I have just finished ‘consuming’ John Dickie’s wonderful book Delizia – The Epic History of the Italians and Their Food and I was almost sad to have finished it, much like a fine bottle of wine or a meal in a special location that you don’t want to end. However, it is a book to re-read, if only in segments and I can assure you that it will be re-read and re-read. John Dickie has wrapped Italian food in Italian history and layer by layer as one reads through the chapters of this book, the colour, flavour and the charisma which surrounds Italian food is revealed .
The book starts with Palermo in 1154, moves to Milan, and then on to Venice, Rome, Naples, Florence, Bologna, etc – and so the regions are revealed and the history of the food for which they are famous is examined. The chapter on the Rome 1549-50 is particularly wonderful ( Bartolomeo Scappi heralded as the greatest cook of the Italian renaissance is featured here) and I also read with fascination the chapter on Florence, 1891 and the significance of Pellegrino Artusi in turning Italian food into a ‘template of Italian national identity’ with his Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well published in 1891. The final chapter on Turin 2006, entitled ‘Peasants to the Rescue’ is a perfect way to end the book, making one rethink about our relationship with food, a theme which resonates throughout the book.
You might not be into the history of food, but I dare you to pick up this book – you won’t want to put it down and you may indeed feel the need to search through your cookbooks and cook up an Italian feast. Buy it and then enjoy the meal (and, of course, the wine to accompany the meal – Italian wine naturally).