Sunday, April 6, 2008

Tre libri/Three books

Here are three books that celebrate Italy and Italians:

*La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind by Beppe Severgnini

*Blue Italian: A Novel by Rita Ciresi

*Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan

In my opinion, Beppe Severgnini's book is a little too clever for its own good. The author attempts to take the reader on an armchair tour of the Italian psyche. While I'm sure this device would have worked nicely in a newspaper article (which is probably how it originated), as a book it becomes nauseating after the first 50 pages.

Blue Italian is a tragic love story about an Italian-American townie who falls in love with a Yalie. If you lived in New Haven during the eighties, you will love this book. Tell me if this description doesn't bring you right back to the Elm City:
Rita stared sullenly out the window all the way across the Q Bridge and blinked back bitter tears at the hideous sight of the rusty New Haven Coliseum.(The view from the Quinnipiac Bridge is much prettier now because the ugly Coliseum building was imploded in 2007.)

Even though I hate cooking, I can appreciate a good cookbook. Marcella Hazen's Essentials of Italian Cooking is one of my favorites. While most cookbooks are full of garishly colorful photographs of the dishes, Hazen's book is illustrated with delicate line drawings. This wonderful cookbook opens with an intriguing history of Italy's cuisine:

The cooking of Italy is really the cooking of regions that long antedate the Italian nation, regions that until 1861 were part of sovereign and usually hostile states, sharing few cultural traditions no common spoken language--it was not until World War II that Italian began to be the everyday language of a substantial part of the population--and practicing entirely distinct styles of cooking.As I said earlier, I don't like to cook. I find it nearly impossible to coordinate the timing of everything and I end up serving burned vegetables and undercooked fish. I do, however, like to bake. I make a mean meatloaf and my carrot cakes and cheesecakes are to die for. The baked pasta dishes featured in Hazen's book are tasty and relatively easy to prepare. The next time I have company I'll have to remember to try out some of her dessert recipes. I can't even remember the last time I had zuccotto.