The Historical Regional Cuisines Of Italy - Part II
This tradition of "feast or famine" lasted until the Renaissance, when the chronicles of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries speak of a series of banquets for official receptions, a luxury unheard of since Roman times, in which hundreds of different culinary courses alternate with music, songs and dances. While French, German, and Spanish mercenary troops proceeded with their waves of looting and ravaging the peninsula, the Renaissance courts of Milan, Urbino, Ferrara, Florence, Mantua, the Serenissima Republic of Venice, and most of all the Papal Rome of Michelangelo and Raphael, competed among themselves for the outrageously ornate splendor of their palaces, the magnificence of their collections of fine art, and the staging of public celebrations where massive amounts of refined culinary creations would be served to the numerous guests.
The Renaissance marked a time when Italy began the social and culinary conquest of Europe through an unusual attention to cleanliness and good manners, as recommended by a series of treaties, such as the famous Etiquette of Monsignor Della Casa, which refined and codified the newly established customs. Most interestingly, this new etiquette was centered around the newly popular use of the fork.
Although dried pasta was brought into Sicily many centuries earlier, far from dominating the food scene it continued to be an occasional food in Italy up until the seventeenth century. Up to this time, Neapolitans were known as "mangiafoglie" or leaf eaters, because their basic food were the vegetables grown in the area's rich volcanic soil. In fact, the "vermicelli" or small worms pasta, arrived in the alleys of the city only in 1647, after the critical revolt of Masaniello. From that time onwards, Neapolitans became known as "mangiamaccheroni" or eaters of pasta.
Catherine de Medici by marrying the Dauphin Henry in 1533, was responsible in bringing into widespread application in France the precious Italian culinary traditions and techniques, the elevated achievements of Italian gastronomy, and the establishment of the foundations of the civilization of the table.
It is during the seventeenth and eighteenth century with the disappearance of the European lordships and the royal courts, that Italian food loses its importance and its fame, and the era of national recipe seems finished. By this time, the culinary geography of Europe is already well defined and French cuisine, now included amongst the fine arts, arouses the interest of painters and writers on its way to obtaining European dominance, thanks to a single prominent person: Marie-Antoine Careme, born poor and laboring as a child apprentice in a restaurant, soon became through his genius for cooking enhanced by his natural talent and passionate study of letters and architecture, one of the primary proponents of grand cuisine.
In previous centuries food was an expressive medium for artists to be considered both symbolic and evocative, by the eighteenth century, food becomes a subject of canonical debate. The merit is attributed to the genius of Marie-Antoine Careme and his intellectual relationship with many leading European artists, including the greats of music and literature, such as Gioacchino Rossini and Alexandre Dumas. Even among the painters gastronomy became fashionable: the Impressionists debated the theories of light in the restaurants of Montmartre, and moved to the countryside in search of the effects of light and aromas of stews, renewing the genre of still life of fish, fruits, and vegetables.
Continued in Introduction Part III
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