Several weeks ago, we told you about the oldest part of Italian cuisine’s history. Today we are going to complete this trip down the past with the Modern ages. Enjoy!
Early modern era
The courts of Florence, Rome, Venice and Ferrara were central to the cuisine. Christoforo Messisbugo, steward to Ippolito d’Este, published Banchetti Composizioni di Vivande in 1549. Messisbugo gives recipes for pies and tarts (containing 124 recipes with various fillings). The work emphasizes the use of Eastern spices and sugar.
In 1570, Bartolomeo Scappi, personal chef to Pope Pius V, wrote his Opera in five volumes, giving a comprehensive view of Italian cooking of that period. It contains over 1,000 recipes, with information on banquets including displays and menus as well as illustrations of kitchen and table utensils. This book differs from most books written for the royal courts in its preference for domestic animals and courtyard birds rather than game. Recipes include lesser cuts of meats such as tongue, head and shoulder. The third volume has recipes for fish in Lent. These fish recipes are simple, including poaching, broiling, grilling and frying after marination. Particular attention is given to seasons and places where fish should be caught. The final volume includes pies, tarts, fritters and a recipe for a sweet Neapolitan pizza (not the current savory version, as tomatoes had not been introduced to Italy. However, such items from the New World as corn (maize) and turkey are included.
In the first decade of the 17th century, Giangiacomo Castelvetro wrote Breve Racconto di Tutte le Radici di Tutte l’Herbe et di Tutti i Frutti (A Brief Account of All Vegetables, Herbs and Fruit), translated into English by Gillian Riley. Originally from Modena, Castelvetro moved to England because he was a Protestant. The book has a list of Italian vegetables and fruits and their preparation. He featured vegetables as a central part of the meal, not just accompaniments. He favored simmering vegetables in salted water and serving them warm or cold with olive oil, salt, fresh ground pepper, lemon juice or verjus or orange juice. He also suggests roasting vegetables wrapped in damp paper over charcoal or embers with a drizzle of olive oil. Castelvetro’s book is separated into seasons with hop shoots in the spring and truffles in the winter, detailing the use of pigs in the search for truffles.
In 1662, Bartolomeo Stefani, chef to the Duchy of Mantua, published L’Arte di Ben Cucinare. He was the first to offer a section on vitto ordinario (“ordinary food”). The book described a banquet given by Duke Charles for Queen Christina of Sweden, with details of the food and table settings for each guest, including a knife, fork, spoon, glass, a plate (instead of the bowls more often used) and a napkin. Other books from this time, such as Galatheo by Giovanni della Casa, tell how scalci (“waiters”) should manage themselves while serving their guests. Waiters should not scratch their heads or other parts of themselves, or spit,sniff, cough or sneeze while serving diners. The book also told diners not to use their fingers while eating and not wipe sweat with the napkin.
At the beginning of the 18th century, Italian culinary books began to emphasize the regionalism of Italian cuisine rather than French cuisine. Books written then were no longer addressed to professional chefs but to bourgeouis housewives. Periodicals in booklet form such as La cuoca cremonese (“The Cook of Cremona”) in 1794 give a sequence of ingredients according to season along with chapters on meat, fish and vegetables. As the century progressed these books increased in size, popularity and frequency.
In the 18th century, medical texts warned peasants against eating refined foods as it was believed that these were poor for their digestion and their bodies required heavy meals. It was believed by some that peasants ate poorly because they preferred eating poorly. However, many peasants had to eat rotten food and moldy bread because that was all they could afford.
In 1779, Antonio Nebbia from Macerata in the Marche region, wrote Il Cuoco Maceratese (“The Cook of Macerata”). Nebbia addressed the importance of local vegetables and pasta, rice and gnocchi. For stock, he preferred vegetables and chicken over meat. In 1773, the Neopolitan Vincenzo Corrado’s Il Cuoco Galante (“The Courteous Cook”) gave particular emphasis to Vitto Pitagorico (vegetarian food). “Pitagoric food consists of fresh herbs, roots, flowers, fruits, seeds and all that is produced in the earth for our nourishment. It is so called because Pythagoras, as is well known, only used such produce. There is no doubt that this kind of food appears to be more natural to man, and the use of meat is noxious.” This book was the first to give the tomato a central role with thirteen recipes. Zuppa alli Pomidoro in Corrado’s book is a dish similar to today’s Tuscan Pappa al Pomodoro. Corrado’s 1798 edition introduced a “Treatise on the Potato” after the French Antoine-Augustin Parmentier’s successful promotion of it. In 1790, Francesco Leonardi in his book L’Apicio moderno (“Modern Apicius”) sketches an history of the Italian Cuisine from the Roman Age and gives as first a recipe of a tomato based sauce.
In the 19th century, Giovanni Vialardi, chef to King Victor Emmanuel, wrote A Treatise of Modern Cookery and Patisserie with recipes “suitable for a modest household.” Many of his recipes are for regional dishes from Turin including twelve for potatoes such as Genoese Cappon Magro. In 1829, Il Nuovo Cuoco Milanese Economico by Giovanni Felice Luraschi features Milanese dishes such as Kidney with Anchovies and Lemon and Gnocchi alla Romana. Gian Battista and Giovanni Ratto’s La Cucina Genovese in 1871 addressed the cuisine of Liguria. This book contained the first recipe for pesto. La Cucina Teorico-Pratica written by Ippolito Cavalcanti has the first recipe for pasta with tomatoes. La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiare bene (“The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well”), by Pellegrino Artusi, first published in 1891, is widely regarded as the canon of classic modern Italian cuisine, and it is still in print. Its recipes come mainly from Romagna and Tuscany, where he lived.