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The Art of Eating Well
The Art of Eating Well

The TV series Sicily Unpacked and its sequel Italy Unpacked have restored my faith (assuming I had any in the first place) in cookery programmes. The combination of Giorgio Locatelli, with his sense of wonder and perfectly calibrated familial, political and moral compass (I know, it's hard to believe I'm talking about a chef), combined with Alexander Graham-Dixon's lightly worn erudition, is utterly beguiling. Before the end of each programme I find myself frantically surfing Google to find out how to get to where they are whilst taking notes on what they see, eat and do - Sardinia next BBC2!

Locatelli is at his most fervent when describing the cookbook he carries closest to his heart, Pellegrino Artusi's The Art of Eating Well. In fact so well does he articulate his love for the book that I found myself shelling out £30 for a copy online.

It is indeed a thing of wonder - written in a gossipy, slightly hectoring, tone (like a conversation with a favourite uncle). Here's Artusi on his long struggles to get it published...“Because my book smells of stew, do you disdain to take it seriously? The day will come when words which nourish the mind and body will be widely sought." (It eventually appeared in 1891.) On apple strudel...“It may look like a giant leech, but you'll like the way it tastes." And meatballs...“a dish everyone knows how to make, beginning with the jackass."

Anyone enthralled by culinary tales, legends and dreams cannot fail to be seduced. Artusi is credited with popularising pasta in the North of Italy. No small thing - as Giuseppe Garibaldi said, “It will be spaghetti, I swear to you, that unifies Italy." He is right on the money regarding diets, describing the best as “not eating or drinking when you are not hungry or thirsty." Effortlessly cutting through the bulls**t which attends that debate today. And, in our age of multiple 'food allergies', there is even a section for “those people of weak stomach."  

As I write, the horsemeat fiasco rages on. To me it seems simple, label things correctly - for example: 'our lasagne may contain horsemeat' - and let people make an informed choice. As Pellegrino Artusi pointed out in 1891, you get what you pay for.

If I were on Desert Island Discs and needed to choose a book to be marooned with, this endlessly giving, sprawling, encyclopaedic masterpiece would be my choice. And I'm only half way through reading it. 

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