It’s been a long time – 3 years! – since I wrote up my own Top Ten Cookery Books and since then I’ve often thought I should add more from time to time. I’m a cookbook addict and am always adding to my already huge collection because fashions in cooking change and while I hold on to some books from many years ago, for reference or just pure nostalgia, I rarely use them. So, I’ve got a few new ones I’d like to write about but today I’m going to begin with three books that fit more into the ‘food & travel’ category.
Since coming back from Crete at the end of September, friends keep asking, Where are you going next? Well, I don’t usually travel over the winter and it’s often around my birthday time in April that I start to clock up my air miles and head off to pastures new, although also quite often to old pastures in the shape of favourite places. And April is the time of year I just love going to Venice, one of my very favourite places. So, after fielding the ‘where are you going next’ question yet again over lunch with a friend a couple of days ago, I started to feel restless and decided I just had to have a trip to look forward to in 2015. And well, I didn’t go to Venice last year so it must really be time to go again. It took just a matter of minutes to book my BA flight and a room at the lovely Hotel Al Ponte Mocenigo.
Now, of course, when you go to somewhere often, one of the attractions is the familiar: in Venice it’s the warm welcome of Walter and Sandro at the hotel (where I’ve now stayed five times in the last eight years); it’s knowing where to go for that first glass of prosecco and plate of ciccheti by the Grand Canal when you arrive; and it’s being able to wander round without having to consult a map all the time. But, of course, it’s still nice to find new places and this is where Jonglez Publishing‘s ‘Secret’ series comes into its own.
I first heard about the ‘Secret’ books from my Italian teacher, Fabio, who told me about the Rome one when I last went there in March 2012. I didn’t actually buy the Rome book as I was travelling with friends who have an apartment there and they would be my guides, but when I next went to Venice – with Annie in April 2012 – I did buy the Secret Venice book then. These books help you find places off the beaten tourist tracks that you’d normally miss: hidden gardens and houses, small specialist shops, stunning sculptures, beautiful small churches tucked out of easy sight and maybe with a gem of a painting you’d otherwise not see, and many other interesting places. Of course, if it’s your first time in Venice then you’ll want to see the famous sites but when you’ve been a few times – or indeed many times! – it’s fun to find some different places which are only usually known to the locals. These are guides written by local people and take you on fabulous tours around unknown parts of the city. (Also available for Italy: Secret Rome, Secret Milan and Secret Tuscany.)
Now, I think I know Italian food pretty well for a non-Italian but I can still find myself flummoxed by an Italian menu where dishes can’t be straightforwardly translated. The Menu Guide in my little Dorling Kindersley Italian Phrase Book is quite good but a few months ago – mostly due to writing up Italian recipes on the blog – I felt I needed something a bit more comprehensive, so bought the Blue Guide Italy Food Companion. Now I can look up all those ‘alla‘ recipes; all those in the manner of ‘Norma’ (tomatoes and aubergine sauce), or ‘Cacciatora'(‘hunter style’ sauce with tomatoes, mushrooms and peppers) or ‘busara’ (breadcrumbs, tomatoes, parsley and white wine). I can look up different types of coffee so I know that if I branch out from either an espresso or cappuccino, I will find that a ristretto is an even shorter, more intense espresso, while a caffe corretto will be ‘corrected’ with a shot of grappa or sambuca or brandy. Food can have a whole language of its own, so don’t be caught out by not understanding the menu.
Now this last book is quite big so not a book to travel with like the first two. But it’s become something of an Italian food bible to me since writing the blog. I’m a great fan of Antonio Carluccio and have a few of his books, but this one, Antonio Carluccio’s Italia, is fantastic for getting a background to the food and wine of each region of Italy. The book is divided into the regions and Carluccio introduces each one with a general introduction to its location, history and geography and what it’s like. Then come ‘culinary traditions and specialities’ and clearly laid out are guides to typical regional dishes, local cheeses and wines and some recipes for the most famous dishes. It’s a fabulous reference book and full of wonderful photos too.
Have you got any favourite books of Italian food or travel that you’d like to share? Please let me know!