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  • Writer's pictureDiego Zancani

Culinary causerie by Lesley Williams

Restaurants and cafes will begin to re-open their doors to customers this month, so our restaurant recommendations and reviews will be back next month. Until then here are a couple of books that you might find interesting – they are not cookery books per se but will certainly appeal to anyone who loves food.

How we fell in love with Italian Food

You know when you have a serious food habit when your reading list centres around cookery books – not just recipe books but books about food in general. I recently received a cracker of a book from Bodleian Library Publishing How we fell in love with Italian Food by Diego Zancani, who came to the UK in the late 1960s to teach at the University of Reading. He lodged with a local family who were served meat and two veg for dinner every day, all unseasoned and to Zancani’s palate completely devoid of flavour. He asked if he could have a drop of olive oil, and Mrs Porter, his landlady gave him a suspicious look and suggested he should call at the chemist’s.

I remember my mother buying tiny bottles of olive oil from the pharmacy – usually when we had earache –and I definitely don’t remember it being extra virgin.

The book is not only full of interesting historical facts on Italian cuisine, but also contains some classic recipes. As someone who is always curious as to the origin of a word, I was fascinated to discover that the word companion comes from sharing food or bread panis in Latin, with another human being. How lovely is that?

Another snippet of information that made me smile was that when Casanova was in London in the 18th Century, he entertained his friends at home. ‘He gave a party for twelve people in his apartment, he and his guests drank their way through forty bottles of wine!’ That’s pretty amazing, given his reputation as a womaniser.

Italian food writer Anna Del Conte – much admired by Nigella Lawson and Delia Smith, is quoted on the back of the book. ‘This is a book both for the historian and for the cook. Beautifully illustrated and interspersed with some classic recipes, it relates the conquest of Great Britain by Italian food and cooking from Roman times to these days. It is a book after my own heart’.

Well if that isn’t an endorsement I don’t know what is. Del Conte was instrumental in introducing proper pasta to the UK when in 1976 her Portrait of Pasta was published, until then we were really only used to spaghetti Bolognaise and tinned ravioli. She is undoubtedly the doyenne of Italian food.

With its pages of food inspired classical paintings, recipes and historical references this is a book to be dipped into and relished.

ISBN: 9781851245123 – Bodleian Library Publishing

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