Most of us have all heard the tale of how, at age fourteen, the young Italian Catherine de' Medici married Henry II of France and subsequently, perhaps single-handedly, brought about the creation of what we now think of as French cuisine. Not so, according to John Mariani. In his book "How Italian Food Conquered the World", he suggests that the chefs and Tuscan culinary practices that came with her contributed to an already robust tradition evolving in the french courts of the time. Mariani's exposition of Italian food, how it developed, and how it moved around the world is an intriguing look into the history and development of this culinary tradition.
Admittedly at times it is hard to follow the premise of the title, as he dissuades us of there being any single Italian food, of the origins of many classic ingredients, and even that what most North Americans call Italian food is anything like the food eaten in Italy. Until fairly recently the Italian food served in the United States was, according to Mariani, an Italian-American hybrid based on available ingredients and quite unlike the food in Italy.
But this isn't so much a misdirection as a complete circumnavigation of what makes Italian food Italian, coming back, ultimately, to the acknowledgment of Italian cuisine as being unique, delicious, and on par with French or other national culinary traditions. And along the way, Mariani covers many of the regional foods, wines and recipes that bring Italian food to life.
One suspects that like a delicious Ribollita, this book is made from the best parts of previous articles and books by him, combined with new insights and stories, reheated to make an invigorating read.