General Observations on Italian Cookery, and Recipes for Typical Italian Dishes.
Cookery in Italy.—The Italians claim to have inherited their taste and capabilities for good cooking from the luxurious Romans, who were content to confer high honours, and give what appears to us extravagantly high remuneration to those who could gratify their inordinate and fantastic appetites. As a matter of fact, many dishes favoured by the Romans are still common in Italy, where the culinary art is said to have attained a high degree of perfection in the sixteenth century. As regards high-class cookery, the reputation has to some extent been maintained, but in other respects Italy has not kept pace with France, Austria, Germany, and many other countries.
Travellers who gain their knowledge solely from hotels and restaurants note little difference between Italian and French cookery, simply because the Italians, like ourselves, have not only borrowed and adapted much of the French cuisine, but also largely employ cooks of that nation. Italian and French cooks alike are skilful in providing a variety of vegetables in many tempting forms unknown to us. In this branch of cookery the Italians may be said to excel, the delicious flavour which characterises many of their vegetable preparations being largely due to the introduction of cheese. The Italians alone appear to rightly understand the use of cheese. A dinner of many courses may have in each course a dish of which cheese forms a part, yet though the palate is pleased by the flavour it imparts, its presence is not suspected. The Parmesan cheese, which the Italians principally use, takes its name from the town of Parma, where it is made most extensively. The dryness, the peculiar feature of Parmesan cheese, is secured by removing every particle of cream from the milk before converting it into cheese.
Polenta, risotto, and such farinaceous preparations as macaroni and spaghetti, may be said to be national foods. Polenta in its most simple form consists of milk thickened with Indian corn or maize