Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Anna Gosetti della Salda

Anna Gosetti della Salda (1918-2011) was an extraordinary woman.

She published the ultimate book of regional Italian recipes, Le Ricette Regionali Italiane, that is the mainstay of Italian cooks everywhere. Even Michelin-starred chefs in Italy go into rhapsody when talking about this book.

First published in 1967, it's never been out of print (current edition: 17th, 2001.) It was printed out of her own publishing house of whose catalog it's the sole item. She has never authorized a translation.

She made a "small concession" in 2002 allowing a pronunciation guide in Japanese to be added as an insert because "if they were going to go to all that trouble to learn Italian, she would help."

It's 1206 pages long nearly 5 lbs featuring 2174 recipes — 13 are "base recipes" (e.g. besciamella = bechamél.)

She made four arduous trips up and down the "Italian boot" in the days when such trips were absurdly difficult. She did it as a single woman (never married) and she was adamant about having her own way in everything from the fonts to the paper to the illustrations.

It's a product of a singular mind which admits no compromises.

The regions of Italy are organized in the order that a theoretical motorist could actually traverse them. They form a Hamiltonian Path which warms the cockles of the CC's mathematical heart. (The two island regions of Sicily and Sardinia come last.)

There is no table of contents — in her own words, "Why have it when the indices are perfect?"

Indeed the indices are perfect. All 116 pages of them. Each recipe is numbered. There are two indices organized by "region" and "analytics" (theme/topic). There's a meta-index of one page that tells you where to go find the indexes. The end of each of the regional indices has a excellent curated list of the "wine types" of that region. The cross-indexing admits no mistakes.

The paper is deliberately yellow (to indicate "old school" yellowing) and the illustrations are black and white line drawings. (Her initial career was in advertising. She opened her own agency. The book was published when she was nearly 50!)

Each recipe not only has exact details (tested, of course) but also any regional and family variants.

Even though the CC speaks no Italian, he can handle recipes in the language — limited vocabulary and content;  context makes things "obvious". The illustrations help. You are left in no doubt whatsoever about what the recipe entails.

The CC's favorite part is an excerpt from an interview she gave when she was nearly 90, "I recently read the book one more time, very carefully, just to find out what new criticisms I might have. I'm my most severe critic, yet I can't help admitting I did such a good job. I looked deeply into every recipe and technique; there's no room for superficiality in my work. If I were to start again I would do just as I have."

The book is just a staggering masterpiece.

1 comment:

reva said...

This is fantastic. Had I read the blog earlier, would have been my women's day share. What a character she is.