Al Dente: Madness, Beauty and Food of Rome

By David Winner

(Simon and Schuster, R240)

A friend was given this book as a gift and I got stuck into it. The author says she didn’t realise her dependence on cookery books until she saw her fingernail marks running below the recipes in her copy of Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking.

She felt she should have been versed well enough in the basics to let go and trust her instincts, but she wasn’t.

Her mother, an excellent cook, has only two recipe books and clippings, but rarely consults them.

She suspected that her wealth of recipe books was the cause of her lack of confidence in the kitchen.

While thinking about this, she was served a dish by a friend who combined two ingredients that would not have featured on her menu.

She wondered how the cook knew the two flavours would match and resolved to better understand the links between flavours – hence the book.

It’s a fascinating study that can be read for amusement or, as the author suggests, to help change your style and boost confidence when it comes to cuisine.

This one takes some getting used to, perhaps because the title implies that it will have a specific food slant, but once you get over that, it’s a fascinating read because Italy has such a rich history.

The author was struck by the Italian attitude to food, a unique relationship between sustenance and existence, and started delving into the history.

From the oldest ice cream shop to the king of tiramisu to the bakery for the wafer used in religious ceremonies and the enormous role of food in the lives of Italy’s grand filmmakers; from tomato sauce to fish markets, pasta and macaroni, the fig and the anchovy – all are given space to shine.