What’s the USP? A deep dive on Italian food culture in an ‘oversized, obsessively complete, visual feast of a book’. And the marketing folk at publisher Artisan really do mean over-sized. This is the sort of coffee table book that might be better suited to artful placement on a picnic bench. Never mind doorstop tomes, this book is the size of an actual door. You get the idea: woe betide anyone looking to fit this onto an Ikea bookshelf.
Who wrote it? Credited to ‘François-Régis Gaudry and friends’, this is a collaborative effort from the team behind 2018’s similarly massive Let’s Eat France. A popular restaurant critic across the Channel, Gaudry has compiled a team that includes well over seventy contributors, including pieces by regulars from his radio show On va deguster.
Is it good bedtime reading? In so many ways, Let’s Eat Italy is perfect bedtime reading – each section offers a stand-alone deep dive into a single facet of Italian cooking. They are beautifully designed, as indebted to a Wes Andersonian sense of style as they are Italy’s own innate relationship with design. It makes for a book that one can pore over, page by page, or simply dip into as they like.
There are in-depth looks at different ingredients, from a ‘Spotlight on Capers’ to sumptuous photographic spreads on artichokes, Italian citrus fruits, tomatoes and more. Perhaps you are more interested in exploring the terroir of the nation’s cuisine, exploring the impact Venice’s lagoon has on its food. There are, of course, plenty of recipes too – regional specialties uncovered and offered up for home cooks to discover on their own turf.
All told, it’s rare to open Let’s Eat Italy and not find yourself at least briefly enamoured by its contents. Amongst the three hundred or so topics there are remarkably few duds – an occasional look at Italian food in American pop culture sheds no new light, but elsewhere even those sections without any immediate obvious use (charts of native cattle breeds) or beautiful enough to distract the reader for a moment.
The only real problem, then, is the sheer size of it, which simultaneously renders it readable only on a large table, or propped up on one’s knees whilst sitting on the sofa. But equally with the design so lovingly attended to, it’d be a crime to print it any smaller than it already is.
How good is it as a cookbook? Oh, absolutely useless. The recipes are tempting, sure – but who has room on their counter for a cookbook the size of a tabloid newspaper? I have enough difficulty sourcing real estate for the toaster. Recipes also tend to form only a small percentage of the page they are on, with the vibrant photography and elaborate histories of each dish taking priority to Gaudry and his pals. Better, then, to explore the dishes that tempt you most and then seek them out elsewhere – a decent Italian cookbook like Anna Del Conte’s Gastronomy of Italy or, more recently, Rachel Roddy’s A to Z of Pasta will cover most of the bases here.
Should I buy it? Let’s Eat Italy is surplus to almost any cook’s actual needs – but then, that’s also true of all the best cookbooks. This is a luxury, to be treasured and perhaps even revered a little. The sort of book that sits in a home like an alternative religious text – an illustrated Bible of Italian food culture that will have as many devotees as it does naysayers. But here’s the kicker: the real Bible doesn’t have a three page illustrated spread dedicated to salumi.
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks, and hungry folk who have no intention of cooking but do fancy lusting over authentic local specialties.
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars
Buy this book
Let’s Eat Italy!: Everything You Want to Know About Your Favorite Cuisine
£45, Artisan Division of Workman Publishing
Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas