Nutrition and historical food books

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These books about all things gastronomical offer plenty of food for thought

Delizia! The Epic History of the Italians and Their Food

John Dickie

, Sceptre, £8.99

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John Dickie is an academic specialising in Italian studies at University College, London. His previous book was ‘Cosa Nostra’, a history of the Sicilian Mafia. In ‘Delizia!’ he turns his critical, journalistic eye to Italian food – near-inevitable for anyone with a serious interest in Italy, it seems.

True to its title, the book takes an epic form, starting with present-day Tuscany – not the clichéd earth-toned Tuscany of travel brochures, but the knowing, wise Tuscany that can profit from marketing faux-rusticity to gullible urban dwellers. Subsequent chapters cover various eras and cities, starting with 12th-century Palermo and working through Renaissance Ferrara, Fascist-era Milan and so on, back to the present day.

Dickie has a highly readable style that keeps the pages turning but, being an academic, this book is made of far sturdier stuff than some of the recent lightweight works that have been written about Italian food after a whirlwind three-week trip.

Dickie unravels the history of pasta, discrediting the theory that Marco Polo brought noodles back with him from China, ponders the importance of (and misconceptions about) regional Italian food, and recounts that Englishmen travelling to Italy on a Grand Tour found the food in the Italian countryside so vile that they actually sought ought inns run by other English people to avoid the local fare. An informative and fun read, recommended for anyone who wants to get beyond the clichés and find out more about Italian food.

Susan Low, Time Out London Issue 1973: June 12-19 2008

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