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The Art of Cooking - The First Modern Cookery Book

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The Art of Cooking - The First Modern Cookery Book
By the Eminent Maestro Martino of Como. Edited and with an Introduction by Luigi Ballerini. Translated and Annotated by Jeremy Parzen. With 50 Modernized Recipes by Stefania Barzini. (Berkeley, University of California Press: 2005. Pg. 208.) ISBN: 0-520-23271-2.

Reviewed by Simone Bonim - February 14, 2005

Cookbooks have long fascinated me, both as a source of culinary inspiration, but also because they offer insights into the social and cultural history of the community from which the recipes were derived. While modern cookbooks provide much 'food for thought' it is historical cookbooks that offer the most telling insights into a community. Not only do the recipes provide clues to what products were commonly available, but also insights in the cooking utensils and cooking techniques available during a given period. The Italian cookbook, The Art of Cooking - The First Modern Cookery Book by the Eminent Maestro Martino of Como is one such 'historical' cookbook that is as much fun to read as it is to study.

The Art of Cooking was first published in 1400's and it is the first example of a modern cookbook in which ingredients, cooking times, and preparation techniques are clearly delineated. It is also one of the first cookbooks to divide the recipes into food groups such as meats, broths, pastas, eggs, fish, and the like. The recipes in this cookbook run the gamut from Stuffed Veal Belly and White Garlic Sauce to Lenten Caviar Pottage and Spinach Torte in the Genoese Style.

The captivating cookbook is enhanced by the inclusion of a detailed introduction by Luigi Ballerini that examines the historical and culinary significance of this text, as well as what biographical information is known about Martino. In addition, notes are found throughout the text that expound upon the recipes. Best of all, you'll also find fifty recipes in this book that have been modernized by Stefania Barzini. These are modernized versions of some of Martino's original recipes and include: These modernized recipes not only enable cooks to add to their repertoire, but also allow them to add an extra sense of realism to their Italian dishes.

This magisterial edition The Art of Cooking will delight both cooks and historians, and anyone who simply enjoys reading cookbooks. Historians and culinary scholars will be particularly interested in Ballerini's introduction to the text and Jeremy Parzen's textual notes found at the end of the text. Parzen is also responsible for the fine translation of the book into English. A short bibliography is also included that compliments the references found in Ballerini's introduction. This is volume 14 in the California Studies in Food and Culture series.


Related Reviews:

Food: The History of Taste, edited by Paul Freedman.
A collection of ten, well-illustrated essays, which combined provided an overview of the history of food from prehistory through modern times.

Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World, by Lilia Zaouali.
A Concise History with 174 Recipes. The first half of this volume is devoted to exploring the history and practice of Islamic cooking, and the second half of the book is given over to a wealth of original medieval and contemporary recipes.

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