AL DENTE by William Black


The Adventures of a Gastronome in Italy
Email this review


Lighthearted travels through Italy that get tightly focused when it’s mealtime.

“I drove on, deviated, climbed inland and stopped for lunch.” So it goes as British food writer Black (Fish, 1999, etc.) makes his way about Italy, cobbling together this gustatory portrait of the country from regular fortnightly doses of cheap travel. There are politics in these pages, from short regional histories to the seriousness with which Italians take their gelati; there is some pursuit of genealogy, of the Rossellis on Black’s mother’s side; and these chapters can easily be deployed as travel guides, organized as they are by specific areas, happy to give directions. (“If you head straight down to the Tiber from here you should get to the ghetto. . . .”) And there are those deviations, such as time to “reflect a little on tales of exploitation and lust among the rice fields of Vercelli.” But ultimately, this is about eating well—and often: of apricots and capers from Stromboli, of casu marzo (rotten cheese) that “is quite difficult for anyone but a Sard to eat,” of Neapolitan pizza and the importance of frogs in brodo. It is about the iconic cacciucco (“the cooking of piscatorial detritus, a dish eaten to keep fishermen's hunger at bay”) and the role played by the town of Comacchio in “the sacred act of eel jigginess.” It is also gratifyingly opinionated: “Her house began to stink, so she said, like a Greek fisherman's crotch [from the smell of stewing octopus]. This is wimpish talk, frankly. I am of the opinion that octopus is quite one of the most exquisite things to come from the sea.” And it is full of good advice: “Now, a word about panissa,” he will state, as befits the son-in-law of food historian Jane Grigson; or, “Let me offer you a few hints, a few truffle do's and don'ts.”

A garden mix of personal history, political history, and food all’Italia.

Pub Date: Nov. 15th, 2003
ISBN: 0-593-04942-X
Page count: 289pp
Publisher: Bantam UK/Trafalgar
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2003