Candida Martinelli's Italophile Site

Main Page This family-friendly site celebrates Italian culture for the enjoyment of children and adults. Site-Overview



Italian Food, Ancient Cookbooks, Health, Regional, Artusi, Prints...




Wine Liqueurs





























































































Italian cuisine verses French cuisine

Medieval Italian cookbooks free online

Pelligrino Artusi's classic cookbook

Health properties of Italian staples

Regional - Ethnic cooking sites online

Books About Italian Food, Recipes


Italian Cuisine verses French Cuisine

Bill Buford, a passionate food writer, describes the history of modern European cooking as originating in Italy during the Renaissance, then transported to France with Catherine dei Medici in 1553 when she married a future king of France. 

While France built upon the Italian cuisine, developing a highly codified cuisine of it’s own, the Italians continued on in the court and family fashion, allowing improvisation and regional variations to abound.  This inclusive cuisine was more difficult to diffuse via culinary institutes because it was difficult to codify in text books. 

There are some famous Renaissance texts that describe recipes collected from various sources:  chefs, housewives, family.  The most famous is Opera De obsoniis ac de honesta voluptate et valitudine, Venezia, 1570, (Opera On Right Pleasure and Good Health) which Mr. Buford calls Europe’s first international cookbook best-seller (still on sale, even in paperback, even if the following links are not always active, sorry).  

It was written by Bartolomeo Scappi, called Il Platina, who used as the base of his book recipes collected and printed by chef Maestro Martini around 1500, but he altered some of the recipes, adding his own expertise as chef to lords and popes.  (I realize these links are to Italian and English versions currently unavailable, but at least you can read up on them before looking for them at 2nd hand bookstores.)


The famous Italian text on Italian cooking from 1891, La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangier bene (The Science of the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well) by Pellegrino Artusi, a textile merchant, collects together recipes handed down from generation to generation, with imprecise measurements of ingredients, and approximate cooking times and temperatures.


The French Guide Culinaire (Culinary Guide) by Auguste Escoffier, from the same period, provides master-chef perfected recipes, with precise measurements of ingredients, and specific cooking times and temperatures.  The French and much of the world has thus classed Italian cooking as amateurish as compared to the French professionalism. 

But just as with the language of France, the attempts to pin it down and prevent any alteration can promote deterioration rather than preservation.  Tastes change, ingredients change, preferences change, and it is the Italian cuisine that is flexible enough to change right along with the world around it.  

Having said that, Mr. Buford also expresses surprise that many of Italy’s classic recipes have not changed radically since they were described in the mid-fourteen hundreds.

Reference:  Buford, Bill, “In the Kitchen”, pages 114-127, The New Yorker Magazine, September 6, 2004.


Ancient - Medieval Italian Cookbooks Free Online - History

(For a much expanded text on these wonderful cookbooks, visit my page dedicated just to them: Ancient - Medieval Italian Cookbooks.)

These books are fun reads. They're written in an Italian that is a mix of Italian and Latin and sometimes French and Spanish.  Reading them, you discover not just traditional dishes and variations you might never have imagined, but also things about the time period.

For example, how do you communicate how long to cook a dish, when there were no inexpensive, reliable timepieces in every home?  They used prayers that everyone at that time knew, like the 'Our Father' and the 'Hail Mary'.  So you're instructed to "cook it as long as it takes to say an Our Father", for example.  Or one recipe says to leave something to soak 'from vespers (evening prayers) to the morning'.

In the oldest books, the measurements are in pounds (libre) and ounces (oncia), and the numbers in roman-numerals (i, ii, iii...) because Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3...) were not yet in common use.  

There are lots of special dishes for meat-free Fridays and Lent, as required by the Catholic religious calendar devised by the Vatican, but phased out in the 1960s.  

Similar to all European cooking from that time, a spice mix called 'sweet spices' was often used .  It is most comparable to today's Allspice Mix with a mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, clove, pepper, ginger and at times other ingredients like anise and paprika.  There are also plenty of recipes that call for cinnamon, nutmeg, mace (ground from the shell of the nutmeg), clove, cardamom, and black pepper and ginger (zenzevero).

Herbs that we know today appear as well, like  parsley, sage, mint and marjoram.  Dried mushrooms are used.  Fruit was cooked, often in broth, as were many other things.  The more fat in the broth the better (more flavor).  And rose water was used to flavor dishes, as it still is in North Africa, and southern Italy.

But the spice or herb that is most common is saffron.  Saffron was used not just for it's flavor, but for the yellow coloring it gave to the food.  Yellow was a popular color because it resembled gold so it symbolized wealth.  It was the color of choice for weddings and not just for the food.  The wealthy bride's dress was usually golden or yellow.

Some other common ingredients are sugar (also in savory dishes), honey, almond milk (a liquid that comes from soaked almonds), lard (strutto, pork fat used instead of olive oil), butter (botiro) in place of or together with lard , raisons, pine nuts, almonds, black pepper, milk (lacto), cheese, and egg whites. 

Some common dishes are savory pies, soups, fried foods, fish and fowl.

Similar to today's French cooking, there are lots of sauces.  These are varied and served over cuts of meat, that are prepared and cooked in the same manner.  Only the sauce changes the flavor of the dish.

One book contains a recipe for a 'Torte of Live Birds'.  This was a showy dish that is mentioned in some banquet accounts of that time.  They would bake a crust with a lattice top and fill it, after out of the oven, with live birds that were released when the crust was broken.  What happened to them and the bird-dropping-covered crust after that, I really don't know!

In Maestro Martino's book, the more recent of the three, you'll find marzipan, and pasta recipes.  Among the pasta are lasagna and ravioli (raffioli).  The ravioli are filled with all kinds of things and either boiled in broth or fried, and sometimes topped with sugar.

Anonimo Toscano, Libro della cocina
From the late 14th or early 15th century, PDF, 23 pages

Maestro Martino, Libro de arte coquinaria From the 15th century, PDF, 82 pages

Anonimo Veneziano, Libro di cucina/ Libro per cuoco From the late 14th or early 15th century, PDF, 28 pages

Visit my page on the History of Italian Food and Recipes.

St. Mark's Square in the 1860s

Writer William Dean Howells lived in Venice from 1861 to 1865 as U.S. Consul under President Lincoln.  I have prepared a page with entertaining excepts from his book Venetian Life, in which he vividly describes Venetian food of the day, and the new-fangled restaurants.  


The Science of the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well

Pelligrino Artusi’s classic cookbook from 1891 La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangier bene (The Science of the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well), offers healthful advice, just like it’s classic predecessors.  

Artusi, a textile merchant, collects together recipes handed down from generation to generation, with imprecise measurements of ingredients, and approximate cooking times and temperatures.


He even quotes two proverbs.

English Proverb: 

Early to bed and early to rise

Makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.

In Italian:

Coricarsi presto ed alzarsi presto

Fanno l’uomo sano, ricco e saggio.

French Proverb:

Se lever à six, déjeuner á dix,

Dîner à six, se coucher à dix,

Fait vivre l’homme dix fois dix.

In Italian: 

Alzarsi alle sei, far colazione alle dieci,

Pranzare alle sei, coricarsi alle dieci,

Fa viver l’uomo dieci volte dieci.

In English: 

Up at six, breakfast at ten,

Dinner at six, bed at ten,

Makes a man live ten times ten.

Signor Artusi also describes menus for the various months and holidays, and foods recommended for people with digestive problems.  

But the most entertaining section for the casual reader is the one entitled Cose diverse (Various Things).  In there he describes the origins of coffee, tea and chocolate, and then he includes descriptions of how to prepare a few staples of the Italian diet like Tuscan mustard, roasted almonds, and a medieval spice mix.  

In the coffee entry, he includes this quote from the slave in the Goldoni play La sposa persiana (The Persian Bride), describing the precise method of cultivating coffee, and the method used in Ethiopia to prepare coffee (repeated boiling).

In Italian:

Ecco il caffè, signore, caffè in Arabia nato,

E dalle carovane in Ispahan portato.

L’arabo certamente sempre è il caffè migliore;

Mentre spunta da un lato, mette dall’altro il fiore.

Nasce in pingue terreno, vuole ombra, o poco sole.

Piantare ogni tre anni l’arboscel si suole.

Il frutto non è vero, ch’esser debba piccino,

Anzi dev’esser grosso, basta sia verdolino,

Usarlo indi conviene di fresco macinato,

In luogo caldo e asciutto, con gelosia guardato.

            … A farlo vi vuol poco;

Mettervi la sua dose, e non versarlo al fuoco.

Far sollevar la spuma, poi abbassarla a un tratto

Sei, sette volte almeno, il caffè presto è fatto.

In English:

Here is the coffee, sir, coffee born in Arabia,

And with the caravans to Isfahan (capital of Persia) brought.

Arabian is certainly, always, the best coffee;

While it sprouts from one side, it puts the flower on the other.

It is born in rich soil, in the shade or little sun.

Plant it out every three years, the sapling grows.

The fruit is not real, whether it is small

Or large, but only if it is tender,

Use it as you need it, ground freshly,

In a warm and dry place, with jealousy guarded.

            … To make it you need but little;

Put the right dose, and don’t put it straight on the fire.

Let it boil up, then quickly lower the heat

Six, seven times at least, the coffee is soon ready.




Health Properties of Some Typical Italian Foods and Herbs

The Mediterranean diet is the healthiest on the planet, as nutritionists have asserted for a very long time and is reiterated in this article on WebMD.  

In an authoritative book on the therapeutic properties of common foods, herbs and spices (Van Straten, Michael, Griggs, Barbara, Super Foods, Dorling Kindersley, 1996), many of the staples of the Italian diet appear prominently.  I can't find that book at present, but here are two by the same author.


Here are some foods, with the health problems they have been shown medically to offer some alleviation. 

We’re talking here about mild disorders, not chronic or life-threatening problems, from which if you or someone you know is suffering, it is unwise to replace modern medicine, with it’s precise dosages and medical supervision, with imprecise homeopathic or dietary treatments. 

And if you are on medications, be aware that your diet can interfere with the functioning of your medications; read the small print in the pill packages carefully or consult with your doctor. 

Almonds: rich in protein and vital minerals like zinc, magnesium, potassium and iron, recommended for convalescence, digestive problems, respiratory difficulties, urinary abnormalities.

Artichokes: liver purifying, cholesterol lowering, and a diuretic effect, recommended for circulatory problems, digestive problems, joint discomfort.

Chicory: liver purifying, diuretic effect, anti-inflammatory action, recommended for digestive problems, joint discomfort, skin irritations, urinary abnormalities.

Dandelion Leaves: liver purifying, cholesterol lowering, lightly diuretic effect, rich in potassium, anti-inflammatory action, recommended for circulatory problems, digestive problems, fatigue, joint discomfort, skin irritations, urinary abnormalities.

Figs: high nutritional value, rich in fiber, iron, potassium, calcium, gut-soothing, mild laxative, recommended for convalescence from illness, respiratory disorders.

Garlic: anti-bacterial action especially in the gut, anti-coagulant effect lowering blood pressure, cholesterol lowering effect, recommended for circulatory problems, joint discomfort, respiratory disorders, skin irritations, stress related problems, urinary abnormalities.

Grapes: highly nourishing, regenerative food, recommended for convalescence from illness, fatigue, joint discomfort, skin irritation, stress related problems, urinary abnormalities.

Olive Oil: anti-oxidant, high in vitamin E, cholesterol lowering effect, high HDL-fat levels, mild laxative effect, stimulates digestion, recommended for circulatory problems, digestive problems, joint discomfort, sexual dysfunction, skin irritations.

Peppers: high in vitamin C, iron and potassium, recommended for circulatory problems, respiratory difficulties, skin irritations.

Basil: nerve tonic and calming effect, can stimulate the appetite which makes it ideal for the elderly and those recovering from illness, a natural companion to tomatoes.

Chili Peppers: good for the heart and circulatory system, and the digestive system, cleansing effect on the respiratory system.

Oregano: antiseptic for the respiratory tract, helps against stomach colic.

Parsley: rich in vitamin A and C, iron, calcium and potassium, diuretic effect, fights gout and rheumatism, assists digestion especially of fatty foods.

Rosemary: assists digestion especially of fats, stimulates the memory, reduces nervous tension, a natural companion to lamb and chicken.

Sage: assists digestion of fatty foods, stimulates the central nervous system reducing nervous tension.

Thyme: antiseptic, stimulates body’s resistance to viruses and bacterial infections, nervous system tonic, natural companion to beef and lamb.

To learn more about Italian herbs and spices try the Italian Cooking and Living site.


Regional / Ethnic Cooking Sites Online

Buonissimo's Webzine's Cucina Regionale

Cookaround's Cucina Regionale

Italian Passover (Pesach) Recipes

Paesi On Line Ricette Regionali

For an exhaustive list and description of Italian foods by type and by region, Italian Made is great.  Click here to open the link to their Italian Foods page. 


Books About Italian Food, Recipes


To find more books  about Italian cooking, you can use this search tool for   Or check out some cookbooks I've selected from Amazon and feature on my Non-Fiction page.

Just enter 'Books' in the 'Search' field, and 'Italian cooking' (or Italian food, or Italian recipes, for example) in the 'Keyword' field.  Then click on the 'Go' button to see what's available, what people's comments about the books are, and what they cost.

Amazon Logo

I want to highlight a special recipe site.  It is for skilled cooks who want to make something a bit special.  The excellent Italian site Mangiare Bene, has a collection of dishes submitted by restaurant chefs from all over Italy.  They offer an introduction to the chef and restaurant together with the chef's recipes.  

And another cooking site with great Italian recipes is Delia Smith's site.  Delia is the top celebrity cook in Britain and she is a wonderful teacher.  Her website recipes have the most detailed explanations around, so you can't go wrong.  

There is a free PDF cookbook site that has a Pizza and an Italian cookbook you can download.  Just scroll down when you get there, to see the list.

And there's a wonderful on-line Italian cookbook dedicated to an Italian mother:  Ottaviana's Kitchen.  

If you understand Italian, and are looking for lots of genuine recipes, visit this wonderful site for Macaroni, Tortellini, Ravioli, and many, many more sections.  Use the menu in their right column to move around their site.

Jeanie C.'s Italian Home Cooking Links