Monday, August 14, 2006

Maria Pia

Mangiare Italiano is about life, love and food. It is as much a memoir of these things as it is a cookbook.

Trends come and go and food, especially various cultural cuisines, is currently enjoying an all time high in popularity. Italian food (or interpretations thereof) has long been favoured around the globe and now Italian regional cooking is beginning to make its way abroad as well. Food means many things to many people and to say that it is upheld as an institution by Italians is an understatement. That is perhaps Italy's common ground, and no more so than in the South.

Maria Pia hails from Puglia, located near the sea at the "heel" of the boot shaped country. A celebrated cuisine famous for its feast days and banquets, Puglia is known for its bread and pasta. I have heard it called the "breadbasket of Italy" for the durum wheat grown there. Vegetables are another key ingredient and are often the feature of a Pugliese dish along with seafood delicacies harvested from the regions oyster and mussel farms. And no dish would be complete without olive oil. As Italy's largest oil producing region, Pugliese oil is spicy, fruity and complex as oil from only fully ripe olives can be. It ties the cuisine of the region together beautifully.

Although Puglia is intricately linked to her past, shown in the family and historical dishes as well as some signature treats from her own cucina, Maria Pia also documents her influences from Piedmonte and Emilia-Romagna in the far North through to Toscano, Bologna and back South all the way to Sicilia. The recipes are dotted with people, anecdotes and history. She speaks not just of the life's lessons learned, but also of the journey. One gets the feeling she has indeed enjoyed the process and that is perhaps the most important thing.

There is a little something here for everyone to whom good food speaks but those stories are best told by the author herself. The food may be one way for us to share in the experience.

The recipes begin with antipasti, the fried delicacies of Italian feast holidays, Saint's days and casual snacks she recalls eating after school, then a chapter on vegetables (the humble piatti poveri) and, my favourite, Chapter 3 entitled "To warm the heart". The theme continues with more for pasta lovers, meat lovers, seafood lovers, and for lovers of sweets. Something special is a section especially for mussels that contains her father's stuffed mussel recipe and another special rice dish, tieddha, that combines all of the main components of Pugliese cuisine.

Lucky Wellingtonians can sample many of the items in this book and the hospitality of her trattoria on Thorndon Street, a warm and inviting place bustling with conversation and aromas of the kitchen. I had the fortune to meet Maria Pia, in between moments of her scurrying about with trays of fresh pasta and dough, and enjoy a plate of the best fresh pasta I have eaten in a trattoria outside of Italy.

Maria Pia's understanding and self awareness of how food and the food of her heritage has influenced her, fuels her creativity, and connects her to her history is inspirational. Everything in this volume IS real and expresses the authentic Italian approach to cooking: the use of fresh, local ingredients and raw unadulterated passion.

Very highly recommended.


2 comments:

Ivonne said...

What a lovely review, Mary! Always glad to hear about new books on regional Italian cooking.

Mary said...

Thank you Ivonne, it is an interesting volume given that so few Italian cookbooks originate in New Zealand.