03 June 2010


SARONNO, Italy - The other day my favorite young Italian TV chef Mario Bacherini started talking about one of Italy’s culinary superheros, Pellegrino Artusi. Artusi wasn’t a chef, he was a silk merchant who didn’t have any connection with the food industry at all other than he loved to eat. He gained his superhero status by being the first to recognize that the everyday food Italian mamas and grandmas prepared for their families was one of Italy’s greatest treasures. After he retired from the silk business he spent several years traveling and collecting their vague cooking instructions and suggestions and turned them into recipes anyone could follow.

While Artusi's recipes are still a far cry from the detailed Gourmet and Food and Wine recipes that most of us know and love, he did a good enough job that even the most inexperienced of cooks can use his book. It’s called La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiar Bene. A translated version, The Art of Eating Well, is published by Random House.

Casa Artusi

At the time, the idea that home cooking was of any value, let alone national value, wasn’t particularly widespread and no publisher was interested in taking on the cookbook project. After many frustrating attempts to get the book published, in the end he published it himself.

What I love most about the book is the window it gives us into Italian life in the late 1800’s, which was about the time my grandparents immigrated to the United States. In reading his recipes I better understand what my Grandmother went though just to put a meal together.

One bit of advice I particularly liked was this: When you buy a wild duck at the market, pry open its beak to look at its tongue. If it’s quite dry, you know the animal’s not freshly killed, and then you should sniff it to be sure it doesn’t smell.

In this age of shrink wrapped skinless animal parts we sometimes forget where our food actually comes from. The day Bacherini was talking about Artusi he was chopping cocks combs into little bits for a classic Piedmontese dish and saying that if an animal has to die so we can live, the least we can do is not to waste any part of it. It made me think that he should see, or maybe he shouldn’t see, the reaction some of my visitors have had seeing whole prosciuttos hanging from racks at the delicatessen, or the skinned lamb heads and shiny pink pig’s feet in the display counter at my local butcher.

But Artusi’s book is not just about buying meat on the hoof, so to speak. Some of the cooking advice he doles out is just as valid today as it was back then. For example: if you want to make broth start cooking your meat in cold water and keep the water at the lowest simmer. If you want good boiled meat bring the water to a rolling boil and add the meat.

Cooking Demo at the Casa Artusi Cooking School

Artusi was born in Forlimpopoli, a small town in the province of Emilia Romagna and every summer the town hosts a Festa Artusiana. This year the festa will take place from 19 to 27 June. In addition to the cooking contests and the crowning of the best male and female cooks, the town’s restaurants will serve menus based on the 790 recipes found in Artusi book. While you are there visit the newly built Casa Artusi cultural center/food museum/restaurant/and cooking school. It sounds like a foodies dream to me.

For more information:
COMUNE DI FORLIMPOPOLI Ufficio Cultura Comune di Forlimpopoli tel. 0543/749234-5-6 e-mail:info@festartusiana.itinfo@pellegrinoartusi.it CASA ARTUSI Tel.0543/743138 - cell 349/8401818 http://www.casartusi.it/info@casartusi.it http://www.festartusiana.it/, http://www.pellegrinoartusi.it/

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