Archive for the ‘Massimo Montanari’ Tag

Comment: Montanari on steaming   Leave a comment

Papin's "digester"

In a recent article in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica (2 January 2011, p.41), food historian Massimo Montanari celebrated the invention of what was originally called the  “machine for softening bones.” This happy machine, created by Frenchman Denis Papin, was presented to the world in a book published in London in 1681. The bone digester could also be used for (explained Papin in his book) reducing the time required for cooking foods, thus saving on valuable fuel. Papin’s invention, then, was the precursor of the modern pressure cooker, though Montanari points out that one of the main problems was the regulation of the pressure inside to prevent explosions. Later versions included a pressure release valve. Papin’s digester came to Italy soon after its creation: Montanari tells us that it was popularized by the Venetian Ambrogio Sarotti, and used to make medicinal decoctions and broths by a certain Sangiorgiofrom Milan (prefiguring German chemist Justus von Liebig’s extracts). This machine not only provided the basis for the pressure cooker: the autoclave, the steam engine, and even the Italian home coffee maker (called a “Moka”) are children of Papin’s genius.

Posted January 5, 2011 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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Comment: Montanari on primi and secondi   Leave a comment

Massimo Montanari, an ever-observant food scholar, made an interesting guess at the “family history” of the current Italian trend of separating the seemingly inseparable primo and secondo dishes. The typical Italian menu, and indeed (supposedly) Italian lunch or dinner, consists of an antipasto (appetizer), a primo (usually a pasta dish) followed by a secondo (meat or fish), then dessert and coffee. Recently the primo and secondo have been increasingly distant, with the former served at lunch and the latter at dinner. The separation of these formerly (again, according to commentators, not food historians) perfectly-wed dishes is yet another sign of the decline of the Italian family.

Montanari has another take. Historically, he points out, meat was the main element of a meal, with pasta the side dish. As the majority of Italians could no longer afford meat, pasta came to take a more central role: meat, when present, was a condiment, for example a meat sauce over pasta or polenta. Only with the post-WWII abundance could Italians put them back together at the same table simultaneously. Their divorce (Montanari’s metaphor) is logical, more in line with the modern European dish that has only one main course, not two. Decadence? Montanari says it’s simply a reasonable separation.  ZN

(See Montanari’s Il riposo della polpetta e altre storie intorno al cibo. Laterza, 2009)

Posted November 14, 2010 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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Montanari — Il riposo della polpetta e altre storie intorno al cibo   Leave a comment

For those of you who just couldn’t muddle through other books by Montanari (I’m thinking of L’azienda curtense in Italia), sit down with a cup of Joe and think of this as your chocolate-filled croissant. The book is made up of a number of Montanari’s reflections about food, and often these reflections take the form of a link between the past and the present. Less dense than other Montanari books but backed up by the same impeccable research and great inductions, Il riposo is aimed at an intelligent public but one that doesn’t necessarily know much about food history. An excellent first book in food history (surpassed only by John Dickie’s Delizia), it’s also unfortunately only available in Italian for the moment. (Laterza, 2009).  ZN

Posted November 12, 2010 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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Montanari — Cheese   Leave a comment

Cheese, Pears, and History in a Proverb (Massimo Montanari) – This book takes the classic approach of the Annales school in France and applies it to a single proverb: “Al contadino non devi far sapere quanto è buon il formaggio con le pere” (“Don’t tell the farmer how good cheese is with pears”). Montanari, drawing on a wide range of popular sources, attempts to explain the evolution of the social meaning of this proverb in different historical epochs, showing how this short sentence divided classes and reflected medieval and Renaissance thought on “good to eat”. The book is a gem, not only for its analysis but for its use of historical inference applied to popular culture.

Posted October 13, 2010 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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Montanari — The Culture of Food   Leave a comment

The Culture of Food (Massimo Montanari) – The publisher’s choice of title for this book is unfortunate, in that Montanari has also published Italian Cuisine: A Cultural History, Food: A Culinary History, and Food Is Culture. One has to wonder why the original title—La fama e l’abbondanza, easily rendered in English as “Hunger and Abundance”—was not used, given the potential confusion. The book is, in any case, an excellent introduction to European food history from Roman times until the eighteenth century. While Montanari leans heavily on Italian examples, he makes an effort to extend his inquiry to all of Europe. The books lacks the dense, heavily footnoted texts of Montanari’s earlier books and is an easy read. Too bad that Montanari, a medievalist, didn’t bring the book up to the present. ZN

Posted October 7, 2010 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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