Both times I’ve been in the Boot, I’ve been guided by Faith Heller Willinger’s Eating In Italy: A Traveler’s Guide to the Hidden Gastronomic Pleasures of Northern Italy. Both times I’ve come back significantly heavier. The book is a neat, portable guide to excellent food shops, enotecas, markets, cozy trattorias, and fancy ristorantes in a wide range of regions in the upper half of the country.
When I visited Sicily I wished for a resource as smart, wide ranging, and spot-on. Now Willinger, a 30-plus year expatriate resident of Florence, has delivered it–partly. Her new Adventures of an Italian Food Lover is a hardback cookbook with chummy profiles of many restaurateurs, home cooks, shopkeepers, and gastronomes she’s become pals with over the years, and a recipe from each. The book is being touted as a guide, but due to its size, heft, and somewhat haphazard organization, it’s not really practical for that. The nice thing is that along with sections on northern and central Italy, and Tuscany, a small majority of it is devoted to southern Italy and the islands. That means there are some really interesting and seldom seen dishes, like meatless “bread meatballs” from Puglia, pasta with fish ragu from the Amalfi Coast, mussels with yogurt sauce from Sardinia, and smoked mozzarella cutlets from Campania.