Food reads

For the educated glutton

It took me forever to finish, but I finally did it. I finished John Dickie’s “Delizia! The Epic History of the Italians and Their Food.” Normally I breeze through books (the ones I like anyway) but this one was so detailed in its historical account of Italian food that I had to make my way through it a little more carefully, a little more slowly.

The book starts in Medieval Italy (which wasn’t actually Italy back then) and works its way through the Renaissance, papal scandals (yes, they’ve always existed), the official establishment of Italy as the country we know today, the late 19th century and early 20th century flood of Italian emigrants, the first World War, the rise and fall of Mussolini and the second World War, and finally through the second half of last century and into the current one.

It was intense in its attention to historical detail but definitely a good read. I’m not a huge history buff, but history told through food? Well, that’s more my style.

I have seen the promised land

Going to BuonItalia, the italian food market in pricey, trendy, gourmet Chelsea Market, had long been on my list of things to do. I had been to Chelsea Market before but didn’t go in to BuonItalia because stores that claim to specialize in italian food usually disappoint me. They inevitably just make me miss real, authentic italian food, and then that leads to lots of moping around and being whiney.

But recently, when I went on an online search for a place in New York that sold stracchino (a soft white cheese that I love with every fiber of my being) I came back to BuonItalia, which said they had it, both on their website and when I called to ask. (You can never be too sure.)

So Flaneur and I headed west to buy the cheese for part of dinner at our apartment on Friday night. I went with the intention of just getting the cheese. I wasn’t expecting anything else. Just the stracchino. But the second I walked in and took a look around, I knew I had reached the promise land. The land of milk and honey. Make that cheese and honey. I had found everything I had been looking for.

This place had e-ve-ry-thing. EVERYTHING. Their cheese section was amazing! They had stracchino and so much more: burrata, pecorino, squaquarone, mozzarella di buffalo, and so many more. I wanted to rip them all open and go on a fiendish cheese eating binge. But I held back.

So much wonderful cheese!

A huge ceramic bowl filled with huge balls of mozzarella gave me a great idea for my next birthday party: instead of bobbing for apples, I want to bob for mozzarella. And if other people are weirded out by that, I’ll play by myself. Practically glowing in their milky bath, those mozzarella balls were begging to be eaten.

Fist-size balls of mozzarella

The refrigerated meat case was just like being back in Italy, ordering a sandwich at my favorite shop (which by the way, in case anyone’s interested, is Antico Noè in Florence). All my old friends were there: porchetta, salame, speck, prosciutto, and others.

Carnivore wonderland

Then as I worked my way through the dry foods section, I ran into all the cookies that I had always seen in the supermarkets in Italy. It really was like running into someone you haven’t seen in a long time. Someone you like. They had the chocolate pan di stelle (a classic among Italian children) and baiochi, the little round cookies with chocolate cream on the inside.

Cookies galore

But really, they had it all: olive oil, fresh pasta, spices, chocolates, Easter confections, grissini  (super thin crunchy bread sticks), jams, olives, coffee, and even imported gelato. I was in heaven. Italian food heaven.

Needless to say, I was completely unable to leave the store with just the cheese I had come for. This was not the place to put my self-control to the test, so I didn’t even bother.