-by Matthew Fort
296 pages (autumn 2006)
MY RATING: 4.5/5
Matthew Fort’s infatuation for all things edible and Italian are wonderfully palpable in this gastronomic treasure. Heady and sumptuous as a fine red wine, Eating Up Italy: Voyages on a Vespa — part travel memoir, part specialty recipe book — recounts Fort’s journeys all over the stunning Italian countryside, while lavishly showcasing each region’s own unique culinary “nuances”.
Italy’s romance and mystique lay in its beautiful language, hearty people, culture, fascinating history...and, of course, its wide array of mouth-watering edible delights. One would be hard-pressed to find a better qualified author for the task. Fort, one of Britain’s most renowned food critic and writer, formed an enthusiasm for Italy at the tender age of 11. The love affair with the country and its cuisine has only deepened with time, as Fort, at age 50, takes a “gastronomic tour” of the beautiful country from its southernmost tip at Melito Di Porto Salvo to the northern region of Turin.
Fort brings the tastes, aromas, and regional culture of Italy directly to the reader, in stunning clarity, coupled with a signature wit. Eating Up Italy is a bonafide travelogue on its own merits — nonetheless, Fort doesn’t rest on his laurels, expecting us to take his word for it. The tried-and-true age old recipes, generously peppered throughout, involve the reader and add an inimitable richness to Fort’s personal experiences, on his travels.
From regional delicacies to every-day local cuisine, Fort’s selected recipes and instructions, layered amidst engaging anecdotes teaming with insight into the lives and food of the locals, are easy to follow and tempting to try. Fortunately, many of the recipes are ‘formalized’, using easily recognizable standard measurements, as many Italian cooking techniques are known to use vague measurements such as “a little bit of this, a little bit of that.“ Some recipes may be easier than others, as some call for ingredients that would be challenging for a typical North American ‘foodie’ to find at their local market.
The book, itself, is bound beautifully with a ‘foodified’ rendition of Venus di Milo. Its lovely thick buttery paper and dark brown ink, lends itself an “old world” feel. At the back of the book is a comprehensive index, in case a particular recipe or notation requires reference on a whim.
Truly a voyager’s enchantment and a food lover’s bible, Eating Up Italy captures the incredible country that has it all, and will have any food lover or travel enthusiast shouting “Bella! Bella!”
One can only wait with bated breath - and grumbling stomach - for Fort’s upcoming labour of love, Eating Up Sicily.
Buy Eating Up Italy: Voyages on a Vespa at Amazon.com.
- reviewed for Book Pleasures