We know that Fanny Cradock was no fan of Italian cuisine. We know that she felt it was inferior to her beloved French. We know she described it as running the gamut of 'A to B' compared to the 'A to Zee' of France. We also know however that this did not stop her writing about it all the time. Italian cookery was featured throughout the partwork, and even graced two distinct books written by Fanny. In 1974 she published her Common Market Cookery book on Italy, based on her jaunts to the continent for BBC TV's Nationwide programme, followed by the Bon Viveur book of Pasta Cookery in 1975, in partnership with the British Pasta Information Bureau. Not bad for someone who really wasn't fond of the grub.
With Pasta Cookery, Fanny was aiming to concentrate on inexpensive dishes for family meals, or entertaining friends, using varieties of pasta which lend themselves to the 'incorporation of left-overs' such as cannelloni, spaghetti or lasagne. Indeed Fanny says they are 'purse-stretchers at the table', only without the inclusion of the astronomically priced at the time Parmesan Cheese. Fanny's main advice is that pasta should never resemble stewed knitting, nor be flabby. Always al dente, slightly firm to the teeth. You would never eat your knitting, would you?
I'm heading to Turin and Piedmont while in Italy, and as Fanny has already established, these areas are more gastronomic than most. She's still no fan of course, despite, or perhaps as a result of, the skill of Italian chefs of being past masters at conjuring up delicacies from their limited arc of raw materials. Polenta that resembles a bath sponge is one example. Made in a blackened pot, stirred with a vine twig and poured onto a scrubbed wooden table, the Italian family will gather round with their forks ready to eat it. Only on 'high days and holidays' will a little meat or dried fruits be added. You get the impression that Fanny hasn't had a good experience while in Italy, although this book is supposed to be a celebration and an encouragement to visit and recreate the dishes.
Fanny recounts all her travels across Italy, and details the food, and regional specialities that she has found. More than enough for a book. All in about 150 recipes. Not just pasta, but hors d'oeuvres, soups, pizzas, rice, fish, poultry, meat, vegetables, eggs, cheese, sauces, salads, puddings and ice-creams. All showing what a limited diet those poor Italians have. It's not their fault, they just don't have access to the ingredients. They are limited. And poor. Not Fanny's favourites at all.
And don't get her started on the breakfasts. I'll need to watch out for the Italian businessmen, and women in particular, as well as students of both sexes, standing around in slit-alleys of minute cafés gulping coffee, dunking their buns with reverberating sucks. It sounds dodgy. I shall take Fanny's warning, and order large cups of coffee with additional jugs of hot water. I'm sure no-one will be offended. So, I think I am ready to make my way to Italy now and enjoy all that it has to offer. Which Fanny says is not much. Thanks Fanny. All that remains is for me to learn the names of all the pasta shapes. If I do them alphabetically it will be easier I think. All I need to do is learn A and B. Italy here I, somewhat nervously, come.