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Eating Up Italy: Voyages on a Vespa    by Matthew Fort order for
Eating Up Italy
by Matthew Fort
Order:  USA  Can
Centro, 2006 (2006)
* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

'The biscuity gold slice of toast was heaped with tiny cubes of cardinal-red tomato, shiny with oil and juices, and flecked with dark green particles. The crostino was explosively crunchy, with a slightly malted flavor. The tomato was clean and sweet, its flavour sharpened by the exhilarating intensity of the dried oregano, the warmth of chili rising up through fruit and herb.' Who could resist reading a book that started with these words? Not I.

Matthew Fort decided to forge a path from the southernmost tip of Italy to Turin in the north, eating as he went. He chose a Vespa - 'design icon, landmark of Italian culture, sound, sensible, and slowish' - as his mode of transportation, arranging to make the jaunt in three sections: 'From the tip of Calabria to Naples; from Naples to Ancona; from Ancona to Turin.' His intent was to sample food along the way and discover the differences in edibles from one region to the next.

The author's account of his discovery of foods is marvelous and wonderfully written. I salivated through the whole of the book. His history of Italy is intertwined with recipes too glorious to just be read. They must be tried. His interaction with the Italian people is intriguing, reminding me of when I was lucky enough to spend a month in Tuscany. They are open and friendly and very accommodating. They laugh at foreigners' attempts to speak their language, but in a way that is not offensive; they let you in on the joke. They are courteous, and open, able to find a way to your heart. Boisterous and a bit hard on the ears, but loving and kind.

Rather than list recipes, let me quote Fort's words on some of the dishes he was served. 'Ah, but to taste, that was another matter. The chicken was redolent of the farmyard, the lamb robust with free-ranging and the pork subtle and unctuous as an undertaker.' On the Supreme Sausage, he tells us that 'The thick slices of sausage were a dark purply brown. Their texture was compact and dense. Each exploded in my mouth with a flavour of enormous power, very deep and full, with a keen salty edge. Small chunks of fat greased each mouthful. The bland unsalted mashed potato acted as a perfect foil, absorbing the fat, a neutral antidote to the intensity of the meat.'

When the author is not expounding on the colorful history of Italy, words like the above catch the reader's attention. They must first be read for the beauty of Fort's expression and then for their content, as he shares the magic key to cooking like a true Italian.

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