hardly wrung and bruised would breed scorpions … it is also observed that scorpions doe much rest and abide under those pots and vessels wherein Basill is planted’ (Parkinson’s Earthly Paradise, 1629).

Dried basil is an improvement on no basil at all, but it cannot be used in the making of pesto or in salads. Buy it in small quantities. Dried herbs bought in enormous jars go stale.

Besides the ordinary sweet basil the Italians grow a giant variety called basilico a foglie di lattughe, lettuce-leaved basil.

WILD MARJORAM (Lat. origanum vulgare, It. origano). Although this herb grows wild on the South Downs, it is seldom used for cooking in England. In Italy, where its scent is stronger than the English variety, it is a characteristic flavouring of many dishes, particularly of the pizza Napoletana; it grows, says Professor Ghinelli (Le Conserve di Came, Parma, 1950), in uncultivated areas and in poor and arid soil. Freshly picked from the scrubby hillsides of the south, it scents the kitchens where it is hung up to dry, and has an unmistakable flavour, quite distinct from that of sweet marjoram. Dried, it is sold in little sausage-like cellophane bags all over Italy and is a passable substitute for the home-dried herb. The riganì which is used in Greece to flavour mutton kebabs is still another variety, origanum dubium, of which the dried flowers have a far more powerful scent than the leaves of the Italian plant.

SWEET MARJORAM (Lat. origanum majorana, It. maggiorana) can be used instead of origano, and in Italy goes into soups, stews, and fish dishes.

SAGE (Lat. salvia officinalis, It. salvia) is used a good deal in Italian cookery, particularly with veal and calf’s liver. I find its musty dried-blood smell overpowering, and prefer to use in its place mint or basil. Most English people are accustomed to it, however, from having so frequently eaten pork, or duck, or goose as a background to sage and onion stuffing.

THYME (Lat. thymus vulgaris, It. timo) is used less in Italy than in France, but in English kitchens it often has to serve as a substitute for marjoram or origano. Wild thyme from the downs has the most lovely scent and flavour. Lemon thyme is worth cultivating in gardens.

MINT (Lat. mentha viridis, It. menta) and PEPPERMINT (Lat. mentha peperita, It. mentuccia, menta Romana) are used a good deal in Roman cooking, with vegetables, fish, in salads and soups. Anyone who has walked among the ghostly ruins of Ostia Antica will remember the haunting scent of the wild mint which rises from the ground, for one cannot help treading it underfoot. In Florence there is a slightly different variety called locally nepitella. (The mint tribe is notoriously difficult to classify.) Since all mints retain their flavour well when dried, they should be used more liberally in the kitchen, with all manner of dishes. Try mint, for example, with stewed mushrooms.

ROSEMARY (Lat. rosmarinus officinalis, It. rosmarino). Italians are inordinately fond of rosemary. It is an essential flavouring of abbacchio, the roast baby lamb of which the Romans are so fond, and of porchetta, roast sucking pig. In the market of Florence rolled fillets of pork are most exquisitely tied up ready for roasting, adorned, almost embroidered, with rosemary. They overdo it, to my way of thinking. Rosemary has great charm as a plant but in cookery is a treacherous herb. The oil which comes from the leaves is very powerful and can kill the taste of any meat. Finding those spiky little leaves in one’s mouth is not very agreeable, either. Dried, it loses some of its strength, but should still be treated with caution.

FENNEL (Lat. foeniculum dulce, It. finocchio). The bulbous root stem of the Florentine fennel has an aniseed flavour and is eaten both raw and cooked. In Italy it is often served raw at the end of a meal instead of fruit, as well as at the beginning, seasoned with oil and salt. The leaves, which are used so much in the South of France for flavouring fish and fish soups, are not commonly employed in Italy, but both the stalks and leaves of wild fennel (foeniculum vulgare) are chopped up with garlic and used as a stuffing for roast sucking pig as cooked in Umbria, with excellent results. An improvement on the rosemary of Rome.

FENNEL SEEDS (It. semi di finocchio) go into a number of sausages, particularly finocchiona, the Florentine salame, which to my taste is one of the two best in Italy (the other one being Felino, from the province of Parma). Fennel seeds are also used to flavour the delicious dried figs of Bari.

CELERY (Lat. apium graveolens, It. sedano). The leaves as well as the stalks of celery, with carrot and onion, form the basic soup vegetables of most Italian cooking. It is rarely served raw, possibly because it appears to be mostly of a rather stringy and thin growth.

Turner, in his Herbal of 1538, says of celery: ‘The first I ever saw was in the Venetian Ambassador’s garden in the spittle yard, near Bishop’s Gate Streete.’

PARSLEY (Lat. petroselinum sativum, It. prezzemolo) is said to have been originally a native of Sardinia. A great deal of parsley goes into Italian soups and salads. With garlic and anchovies it is chopped for the stuffing of aubergines, pimentos, small marrows, onions.

The flat-leaved parsley commonly used in Italy is more aromatic than our English curled parsley, and in England is often to be found in the shops of greengrocers specializing in Cypriot, Greek and Indian products.

TARRAGON (Lat. artemisia dracunculus, It. dragoncello, serpentaria). The only region of Italy where I have found tarragon in common use is Siena. In that town it is used to flavour stewed and stuffed artichokes, and if asked for will be put into salads or cooked with sole in the Sienese restaurants.

It is always a battle to get plants of the true French tarragon out of nurserymen, but it can be achieved, and if planted in light soil with room to root deeply it seems to grow quite well.

BAY LEAVES (Lat. laurus nobilis, It. alloro, lauro). Everyone who has a garden, however small, can find room for a little bay tree, if only in a wooden tub. Bay trees must be well watered and carefully cherished. An ailing bay tree is a woebegone sight, and according to Italian tradition the withering of a bay tree is a bad omen. Certainly in 1629, as reported by John Evelyn, all the bay trees in the garden of the University of Padua died, and soon afterwards the town was struck with a fearful pestilence; but the tradition must have been well established long before that, for Shakespeare refers to it in that foreboding line spoken by the Welsh captain in Richard II: ‘The bay trees in our country are all withered.’ This same event was recorded by Holinshed in 1399 (the year of Richard’s downfall): ‘Throughout all the realme of England, old baie trees withered, and afterwards, contrarie to all men’s thinking, grew greene againe; a strange sight, and supposed to import some unknown event.’

In Italian cooking bay leaves are used in the same way as in France and England – in soups, stews, and in the brine for salted food.

A freshly picked bay leaf gives out a strange scent, bitter and aromatic, with something of both vanilla and nutmeg, and can be boiled in the milk for a béchamel sauce or a sweet cream with good results. To extract a stronger flavour from dry bay leaves, mince them up very fine before putting them in a soup.

MYRTLE (It. mirto). Myrtle grows all over the stony hillsides of Sardinia, right down to the sandy beaches, and Sardinians are fond of flavouring their food with it. Sprigs of myrtle are wreathed round the roast baby pig (porceddù), which is so good in the rosticcerie of Cagliari and Sassari, and the old peasant women who bring herbs to the market offer bunches of myrtle for sale, as well as fennel, marjoram, parsley, bay leaves, wild mint, and basil. A Sardinian delicacy called tàccula consists of roasted thrushes or blackbirds stuffed while they are still hot into little bags lined with myrtle leaves and left until they have absorbed the scent of the myrtle. In some parts of the island the country people even make oil from the ripe berries of the myrtle (this is forbidden, but Sardinians are not notably law-abiding), and they claim that this myrtle oil is far superior to olive oil for frying fish.

BORAGE (Lat. borago officinalis, It. boraggine). Borage has always been said to have exhilarating properties, and to give courage, which no doubt accounts for its traditional use in wine cups. In and around Genoa, but so far as I know nowhere else in Italy, borage is used in a stuffing for ravioli, and the leaves are also made into fritters. Borage grows wild on the chalk soil of the Sussex Downs, and occasionally one comes across little bunches of it for sale in London greengrocers’ shops. It withers very rapidly. Lady Rosalind Northcote (The Book of Herbs, 1912) says that ‘bees love borage and it yields excellent honey’. It has a pronounced flavour of cucumber, and is delicious when finely chopped and mixed into freshly made cream cheese.

JUNIPER (It. ginepro). The Italians often put juniper berries into stuffings for game; they have an aromatic-bitter scent, which greatly enhances the flavour of any bird which in the process of transport or cold storage may have become dry or a little flavourless. Juniper berries are also excellent with pork and mutton. They can be bought at Harrods, Selfridges, in Soho shops, and in the many establishments now specializing in Indian and Chinese provisions and spices.



The great galleys of Venice and Florence

Be well laden with things of complacence;

All spicerye and of grocers ware

With sweet wines; all manner of fare …

Adam de Molyneux, Bishop of Chichester (d. 1450)

The use of spices in Italian cooking dates back to the Romans. The prosperity of the Venetian and Genoese republics, and to a certain extent that of Florence, was founded on the handling of the spices which reached Italian ports by the overland route from the East. From Italy they were distributed throughout Europe (England and Flanders being supplied by the Venetian merchant fleet). Tomasso Garzoni, listing the herbs and spices in use in sixteenth-century Venice, mentions cloves, pepper, saffron, cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander, mustard, fennel, basil, parsley, sage, rosemary, bay leaves; almonds, pine nuts, sultanas, figs, and pistachios were also commonly cooked with meat and fish dishes.

With the development of the sea route from the Indies in the sixteenth century, the Italian spice trade declined; but the taste for spiced food remained.

NUTMEG (It. noce moscata). The customary one nutmeg found in a dusty corner of English kitchen cupboards would not go far in Italy. It is a spice which goes into dozens of dishes, particularly in the region of Bologna, where it is an essential ingredient of the stuffing for anolini, tortellini, tortelli di erbette (a kind of chard or spinach ravioli which is a speciality of Parma). In fact, nutmeg goes into all dishes which contain spinach, and all dishes whether sweet or savoury made from ricotta (see page 1).

CLOVES (It. chiodi di garofano). Besides being used to flavour spiced cakes such as the famous panforte of Siena, cloves are still occasionally put into meat dishes, such as stracotto, a beef stew, and those game dishes which are served with a sour-sweet sauce.

CINNAMON (It. cannella) is occasionally used in meat and game dishes, as well as in cakes and puddings.

VANILLA (It. vaniglia). Keep a special jar of caster sugar with a stick of vanilla in it, and use the sugar when making sweet pastry or creams. In Italy they sell little packets of vanilla sugar especially for this purpose.

CORIANDER SEEDS (It. coriandro). A neglected but useful spice in the kitchen. A few crushed coriander seeds make an excellent flavouring for roast lamb or pork, and its orange-peel scent goes well, too, with fish.

SAFFRON (Lat. crocus sativus, It. zafferano). The use of saffron as a spice is of ancient origin. The Phoenicians were apparently inordinately addicted to it, and its use in southern France in bouillabaisse and other fish dishes, and even in the saffron buns of Cornwall, has been attributed to Phoenician influence. In Italy the saffron crocus is cultivated in the Abruzzi and in Sardinia, and as everyone knows it is saffron which gives risotto Milanese its beautiful pale butter colour and its characteristic flavour. There are one or two districts where saffron is used to spice the zuppa di pesce, but a great many Italian cooks turn up their noses at saffron (‘too strong, it kills the flavour of the fish’), in which I don’t altogether agree with them.

Saffron comes from the pistils of the autumn-flowering crocus, and since there are three only to each flower it is easy to understand in what large quantities the flower must be cultivated and why genuine saffron is so expensive.

Jeanne Savarin, editress of La Cuisine des Familles, wrote in October 1905: ‘About half a million crocus pistils are needed to make one kilo of authentic saffron powder, and a druggist cannot buy a pound of saffron powder for less than sixty francs.’ Sixty francs would have been about three pounds at that time, and it is not surprising that the adulteration and falsification of saffron was common.

To avoid being fobbed off with imitation saffron, it is best to buy the kind which is sold not in powder but in the actual pistils of the flower, frail little threads which on being steeped in water give out their beautiful saffron colour and rather bitter flavour. It is used in very small quantities. It is the most expensive of all spices, and in Italian cooking there is no substitute.

SALT (It. sale). Out past Poetto, the long white beach of Cagliari in Sardinia, can be seen a curious and fascinating sight, the salt lagoons which provide all Italy with marine salt. In rectangular, loaf-like shapes which echo the long ridges of the Sardinian hills, the newly extracted salt from the lakes is heaped, hard and crusty, blinding white in the sunlight, with blue and rose and lilac shadows, a moon landscape. Sea salt (in French gros sel, sel gris) can now be bought in many delicatessen shops as well as in wholefood and health food stores, and at one or two kitchen utensils shops. Our own Maldon salt, in crunchy flakes, can be found at Fortnum’s, Harrods, Selfridges, and the Army & Navy Stores, or ordered direct from the Maldon Crystal Salt Company, Maldon, Essex.

Food cooked with sea salt tastes so much better than that cooked with powdered salt that people who are accustomed to it notice a startling difference when deprived of it. For Maldon salt, mills are pointless. Use your fingers, or if you prefer pound it in a wooden mortar.

PEPPER (It. pepe) is one of the oldest, most valuable, and most widely known of all spices. Use black pepper, freshly ground from a pepper mill, whenever possible.



It is a mistake to suppose that all Italian food is heavily garlic flavoured.

In the south, particularly in Naples, a good deal of garlic goes into the tomato sauce and the fish soups. Spaghetti with oil and garlic is much beloved of the Neapolitans (and how I agree with them). In Rome the only common restaurant dish which contains a quantity of garlic is spaghetti alle vongole (described on p. 85).

Piedmont has its garlic dish, the bagna cauda sauce, and Genoa its delicious garlic-flavoured pesto, but on the whole Italian cooking contains far less garlic than that of Provence or south-west France. Even the salame and the sausages are only very mildly garlic flavoured, and some not at all.

A clove or two of garlic should go into most soups and stews, into the stuffings for pimentos, aubergines, and small marrows, and into mixed salads. Beetroot salad is infinitely the better for a little chopped garlic, and so are stewed mushrooms and spinach soup.



Anchovies in oil or brine are used a great deal in southern Italy and in Piedmont and Liguria as an ingredient of sauces, salads, and stuffings, sometimes in unexpected ways. Crostini di provatura, a dish nearly always to be found in the more humble Roman trattorie, are croûtons of bread and melted cheese with a sauce of anchovies cooked in butter, a particularly successful combination. As a garnish for pimentos in oil a few fillets of anchovies are excellent.

Anchovies and garlic are the basis of la bagna cauda, the traditional sauce of Piedmont. At one time they were used a good deal in England to lard meat, but the only survival of this taste seems to be that rather unpleasant anchovy sauce … Anchovy toasts made with genuine anchovy paste used to be so good … Anchovies in oil of good quality can be found quite easily in England. Some are inclined to be over-salted, and should be washed in warm water or vinegar before they are added to a sauce. As an occasional change there is nothing wrong with pounded anchovies in the salad dressing, but the taste is apt to pall.



This appears in a dozen unfamiliar ways: mixed with potatoes or french beans for a salad; with pimentos; made into a kind of sausage for an antipasto; in a sauce for cold veal; as an important part of the delicious Tuscan dish of white beans fagioli col tonno. The choice part of the tunny fish is the stomach (ventresca), which is very tender and of an appetizing creamy-pink colour. In Italy tunny fish in oil is most commonly sold by the kilo, out of barrels or very large tins. For a salad one must always ask for ventresca. If the tunny is to be pounded into a sauce or made into polpettone, the cheaper quality will do.

The netting, canning, and export of tunny is one of the important industries of the island of Sardinia; there I have eaten fresh tunny of a tenderness and flavour quite unequalled elsewhere in the Mediterranean, but so far as I am aware we do not import Sardinian tinned tunny to this country. There is, however, a certain amount of Spanish, Portuguese, and French tinned tunny fish obtainable.



These are usually boletus, the kind called cèpes in France and porcini in Italy.

Used in small quantities, they are a good addition to soups and sauces, but contrary to general supposition they do not need long cooking. They should be soaked in warm water for a few minutes, and can then be added to the dish. In 15–20 minutes they will be perfectly tender. If cooked too long, they lose all flavour. Be careful to buy the dried mushrooms which look cream coloured and brown and have been recently imported. When they are black and gnarled they have a disagreeably strong flavour.



The nuts which come from the cones of the stone pine. They are about ¼ in. long, cream coloured, slightly oil-flavoured little nuts, which in Italy are used in meat and game dishes, more specifically in those which are cooked with an agrodolce or sour-sweet sauce. They also appear sugared in small cakes, biscuits, and macaroons.

Nothing quite replaces pinoli, for they have a consistency and flavour entirely their own. (Incidentally they are good prepared in the same way as salted almonds, or fried in butter, to serve with drinks.)

In England pinoli can usually be bought from those shops which specialize in nuts and vitamin and vegetarian foods. They are best stored in a covered jar in the refrigerator.



Raw ham and cooked ham are used a great deal, usually in small quantities, in stuffings for anolini, tortellini, agnolotti, and all the ravioli tribe, also in sauces, in risotti, with vegetables, in soups, and in a number of pastry fritters, in pizze, and with cooked cheese; and also in conjunction with veal escalopes.

Raw ham other than imported Italian is not usually available in this country except in the whole piece, which means that often one must make do with gammon, which has rather too powerful a flavour for delicate stuffings. The spalla or cured shoulder of pork which is sold in Soho under the name of coppa is very good, but expensive. Mortadella sausage is a useful standby for cooking and can sometimes take the place of ham.



The three cheeses essential to Italian cooking are: grana, known all over the world as Parmesan; mozzarella, that elastic white buffalo-milk cheese of the south; and ricotta,† a soft sheep’s milk cheese, unsalted, which is at its best in the spring, in Rome and round about.

Parmesan we can get, although expensive (it is far from cheap in its native country) and often of rather dubious quality. Mozzarella is rarely imported, probably for the very good reason that it is only fit to eat if absolutely dripping fresh. No doubt the dozens of dishes in which it appears have been invented purely to utilize the quantity of insufficiently fresh mozzarella which cannot be eaten as a straight cheese. I have used Bel Paese as a substitute for mozzarella in a great many dishes, with perfect success. Sometimes it is in fact an improvement. Mozzarella at its best has great charm, but badly cooked it is disastrous.

Ricotta is another cheese which must be eaten very fresh. With a little salt and ground black pepper it has a lovely countrified flavour. It is pounded up and mixed with spinach to make the most delicious gnocchi and ravioli, and is turned into a number of good sweet dishes, as is its counterpart in Greece and as some fresh cream cheeses are in France.

Other cheeses used in Italian cooking are fontina, a very creamy kind of gruyère, groviera (gruyère), provolone, pecorino, a hard sheep’s milk cheese for grating, and caciotta, a semi-hard Tuscan sheep’s milk cheese.



To me these white truffles are one of the most delicious of all foods anywhere. They are called white presumably to distinguish them from the black ones, for they are in reality a dirty brownish colour on the outside, beige inside. They grow in Tuscany, in Romagna, and in Piedmont, where the best and largest are found (in the country round Alba, not far from Turin); they are hunted out by specially trained dogs. In the height of the season, which lasts from October to March, white truffles as large as tennis balls are to be seen in the shops in Turin, which at the same season are wonderfully decorative with orange and brown and yellow funghi, every kind of feathered game, lovely cream cheeses, and rich looking sausages.

White truffles have an immensely powerful flavour and penetrating scent, quite unlike that of black truffles. They are almost always eaten raw, sliced very finely on a special instrument over a plain risotto, on top of the cheese fonduta of Piedmont, or on to very fine home-made tagliolini, or in a green salad. In Bologna white truffles are served with turkey or chicken breasts cooked in butter and cheese, and on top of thin veal escalopes. They can be cooked 2 or 3 minutes in butter and smothered with Parmesan cheese (their affinity with cheese is remarkable), a wonderfully rich dish; and to the galantines of turkey and chicken, which are two of the specialities of the Pappagallo restaurant in Bologna, they give the most remarkable flavour.

In Piedmont white truffles are preserved for 2 or 3 weeks in a jar of rice. Zia Nerina, proprietress of the charming restaurant in Bologna now, alas, vanished, which bore her name, preserved them buried in sawdust. In this way they kept for a month. Zia Nerina also tinned her truffles in such a way that they preserved nearly all their aroma in the most astonishing way.

At the Café Procacci in Florence the proprietor makes a purée of white truffles which, made into little sandwiches, goes down particularly well at eleven o’clock in the morning with a glass of good white Tuscan wine.

Rossini, who was almost as famous a gourmet as he was a composer, lived in Bologna, and it was no doubt a love for the local white truffles which originally caused his name to be tagged on to any dish containing truffles or foie gras truffé on pompous menus all over the world.



These are the garbanzos so beloved of the Spaniards, the pois chiches of France. In shape and size not unlike nasturtium seeds, they are corn yellow in colour and very hard when dried, so that they need prolonged soaking in water before cooking, and lengthy simmering, with a pinch of bicarbonate of soda in the water in which they are cooked.

In Italy they are cooked and then mixed with pasta to form a heavy and filling minestra. They are often sold already soaked by the grocers in Italy. Boiled, and seasoned with plentiful oil, salt, and pepper, they make an excellent salad, and their nutty consistency makes them a good accompaniment to drinks instead of salted almonds; I have always found them very popular whenever I have cooked them for English people. (See also p. 125.)

In Sardinia, Piedmont, in Genoa and Liguria, there is a kind of thick pancake or galette called faina or farinata, made from chick-pea flour mixed to a batter with water and olive oil and baked in very shallow round earthenware or iron pans. Faina is market or street food, sold hot from portable ovens or from perambulating barrows as soon as winter sets in. There is an equivalent in the Niçois region called socca.



One of the important elements of Italian cooking for stuffings and sauces, as well as for coating veal escalopes and other food to be fried. Crisp breadcrumbs, the kind generally used for the latter purpose, can be made at home by baking slices of stale bread in a slow oven; they are then pounded or grated. Or they can be bought by the pound at bakeries which make their own bread.

Crumb of bread (mollica or midolla di pane) is used a good deal in Italian cooking to give consistency to stuffings and sauces, sometimes to thicken soups. The crust is cut off a thick slice of white bread, which is then softened in milk, stock, or water and pressed dry.



The large ripe soft tomatoes of the south cook much faster and produce better tomato sauce than any we can buy in England. (Our home-grown variety are at their best uncooked.*) Often the quantity of fresh tomatoes used in an Italian recipe has to be nearly doubled when English tomatoes are used. (This has been taken into account for the directions in this book.)

When fresh tomatoes are scarce or expensive, use the Italian tinned peeled tomatoes (Cirio brand is one of the best known), which are excellent and cheap. They are very extensively used in Italy in the winter in restaurants and in households which have no facility for preserving their own tomatoes.

Before the days of tinned food and preserves, concentrated tomato paste was made by drying the cooked tomato sauce in the sun. It was sold in ‘loaves the colour of dark mahogany, of the consistency of stucco, cylindrical in form, well oiled and wrapped in oiled paper. In the winter it was also eaten by children, spread on bread.’ (Gastronomia Parmense, Ferrutius, Parma, 1952.)

The commercial production of concentrated tomato paste on a large scale was started in the province of Parma over fifty years ago. There are varying grades of concentrato. To make doppio (double) concentrato the tomatoes are reduced to less than a seventh of their original volume; thus 250,000 tons of tomatoes are needed to produce 35,000 tons of concentrato; the same amount reduced to triplo (triple) concentrato produces 32,000 tons – figures which give some idea of the scale on which tomatoes are cultivated in the area. The province of Naples also produces large quantities of concentrato made from the little oval tomatoes known as pomidori da sugo (sauce tomatoes).

This concentrated purée is extremely cheap, which is, however, no reason for using it in unlimited quantities. It has an all-pervading flavour and must be used sparingly. A teaspoonful in a sauce, a tablespoonful in a stew or soup is usually sufficient to give flavour or consistency. A little concentrato mixed with fresh tomatoes for a sauce is a good combination. An opened tin of purée can be kept for some time, if the purée is covered with olive oil. To my mind the kind which comes from Parma is the best. Nowadays it is also sold in tubes, like tooth-paste.



Fresh cream, panna fresca, is rarely used in Italy for the cooking of meat, fish, or sauces as it is in France. Only in Bologna, where the cooking is very luxurious, do they occasionally add cream to the ragú Bolognese, and they have a way of heating up tortellini in cream, which is good but so rich that it is unwise to eat more than a minute quantity.

For sweet dishes whipped cream (panna montata) is piled in vast quantities upon elaborate cakes and confections of all kinds, usually sweetened to a very nearly uneatable degree. Mascherpone, or mascarpone, a kind of double-cream cheese resembling the French cœur à la crème, of the consistency of soft butter, is whipped up with brandy or a liqueur and is extremely good.



In central and northern Italy there is a highly commendable way of stewing meat or poultry in milk. These dishes are well worth a trial. The milk finally emerges as a creamy sauce. The stages of its transformation are fascinating to watch.



On the Ligurian coast, in Genoa, in Tuscany, in Piedmont, in Naples and southern Italy, olive oil is the basis of cooking. In Roman cooking it is used about equally with strutto (lard or pork fat). Half oil and half butter is an excellent combination for slow frying; the oil prevents the butter from burning.

Throughout Italy olive oil is used for deep frying. The Italian genius for fried vegetables of every kind, for fritters, for the famous fritto misto, for fried cheese, for croquettes of rice, potatoes, brains, spinach, for fish, especially scampi, prawns, small red mullet, and squid, is well known. In some miraculous way the smell of frying seldom penetrates into the dining-room of a restaurant or a home. This method of cooking will, however, appeal less to English women who are their own cooks, for the smell penetrates clothes, hair, and kitchen; and, moreover, it is food which must be cooked at the last moment and eaten sizzling and crackling from the frying pan.

In any case, whatever kind of cooking one intends to do, a supply of good olive oil is essential, even if it is only for salads. Italy produces such an immense quantity of good oil that it is difficult to decide which is the best. It depends upon whether one prefers a light golden limpid oil, or a heavy greenish fruity one; but remember that the earthy flavour of a rich oil which may be good on salads will taste too strong when used for cooking or for making a mayonnaise, which has the curious quality of accentuating the flavour of whatever oil is used. On the other hand, some of the Italian oil sold in this country is refined out of all recognition and is quite tasteless. Some people prefer this, and it is perfectly good for frying. My own preference is for the oil of Liguria, or for the extra virgin cold-pressed oil of Tuscany. The miles of olive trees which make the country round Sassari in Sardinia so beautiful yield wonderful oil; some Italian connoisseurs rate it higher than that of Lucca.

The olive crop has its good and bad years, and the oil we buy in this country is usually a blend, so that a uniform standard may be maintained. It is well worth paying the little extra for good quality oil (anything marked simply ‘Salad Oil’ is best left alone).

Make generous use of olive oil for salads, and as a seasoning for spaghetti or Tuscan beans, and for frying; be circumspect with it when making the initial preparations for stews and soups.

In April 1911 that perspicacious English gourmet Colonel Newnham Davis wrote that ‘an Italian gentleman never eats salad when travelling in foreign countries, for his palate, used to the finest oil, revolts against the liquid fit only for the lubrication of machinery he so often is offered in Germany, England, and France’ (The Gourmet’s Guide to Europe, Grant Richards, London). The circumstances have not greatly changed.



A great many Italian soups, minestre, and risotti are based on good chicken or meat broth.

In a large household it is possible to have a pint or two of good broth always to hand, and the advent of the deep freeze has made it easy to store chicken and meat stocks. In 1953, when I was writing this book, meat was still rationed, and sometimes I had no alternative but to use the then recently introduced Swiss bouillon cubes. In those days they seemed quite acceptable. Now (1987) I don’t find them so. They appear to taste predominantly of salt and monosodium glutamate.



Indispensable in Italian cooking for making pizza dough. In England yeast must be bought from a bakery which makes its own bread on the premises. Buy not more than 1 or 2 oz at a time, according to needs, as it does not keep any length of time, although it can be stored in a refrigerator for 2 or 3 days, so long as it does not get wet.

Nowadays (1987) I use the fast-acting dried yeast called Harvest Gold, which is added direct to the flour, and needs no preliminary preparation with water or other liquid. I find that about half the quantities specified on the packet are quite enough.


The use of wine in Italian cooking dates from Roman days. In a certain number of Italian dishes it is indispensable, and there is a definite technique for its treatment. In a stufato or stufatino, which are stews or ragoûts, a small quantity of wine is poured over the meat, after it has been browned in oil or butter, and is then reduced by fast cooking to almost nothing. The meat is then barely covered with stock, and simmered slowly until it is tender, so that it is the concentrated aroma of the cooked wine which permeates the meat rather than a wine sauce which finally emerges. Some risotti, notably the Milanese and the Genoese versions, are cooked with the addition of wine; the principle employed is the same as for the meat stews.

For certain fried dishes, such as the little slices of veal called scaloppine or piccate, Marsala is always used. As soon as the meat is cooked it is moistened with a tablespoon or two of Marsala, which is allowed to cook only a minute. The wine amalgamates with the butter in which the meat has cooked and the juices which have come out of it, and makes a syrupy and extremely delicious little sauce. Marsala is employed considerably in Italian cooking, for meat and fish dishes as well as for sweets. It can be used in discreet quantities to temper the dryness of a red wine for a beef or veal stew. In a tomato sauce Marsala or one of the many other sweet Italian wines works wonders. In the making of minestrone (robust vegetable soup thickened with rice or pasta, of which there are innumerable versions) wine is not generally employed, although it would often be an improvement.

Fish soups are usually made with white wine, but for a most excellent stew of calamari (inkfish) with tomatoes and onions, red wine is used.


It is not, I believe, fully understood that the purpose of putting meat into a marinade is to break down the fibres and to impart the aromas of wine, spices, and herbs to a piece of meat which would otherwise be tough, dry, and lacking in flavour. The time required, therefore, for the marinating must depend upon the quality of the meat. Too long a bath in the wine mixture may spoil the meat, destroying what flavour it has and making it sodden. Venison and boar (not that they lack flavour, but they can be very dry) can advantageously be left 2 or 3 days in the marinade. Six to twelve hours is sufficient for a hare, and in any case only old and dried-up animals should be so treated. Stewing beef, and the ewe mutton* which proves such a problem in England, can be much improved by a 6–8 hour bath in wine.

When the meat, whatever it is, which has been marinated is to be roasted, it must be very carefully dried when taken out of the marinade, or the liquid dripping from it in the roasting-pan will prevent it from browning, so that it will be braised rather than roasted. If the meat is to be stewed this is not so important, but in any case the vegetables and herbs of the marinade will be sodden, and should be thrown away, fresh ones being put into the pan with the meat. For a stew, the wine of the marinade is strained and poured over the meat in the pan, stock or water being added later. When the marinated meat is roasted, the marinade is usually reduced until it is thick, and with the addition of sugar or red-currant jelly, pine nuts, and a little stock, is served as a separate sauce.

Marinades can be cooked, in which case the vegetables are usually first lightly browned in a little olive oil, the wine added, cooked for about 15 minutes, and poured over the meat when it has cooled; or the wine can simply be poured over the meat, and the herbs and vegetables steeped in it. The system of first cooking the marinade has the advantage of bringing out the flavour of the various vegetables, spices, and herbs and of rendering the wine itself more aromatic and concentrated. The second method is more economical with the wine, as there is no loss from reduction.


Many grocery, provision, and delicatessen merchants are disposed to be helpful to their customers in the matter of stocking imported products for which they are asked. When they seem less than receptive to new ideas, it is only fair to consider that they have many difficulties. Small shopkeepers are understandably wary of ordering wholesale supplies of a perishable commodity like fresh cream cheese simply for the benefit of one or two customers. Others are cramped for space, and cannot stock a large variety of brands of a bulky product such as olive oil or imported packet pasta. Dried pulses and vegetables such as haricot beans, chick peas, and lentils do not remain in good condition for ever. Most Italian cured-pork products owe much of their finesse to the fact that they are lightly cured and must be fairly quickly consumed. Many of these are to be found only in certain Soho shops, because they are imported direct from Italy by the shopkeepers who retail them, rather than bought through a London wholesaler or agent.

Where less fragile products are concerned it can be of some help to the customer to know the name of importing and wholesaling firms and distributing agents, who can be contacted for information as to local stockists of their goods. If they are lively and enterprising, these wholesale firms will also make a note that there is a possible demand for their products in a district or small town where their representatives have not hitherto been calling. Our traders are by no means as stick-in-the-mud as would sometimes appear; but those dealing in quality products imported for and sold to a minority market, without benefit of national newspaper or television advertising, have to contend with formidable competition; and they cannot offer their retailers the inducements in the way of quick profits, free display material, lightning turnover, and daily deliveries which are the merchandising assets of the mass-market firms.

Under the circumstances it is astonishing that the country’s provision and delicatessen shops offer as much choice and variety as they now do. We still need more, much more; and better quality.


From 1966 to 1970, the import into this country of Italian cured but uncooked pork products such as Parma ham, salame sausages and coppa, was banned owing to repeated outbreaks of African swine fever in Italy.

In April 1970 the ban was at last lifted, and, at the time of going to press with this edition, genuine Parma ham and Italian salame are once more to be found in English shops and restaurants.

Because, however, the import of any kind of ham on the bone is still banned, all the prosciutto of Parma and other districts destined for export to England is boned, most of it prior to the curing process. Boned hams are very much easier and more economical to slice, and are very commonly sold in Italy. Unfortunately these products very often lack the subtlety and the savour of ham cured on the bone. The imitations and substitutes which crept in during the years when Italian pork products were unobtainable are also still currently on the English market. Many people, including some who should know better, are unable to distinguish between a Parma ham and any other raw ham of whatever provenance. In a newly established and very expensive little French provision shop in Knightsbridge I was told, quite recently, that ‘Bayonne ham and Parma ham are the same’. Since, for a start, Bayonne ham (a French product of ancient origin) is smoked and Parma ham is not, and since the curing methods are very different, the main resemblance between the two products is that they both come from the pig.

It is well also to note here that no uncooked ham, bacon, sausage or other pork product is allowed into this country without an import licence.


Apart from the normal equipment of a good kitchen, Italian cooking demands few special pans or out of the ordinary devices.

Sharp, pliable cook’s knives are needed for any good cooking. Without them it is impossible to achieve any kind of swift, efficient, or satisfactory work in the kitchen. Not enough people seem to grasp this rudimentary fact. There are now various stainless steel kitchen and carving knives on the market; these are better than they used to be, but they are still not so good as the thin rapier-pointed carbon steel knives which age so wonderfully, wearing thinner and more springy until they are almost worn through … One of the endearing features of Italian restaurant life is the little sharp knife always provided when steak is ordered. This is not to be taken as a sign that the steak will be tough, but if it is tough at least it cannot be blamed on the knife.

Anyone who wishes to cook pasta or boil rice successfully must be provided with at least one very large pan of about eight quarts capacity when full, which will also be of the greatest service for many other purposes. Nothing is more maddening than trying to cram a large bird or piece of meat into too skimpy a pan.

Electric blenders and modern food processors apart, the most useful single labour-saving device is, to me, the mouli légumes, a metal food mill or purée maker. For soups, purées, mashed potatoes, and so on, it is invaluable, saving literally hours of boring work. Get the medium or large size; this is important, as the smallest size is only adequate for very small quantities. The price of the medium-sized mouli is still very reasonable for the service it gives.

A good cheese-grater is a necessity in any household where pasta or rice is eaten. A traditional Italian one is in the shape of a round box, with the grater forming the lid, so that the cheese falls inside as it is grated. Swedish stainless steel graters, in a conical shape and with several different grating surfaces, make an adequate alternative. For Parmesan, the essential is a very sharp grating surface.

For making pasta at home a large pastry board and a long rolling pin are absolutely essential. The board should be at least 16 × 22 in. When wooden boards have been scrubbed, do not put them near the fire or on top of the boiler; a warped board is useless, and so is one with a join down the middle, which will eventually wear apart and harbour particles of meat and vegetables, like a decayed tooth.

Rather large round or square cake tins, both deep and shallow, are used in Italian cooking for baked dishes of meat, vegetables, and rice as well as for pies and cakes.

A crescent-shaped two-handled chopper called a mezzaluna or lunetta (surely some English manufacturer could produce these?)* is found in every Italian kitchen. Square and round cutters with scalloped edges for ravioli, frying pans both for deep and shallow frying, skewers for grilling meat, a perforated spoon for lifting gnocchi and ravioli out of the pan, palette knives, large dishes which can be put in the oven to keep the pasta hot, two-handled metal or china egg dishes (tegamini), a heavy cutlet bat (the sound of the ceaseless bashing of the veal cutlets is familiar to anyone who has frequented Italian taverns and restaurants), a nutmeg grater, a small thick pan for sauces, a pestle and mortar, a pepper grinder, a mincer, are all utensils frequently in use in an Italian kitchen. A pair of scissors for cutting parsley and other fresh herbs is a great asset and saves endless time.

It is interesting to note that in the plates of Bartolomeo Scappi’s famous cookery book Dell’Arte del Cucinare, first published in 1570, a great many of the knives, choppers, spoons, vegetable cutters, saucepans, and casseroles which were presumably those of the Vatican kitchen of the period are identical in form with those we associate with a well-stocked French kitchen of today. The basic equipment shown for making pasta is also very little changed, except that nowadays there are machines for turning out spaghetti and macaroni and other more complicated shapes, made in sizes suitable for a moderate household as well as for restaurants and large establishments.

Where the cooking stove is concerned it should be remembered that an enormous number of Italian households, particularly in country districts, still use a charcoal stove and grill, and a forno di campagna, a country oven, which is placed on the top of the charcoal, or over the burner if they have Calor gas (pibigas or liquigas in Italy). Italian cooks achieve very good results with these rather capricious ovens. As for the charcoal or wood fire, nothing can equal it for the savour of grilled meat or fish, but since these methods are scarcely practical for English town-dwellers I merely suggest that anyone who is fond of grilled food should furnish their kitchen with an extra electric or gas grill to supplement that provided on the normal cooker, which is never large enough. Personally, I would always choose a cooker, whether gas or electric, designed with a capacious eye-level grill, and if I had to cook on a solid-fuel stove like an Aga or a Rayburn I would supplement it with a separate electric grill. (A solid-fuel stove does after all presuppose a kitchen of a certain size, so the extra space for a supplementary grill should not present a problem.)


As far as quantities, times of cooking and oven temperatures are concerned I find it misleading to give exact details. So much depends upon appetite, mood and habit, that what may, for example, be an ample dish of rice for four people in one household may only feed two in another. Much depends also upon what other dishes are to be served. Approximate quantities of the recipes in this book, unless otherwise stated, are for four to six people. Times of cooking vary according to the quality of meat, pasta or vegetables, on the kind of cooking stove used, and upon the pans.

Gas and electric cooking stoves are so diverse that I have found it only makes for confusion to give Regulo oven or Fahrenheit temperatures. Very slow, medium, moderate, fairly hot, hot, very hot, should be sufficient indication to anyone who has even a little experience. As a guide, I append the tables which follow. But do remember, when roasting or grilling, to heat the oven or the grill beforehand so that as soon as the food is put on to cook the juices will be sealed, and concentrated inside the meat or fish, instead of seeping out into the pan, which is what h