janeyb, October 11, 2006
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Staff writer for The New Yorker, Bill Buford sees himself as a ?comfortable cook? and he volunteers to become Mario Batali?s ?slave?. This adventure leads to other apprenticeships with some of Italy?s masters. It is each master?s passion and Buford?s vivid descriptions of these characters that make this book such a feast for the senses.
Buford travels to Italy to learn pasta making from some pizzeria owners in Porretta and he becomes obsessed with his quest to discover when cooks started adding eggs to pasta dough. He searches cookbooks back to the 1,500s in pursuit of the first ?eggy recipe.?
He shares part of his pasta lesson as he makes ?angelically yummy munchkin food? (tortellini): ?You next tip the top part of the triangle forward, as though it were bowing in an expression of gratitude, and then (the crucial step) pull the other two corners forward, as though securing the bowing had in a headlock. You then press it all together to form a ring. When you turn the pasta over, you?ll be astonished by what you created; a belly button. (What can I say? It?s wildly erotic.)?
My favorite part of the book is when Buford becomes an apprentice in Dario Cecchini?s butcher shop in Panzano in Chianti. The butcher has his own way with words, ?A butcher never sleeps. A butcher works in meat during the day and plays in flesh at night. A true butcher is a disciple of carnality.? The lively discussions about wine, oil and cows encourage a renewed appreciation of food.
There are so many wonderful passages and I?ll leave you with one more:
?Enrico?s olive oil, I can testify, is very good, but there are a lot of good olive oils, made by other nutty earth artists with no interest in money, obsessed with smell, looking over their shoulders to make sure they?re the first on their mountain to pick their greenly pungent unripe olives, squeezing the tiniest amount of intense juice from their oldest trees. The viscous, gold-green liquid that dribbles out from their stone-like fruit is unlike any other oil I have tasted, and the madders chauvinistically boast that none of it leaves Italy.?