In Pellegrino Artusi’s Italianissimo – Italian Cooking at Its Best (La Scienza in Cucina e L’arte di Mangiar Bene) a wonderful volume, which is the classic Italian cookbook, translated into English from the 1910 14th edition, the last one prepared by Artusi himself, Artusi includes a letter written to him by the poet Lorenzo Stecchetti – it is brilliant!! Enjoy…..
‘The human race endures only because of man’s instincts for self-preservation and reproduction and his urgent need to satisfy them. Now satisfaction of a need is always associated with pleasure and the pleasure of conservation lies in the sense of taste, the pleasure of reproduction in the sense of touch. If man did not enjoy food or if he did not experience sexual desire, the human race would promptly come to an end.
Taste and touch are therefore the most necessary senses, indispensable both to the life of the individual and to the life of a race. One can continue to live though blind and deaf, but one cannot live without the functional activities of the organs of taste.
How then does it happen that, among all the senses, the two most necessary to life and to its transmission are reputedly the most vulgar? Why are the things that satisfy the other senses – painting, music, the arts – said to be noble and the things that satisfy taste ignoble? Why is the man who enjoys looking at a fine painting or listening to a beautiful symphony considered superior to the man who enjoys eating an excellent meal? Are there, then, such inequities between the senses as between the worker who has only one shirt and the man who does not work but who has two?
The answer must lie in the tyrannical dominion the brain exercises today over all the organs of the body. In the days of Menenio Agrippa the stomach ruled supreme; now it either does not rule at all or it rules badly. Is there one among all those who use their brains constantly who can boast of a good digestion? They are all nerves, victims of neuroses, neurasthenics. Man’s height, the breadth of his chest, his power of resistance and of reproduction are declining daily among that race of intellectuals and artists full of talent and rickets, refinement and glands, who are not properly nourished but merely stimulated and kept alive, as it were, on coffee, alcohol, and morphine. And yet the senses concerned with cerebration are esteemed to be nobler than those that preside over conservation. The time has now come to erase that unjust verdict.
Bless the bicycle that gives is the joy of a robust appetite in spite of decadence and those decadent men and women dreaming of the anemia, phthisis, and boils of ideal art! Get out in the air, in the open, healthy air that makes our blood red and our muscles strong. And let us not be ashamed to eat the best food available, but rather let us restore gastronomy to its proper place in our lives. In the end it will conquer even the tyrannical brain and this nerve-sick society will finally understand that even in art a discussion as to how to cook eels is as valuable as a dissertation on the smile of Beatrice.
Man does not live by bread alone, it is true. He must also have the usual accompaniments; and the art of rendering food more economical, more appetizing, and healthier is, I maintain, true art. Let us restore our sense of taste and let us not be ashamed to satisfy it honestly and to the best of our ability as the following recipes suggest.’