Italy re-unified in 1870, for the first time since the fall of the Roman Empire, and the modern Republic of Italy dates from that time.
And in 1890, the first modern Italian cookbook was published. It was by Pellegrino Artusi, and was called “La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiare bene” or “The Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well“.
What was revolutionary about this book was that it had over 700 recipes from northern and central Italy – primarily Emilia, Romangna and Tuscany – (and some French versions of Italian food too). For the first time the traditions of Italian home cooking were set down, prior to that only the elaborate food of the ducal courts had been thought important to write down.
Today, all Italian chefs start with a copy of Artusi’s classic, from which they learn the basics, before they graduate to more elaborate food. Thus when we think of Italian food, it’s really Italian home cooking from northern Italy from around the end of the 19th century.
If you read Italian, you can get the Kindle version of the book extremely cheaply (under a dollar). If you want an English translation, it’s more expensive – see below:
Here are two of Artusi’s recipes from his book, in his own voice, loosely translated:
Zuppa Con Le Cipolle Alla Francese (French Onion Soup, Italian style)
This soup can be made with either broth or milk and the following amounts serve five people.
250 grams (about 8-3/4 ounces) of white bread
80 grams (about 2-3/4 ounces) of grated Gruyere cheese
50 grams (about 1-2/3 ounces) of butter
40 grams (about 1-1/3 ounces) of grated Parmesan Cheese
3 eggs, beaten
2 large white onions
1-1/2 liters (about 1-1/2 quarts) of milk or broth
Slice the onions very thinly and saute them in butter. When they begin to brown, add the broth or milk (depending on what you are using). Cook well so the onions are soft enough to pass through a sieve. Mix the pureed onions with the remaining liquid. Cut the bread into slices or cubes, toast it, and then arrange it in layers in a soup tureen. Garnish the bread with the beaten eggs, the Gruyere and the Parmessan cheese. Lastly, pour in the boiling broth and send to the table.
If you make this dish with milk, you should salt the eggs well. Given the amount of onion used in the soup it is not recommended for those suffering from loose bowels.
Maccheroni Alla Francese (Macaroni French Style)
I say French style because I found this recipe in a cookbook of that nation, but as so often happens with printed recipes, which rarely coincide with what must be done in practise, I had to change the proportions of the ingredients as follow:
300 grams (about 10-1/2 ounces) of Neapolitan style long macaroni
70 grams (about 2-1/2 ounces) of butter
70 grams (about 2-1/2 ounces) of Gruyere cheese
40 grams (about 1-1/3 ounces) of Parmesan cheese
a small pot of broth
Cook the macaroni until two-thirds done in moderately salted water. Put the broth on the fire and bring it to the boil and then add the grated Gruyere cheese and the butter, stirring well with a wooden spoon to help them dissolve. When this is done, immediately pour the broth over the drained party-cooked macaroni. I say immediately because otherwise the Gruyere sinks to the bottom and sticks together. Keep the macaroni on the fire until completely cooked making sure that a little sauce remains. When served, toss with Parmesan cheese and when serving, provide some more Parmesan cheese separately for those who love the spiciness and have no taste for the delicate.
This, like macaroni bolognese is a food which is very convenient for families, because the saved broth was enough for a pot of soup the day before. You replace the milk if you want to thin the soup. The Gruyere, also known commercially by the name “Swiss cheese”, is a cheese that is a huge form of soft paste, yellow and pitted. Some people do not like the smell, but in the cold weather you are not so sensitive to the smell.