Ex libris: books that have come across my desk

Truth be told, I don’t really have a desk (although, happily, that will be changing soon!). For the last year and a half, my office has been the Butler (Columbia U) and New York Public Libraries, the La Jolla and Marina del Rey Libraries, and a mixed bag of airport lounges and Starbucks. Here are some books that have come across my virtual desk this holiday season. (Click on the images for Amazon links.)

Puglia: a Culinary Memoir is the most recent entry in a wonderful series of regional Italian cookbooks published by my friend Polly Franchini in New York (I’m currently translating Venice). I really liked the narrative feel of this cookery book and the excellent translation by Natalie Danford is fluid and natural. The regional Italian cookery fad has been around for some time now (since the late 1990s) and while so many celebrity chefs have tried to hang their hat on the Italian regional mantle, few can deliver the way that Italian authors can: look to Maria Pignatelli’s recipes for truly authentic Apulian fare.

It’s never too late to save the world from Parkerization: my close friend Alice Feiring’s book, The Battle for Love and Wine or How I Saved the World from Parkerization, has appeared at Do Bianchi a number of times since it was released earlier this year. I can’t recommend this polemical book highly enough: this is required reading for anyone and everyone ready to cast off the yoke of Parkerized and reified consumerist hegemony (the rhetoric is Gramscian here).

Check out this post on Alice and her book by Craig Camp at Wine Camp: a Points-Free Zone.

You wouldn’t think there would be anything polemical about the industrious Tyler Colman aka Dr. Vino’s most recent book, A Year of Wine, but there is: Tyler has anointed himself as the caped crusader devoted to exposing the often obscene carbon footprint of marketing-driven wines. Even in this primer for the neophyte wine enthusiast, he devotes ample space to the environmental impact of wine and wine consumption. I really liked the innovative format of this book: Tyler leads the reader through the year’s seasons of wine, with useful tips for how to decipher the choreography of wine service and how to pair and drink in an informed and intelligent manner.

I must confess that I am a little conflicted about including this last book, A16 Food + Wine, in my round-up. A16 is a great San Francisco restaurant and Jayne and Jon and I had a wonderful time when we ate there in October. It’s really two books: the first part is an excellent introduction to the wines, grapes, and winemaking traditions of southern Italy, by SF sommelier Shelley Lindgren, who blew the minds of the wine world when she launched an all-southern-Italian list in 2004 (the two exceptions are two of my favorite sparklers, Puro by Movia and Lambrusco by Lini). Her contribution to Italocentric vinography is perhaps the first comprehensive English-language survey of southern and insular Italy. It will reside proudly in the reference section of my new desk.

The second part of the book is Nate Appleman’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along, I-hung-out-in-Italy-for-a-while guide to air-quoted regional Italian cookery. He lost me at “chicken meatballs” (Italians make meatballs with veal, pork, and beef, and chicken is never ground in Italian cookery). I like Nate’s cooking and immensely enjoyed the restaurant (including his superb Monday-night meatballs) but there’s nothing genuine in his claims of authenticity.

I wish this book were just “A16: Wine” but I do recommend it as great guide to the wonderful wines of southern Italy, which represent some of the greatest values for the quality in the market today.

One thing I’ve learned over this last year and a half: it’s not easy to put your feet up on a virtual desk. But as I wait for my real desk to arrive (in Jan. 09), I’m looking forward to catching up on my own reading over the holiday break.

Buona lettura!

Next week: Do Bianchi’s top NYE champers pics!

8 thoughts on “Ex libris: books that have come across my desk

  1. Nate’s other SF resto, the Roman “inspired” SPQR, serves a Southern (as in Southern U.S.) style fried chicken, b/c nothing says Trastevere like extra spicy crispy SPQR chicken. Nothing wrong with Southern style fried chicken, personally I love it and so do SPQR’s legions of fans, but that has zero to do with Roman cookery.

  2. We went to SPQR as well in October for an aperitivo and I really liked the vibe there. And I think it’s great how Nate has fused southern Italian elements into a sort of pan-Italian-inspired cuisine (and the food is great at A16). But when it comes to the printed word, I just cannot buy into the whole “this is authentic regional” cuisine attitude when it’s really an American interpretation. Shelley’s list stands apart as one of the most interesting in the U.S. but no one pairs wine with pizza in Italy! I’m sorry, they just don’t…

  3. I agree regarding claims of authenticity…A16 and SPQR are very self important about that. But then it has to be backed up. At SPQR, spaghetti/rigatoni is made by hand, which is a lovely gesture, but a step too far. In Rome, a decent dried pasta (at the worst DeCecco) is used in the respected establishments for the canonical pasta sauces. Nate and co. would be better off using a high end dried pasta like Setaro or something from Gragnano. Their next project is Urbino, inspired by the cuisine of guess where? Either way, it will be a hit, and no doubt a weighty tome will be written about it.

    People do drink wine with their pizza in Italy, rightly or wrongly. I would think some attempt at complimenting the pie is made when selecting the wine to order. Most pizzerie sell decent wine and the more down home ones probably just vino sfuso. I’d like to see more pizzerie in Italy serve craft beers like Super Baladin or Menabrea, to name the biggest protagonists of the genre.

  4. Hey Jeremy –

    Thanks for the mention–glad you liked the book!

    Funny exchange about wine and pizza. Whoda thunk pizza was “impossible”!?!?

    I hope to try A16 the next time I’m in SF. Shelly contributed a sommelier survey to A Year of Wine.

    Good luck with that desk!


  5. Pingback: Pizza: a forbidden food-wine pairing?!? | Dr Vino's wine blog

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