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In a Roman Kitchen: Timeless Recipes from the Eternal City

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2003

    Rome in Your Kitchen

    By Bill Marsano. Jo Bettoja (pronounced bet-TOY-a) went to Italy from Georgia in the early 1970s as a model; she stayed to marry and become one of the great ambassadors of Italian cooking. By now she's a kind of culinary-cultural monument. This is her latest and most delightful book--it fails to get a fifth star through no fault of her own--because it focuses on Roman cooking (the fad for the rather overrated Tuscan is abating at last) and because it is so personal. You can feel it from her opening sentence: 'My home is in Rome, not far from the Trevi Fountain, just a short walk to the marketplace.' Isak Dinesen's 'I had a farm in Africa' is another memorable opener, but with Jo you know you're going to eat. And she takes you right to her marketplace, and through Roman traditions and foibles and lore, while piling on the recipes. Which are not all Roman, by the way. Romans have, over the years, grudgingly admitted that some other Italians can cook, at least a little, and so what we have here are real Roman recipes and adopted Roman recipes. Pastas are especially abundant because no Italians are so crazy about pasta as Romans. There's also a nice selection of egg dishes (legacy of Ancient Rome) and fritti misti or mixed fries, a more modern Roman passion. In the tradition of cookbrook writers of her era, Jo doesn't discuss wine, so allow me to recommend Rome's white, light and beguiling Frascati, which entranced Americans during the postwar 'sunny Italy' tourist boom. Back then (the 1960s), Frascati was merely popular; today it's a quality wine. Look for Fontana Candida's Santa Teresa and Terre dei Griffi; Villa Simone's Vigneto Filonardi and Vigna dei Preti; Falesco's Vitiana; Colle Picchioni; and Conte Zandotti's San Paolo. So--why no fifth star? Poor design, deserving of a sound smack or two with a wooden spoon. No, make that a rolling pin. Thinking to introduce color to the pages, the designer chose a light mustard-yellow for many of the recipe headings. Sorry, but it tends to blend in and so is hard to read. The ingredients lists use a smallish italic that also fades. The body type is a fuss-budget's dream, distracting with its silly, swishy little details. Forty years in publishing have taught me that type's job is to convey information legibly and easily, not to call attention to itself. By the way: Some travelers may recognize the name. That's because Jo is the wife of Angelo Bettoja, owner of one of Rome's finest hotel groups. Their five family-run hotels, centrally located and well priced, are, like this book, full of Roman warmth. --Bill Marsano is an award-winning writer on wine and spirits, travel and other subjects.

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