Posted on 19 September 2010 by John Rippo
Terroir Guides: Food & Wine - The Italian Riviera & Genoa by David Downie. The Little Bookroom pub. 400 pp. Paper. $24.95. ISBN: 978-1-892145-64-2
Near the top of the Italian boot on the Northwest coast is a region called the Cinque Terre. It’s home to a unique and subtle cuisine as different from the well-known forms of Italian food is as chalk is from cheese. Developed over centuries, artisanal methods prevail over everything, seafood is supreme, bread and olive oils happen here like nowhere else and vegetables come into their own in a variety of combinations, presentations and preparations. The well-to-do from Milan buzz down to towns outside of Genoa for a decent meal; the food struggles mightily with the beauty of the coastline for prominence in people’s experience. The new book from New York’s The Little Bookroom is a rich compendium of the foods, methods of preparation and exhaustive list of the places to eat in the region. Besides that, there is a good deal of history of the region, stunning photos of the coastal beauty and interiors of restaurants and cafés by the dozen.
Consider just one example of the form; the simple fugassa—a pizza-like dough made with durum wheat and a combination of olive oils from the region blended in that give the resulting thick crusted, supple and complex flavored dish an honored place in the area’s cooking. Fugassa is kneaded and blended into a crunchy outer shell resembling a moonscape that is light, fluffy and surprisingly delicate inside and locals eat it alone or with simple veggies, mostly onions, as a basic meal. Others top it with everything under the sun and like the tortilla in Mexican cuisine, fugassa serves as the foundation and carrier of a whole range of culinary artistry. Not common in America, fugassa done the right way is a joy and while you may go far afield here before you find anyone who can do it correctly, Downie’s book can show you where to go for it if you’re lucky enough to travel to Italy in the future. Worth the price just for that, it is.
Though it isn’t a cookbook, there are juicy descriptions of how many foods are prepared which will get your motor running and some fairly detailed explanations of how the sun and shade work on organic produce that influence tastes. The people of the Cinque Terre region have had millenia to get it all down and their retinue seems to be done as perfectly as care and time can make it.
Like everywhere else, regionalism and tradition enhance diverse food cultures even within a small area. But this book will walk the interested reader through the area place by place and dish by dish, giving a unique and detailed picture of a part of Italy that’s hard to find in America, which is a pity. Make sure you don’t forget this book when you travel.