Before Reading This Cookbook, Put Some Pasta Water on the Stove

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Senior Cook
Oct 2, 2022
. . . because it's sure to wake your appetite.
What with major U.S. airports still short-listed for the title of Tenth Circle of Hell, I’m traveling by page these days. Miss Dickinson was right: “There is no frigate like a book.” And for cooks, few more so than this book by Maria Pasquale. Born in Australia, she like so many other children of immigrants, began to feel the pull of her roots. In time they pulled her all the way back to Rome, where she threw herself into books (“I Heart Rome” and “How to Be Italian”), journalism, food and travel writing, not to mention blogging (“HeartRome”). It all comes together in this book: quite apart from her formidable knowledge and experience, her very heart is in it. Although there is a thorough guide to Maria’s favorite places, and a map, to boot, this is no mere cookbook nor guidebook. It’s an intimate personal expression, like a love letter.

Maria steers readers through the Eternal City quarter by quarter, neighborhood by neighborhood, dipping into eateries plan and fancy, attracted by the aroma or décor or friendship. While she’s up to date on culinary trends and stars, she has a leaning toward open-air market stalls, modest trattorias and hole-in-the-wall joints run, usually, by a minimum of two generations of the same family (I couldn’t agree more).

Recipes? “Na cifra,” as Romans say for ‘plenty.’ They run from old standards that have become international favorites to Roman specialties, family inventions and guilty pleasures. They are clearly written and helpfully provided with both imperial and metric measurements. (There are also two indexes, one for recipes only.)

The photography is excellent, not just of the recipes but of Rome’s inexhaustible sights and vistas, and most are refreshingly free of captions, focusing the reader’s attention on the images themselves rather than distracting with unnecessary text. A particular feature in this regard is the matte paper used. It’s restful and pleasant, unlike the ubiquitous coated stock, unnecessarily shiny and ever accompanied by irritating reflections.

I have one complaint: the type throughout is two point too small and the font is sans serif. That’s not the best choice for blocks of text (although fine for headlines, signs and such) because of its reduced legibility. It persists because book designers and magazine art directors don’t READ. They merely LOOK.—Veteran writer-editor and home cook Bill Marsano sidles off to Italy whenever he can get away with it and is plotting to when he can’t.

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