[Thoughts on the Table – 92] The Quest for Authentic & Original Recipes, with Diana Pinto

Diana Pinto

Thoughts on the Table is back with a new guest, Diana Pinto, and a very special episode. As she describes it, Diana became interested in noting recipe variations across different cookbooks. Incidentally and unexpectedly, this brought her to challenge the concept of authenticity or at least the implication that there’s one true way to cook traditional Italian dishes, a claim that we see so frequently on social media and that risks having a deeply damaging effect.

Diana mentions several cookbooks and authors (though she doesn’t endorse them all necessarily!) Here is a written list for your reference, in order of “appearance”.

  • The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan
  • Anna del Conte
  • La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiar Bene by Pellegrino Artusi
  • Il Talismano della Felicita` by Ada Boni
  • Il Cucchiaio d’Argento / The Silver Spoon
  • Sauces and Shapes by Oretta Zanini de Vita
  • Popes, Peasants, and Shepherds by Oretta Zanini de Vita
  • The Italian Baker by Carol Field
  • Le Ricette Regionali Italiane by Anna Gosetti della Salda

During the show, we also mention bloggers Frank Fariello (Memorie di Angelina) and Tina Prestia (Tina’s Table) who were previous podcast guests and also touched on the theme of authenticity:

You can follow Diana Pinto on Instagram @cremafrangipane and on YouTube.

The music in the episode is by www.purple-planet.com.


Paolo Rigiroli

Author: Paolo Rigiroli

Now based in the UK, Paolo is an Italian who lived in Canada for nearly 18 years and blogs about Italian food and its many aberrations.

2 thoughts on “[Thoughts on the Table – 92] The Quest for Authentic & Original Recipes, with Diana Pinto”

  1. Interesting listen, Paolo! And thanks for the shout out.

    Certainly trying to identify a single “original” recipe for an iconic recipe is a fool’s errand. That’s one reason that, as you know, on my blog I present the recipe for the way I prepare a dish, but always (or almost) also mention the variations in the notes below. Just so readers get a sense of the range of possibilities.

    Usually though, there is some “core” recipe underneath all those variations. A core set of ingredient, and a set of steps common to all of them, or nearly all. And when there is some sort of “authority” on the subject such as the comune di Amatrice’s recipe for amatriciana, or the Dotta Confraternita del Tortellino, to take two examples, I’ll always mention it, even if one can doubt whether even they can claim to know the *original* recipe, either.

    And I know well from personal experience the “recipe police” who take things too far. Like one of my readers who chastised me for my amatriciana recipe, where I leave the guanciale in the pan when adding the tomato. The only “real” amatriciana, he said, is one where you remove the guanciale after sautéing and set it aside so it stays crispy, and add it back in at the end. Mind you, I did mention this possibility in my notes, as usual. My sin was not to recognize that that was *the* way to make the dish. So what if the romanissima Ada Boni also leaves the guanciale in the pan? What did she know anyway?

    Even so… I do think the concept of “authenticity” is one worth preserving. There are limits that need to be respected. Otherwise, we risk slipping into an “anything goes” approach where there is no way to distinguish those “disgraces on the menu” from the real thing. Would anyone want to accept Hawaiian pizza as no different from una pizza margherita DOC? One has to recognize that one is true to Italian culinary values, and the other no. It may be hard to define in terms of a specific recipe, but there is a certain “spirit” behind one and not the other.

    Anyway, that’s my take.

  2. Frank – I hope Paolo will send this your way if you don’t see my response, I am struggling to reply directly to you on this platform.

    Yes, we mentioned you several times behind the scenes as a trusted source! I’m flattered that you listened and took the time to write a thoughtful reply. And you put it much more succinctly then I did with all my spontaneous rambling – there is a “core” set of ingredients, and while we may be picky about any additions, at the very least with an exploratory spirit we can learn about WHY things are done differently and where. No need for chastising (I’ll eat guanciale cooked in or outside tomato as long as it’s cooked). Actually, we even discussed local codifications like the Denominazione Comunale in the outlining stage and I managed to not weave it in because those recipes are both helpful at times and simultaneously confounding, a prominent example being ragu’ alla bolognese who’s “official” recipe is not what most people would call “pure.”

    I will add this…while my stance tries to be flexible within the realm of “accepted variation” as Paolo and I mentioned in the episode, I, too am a defender of authenticity in that it’s a much worthier cause to defend than the disorganized cacophony that is a dish unrelated to its disgraced and incorrectly given name. I never understand why people cannot give a new name to a completely uncharted dish – well, I know why, it’s because no one would pay attention to it otherwise! Those are the recipes I’m more willing to chastise openly and with gusto, though I would perhaps have a hard time being an ambassador for proper Italian home cooking if I fiercely vilified everyone in my American life who puts pineapple on pizza….my master plan is to lure them in sweetly and then reprogram them. 😉

    The phenomenon that caught my attention isn’t the foreigners’ blunders, rather the Italians who can’t seem to agree or who themselves vary a recipe beyond reason but then point the finger outward. I’ve seen some surprising and amusing things in native Italian cookbooks…things I would prefer not to bring to life!

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