Paperbacks: Delizia, by John Dickie

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The Independent Culture

Admirable in every respect but the clichéd cover, this book is learned, enjoyable and wonderfully readable. Dickie explains the rich variety of Italian cuisine in this most regionally diverse of Western states.

Despite his impressive expertise on Italy (his previous book was an absorbing study of the Sicilian mafia), he admits his recent discovery of such treats as pane squarato from Marsala (bread that is boiled before baking like bagels and flavoured with fennel seeds), Roman animelle (sweetbreads served with artichokes) and capellacci di zucca from Ferrarra (sweetened pumpkin ravioli with nutmeg). But the most fascinating pages concern the Italian dishes that have become worldwide staples. We learn that Sicilians ate pasta a century before Marco Polo's trip to the Orient. Though he questions the "tolerant spirit" of mingling cultures said to be represented by Sicily's cuisine (some apparently Arab-influenced dishes are of recent invention), it's likely that dried pasta crossed from the North Africa coast while the island was under Berber rule. We discover pizza's popularity was delayed by the fear of cholera germs supposedly lurking in the subsoil of Naples. Queen Margherita's meal of the eponymous pizza in 1889 is compared to Diana's embracing of Aids victims. Dickie's nutritious banquet will be relished by all who adore Italian food.