In the early 1950s Elizabeth David set out for Italy, determined to show a rationing-weary British public that Italian cooking did not consist solely of spaghetti in tomato sauce. She stayed a year, travelling from coast to coast and mountain to plain, in her search for true Italian food that was neither anglicised nor 'frenchified'. The result was a compendium of authentic Italian recipes, often rustic, always delicious, and while Elizabeth David is a stalwart friend of the home cook, top chefs also regard her book as seminal.
In Italian Food, Elizabeth David created something more than a practical cookery book. It is no wonder that Evelyn Waugh chose it as one of the two books that gave him the most pleasure. Delightful prose, filled with fascinating asides on local tradition, brings the reader to a visual and imaginative feast before ever onion has been sliced or garlic chopped.
Italian Food was first published in 1954 and there were few ingredients available in Britain. Even in the 1963 edition Elizabeth David felt the need to explain that a courgette was 'a tiny marrow' and lamented the difficulty of finding basil and pine nuts. Yet she refused to participate in what she called the 'censorship' of assuming English cooks were too timid or stupid to try anything different; she included recipes for wood pigeon and squid-ink pasta alongside aromatic marinades, wholesome soups and delicious breads. It's easy to forget that supermarket aisles were not always filled with packets of fresh herbs, dried porcini and regional olive oils. Elizabeth David was among those responsible for the change, because she inspired a generation with her own curiosity and appreciation for the mouth-watering variety of authentic Italian food.
See more Elizabeth David titles:A Book of Mediterranean Food and Other Writings
Read more about the life and work of Elizabeth David