Food is essentially intimate. It literally enters us and becomes part of our bodies. Our lives depend on its presence. No wonder, then, that the act of eating or preparing food with someone can be transformative. It’s the deeply communal nature of cooking that makes Cooking with Italian Grandmothers so wonderful. On some level, it is the commonest of trivialities to say that food brings us together. But in this book the truth of that tossed-off phrase emerges radiantly. In words and gorgeous photos, Jessica Theroux shows us that the food she discovers on her journey is inseparable from the people who make it, the places where they lead their lives, and the history of both. This is food that links people to the land and to one another. You’ll emerge from the book feeling that you too have traveled those roads, stepped into those kitchens, and chatted with twelve distinct personalities. It’s a journey well worth taking.
This book is as much a travelogue as it is a cookbook, and like the best travelogues it doesn’t stop at observing a place, but enters the homes and hearts of the people who live there. The food here isn’t just something that sits, glowing, on a white tablecloth, and the origin of these recipes is much more than a pleasant, vaguely exotic backdrop. On the contrary: whether it’s a rich rabbit pasta sauce in Tuscany or creamy ricotta in Ustica, each dish is rooted in its own patch of soil and piece of human life.
As you read Theroux writing about learning to cook from the old women she meets on her travels through Italy, it’s clear that the act of cooking together has fostered a great intimacy between her and them. Theroux comes to know these women through their cooking, and in these pages, so do we. From Usha, the yoga practitioner with a hidden talent for creating decadent pastries, to Carluccia, who knows the soil on her Calabrian farm so well that she prepares beans from separate patches in ways designed to bring out the unique flavors of each, the way these women cook is imbued with their personalities, places, and life histories. Their food keeps memories, and creates them. It carries the echoes of past hardships and rejoicing, of bad times and good. Cooking it leads to revelations, as Theroux and her teachers open up to one another.
And I can’t wait to try out their recipes—I’ve got my eye on the plum-almond tart, tomato-bread soup, and pesto lasagna, for starters.
—Genevieve Aoki, Welcome intern