La scienza in cucina e l'arte di mangier bene: The Science of Cooking and Art of Fine Dining

Who remembers the days of analogies on standardized tests? Let's try this one out: Escoffier is to Julia Child,  as who is to Marcella Hazan? Well the answer is Pellegrino Artusi, of course!

Pellegrino Artusi's La scienza in cucina e l'arte di mangier bene, first published in 1891, is perhaps the most significant Italian cookbook of modern times -- and until a month ago, I had never heard of it. This almost 800 page masterpiece details recipes for broths, sauces, soups, pastas, vegetables, appetizers, eggs, doughs and batters, stuffings, boiled meats, cold dishes, fish, meats, pastries, and a myriad of desserts! The recipes vary in their level of detail, for example knowledge about what kind of doughs to use for pastas is not elaborated upon, yet other recipes explicitly state every step necessary. However, few recipes are without the author's personal anecdotes that tell of the origins of the recipe, often delivered with either humor or judgement. Artusi's great appreciation of the scientific method is evidenced beyond the title of his text, but in his inclusion of measurements for ingredients.

His intended audience was the middle class Italian housewife. He made sure to include advice on recipes best for fussy children or bad digestion. Nonetheless, the recipes are not reserved to the most practical. In fact, he includes advice on how to prepare a special meal for holidays or grand occasions. During his life, Artusi received criticism for having recipes that were too French and for reflecting the practices of the French professionals working for the nobility rather than the practices of mother and grandma in the kitchens of Sienna or Leghorn. Artusi, however, hailed from the northern region of Italy and was influenced by French cusine throughout his life. Furthermore, the book was first published just after the unification of Italy and these former regional divides are sometimes apparent in the way that he describes a recipe, as being specific to a certain group of Italians. We can use this text as much to tell us about food as how Italians at the end of the 19th century viewed Italy as a whole entity. This book is the first cookbook to include recipes from all regions of Italy in a single volume.

The book gained popularity among English readers only within the last seven years (the first English edition was not published until 1997 by  Marsilio Publishers)-- which perhaps explains why I had never heard of it. Italian readers could have easily been deprived of this masterpiece, since Artusi could not originally find a publisher in 1891 and had to use his own money to self-publish. We are sure glad he did!

If this 800 page text isn't enough to satisfy your need of Artusi, in 1904, Artusi published a practical manual for the kitchen, with over 3,000 recipes, entitled Ecco il tuo libro di cucina (in English: Here is your cookbook).