In recent years, after many decades of looking to France for culinary inspiration, Americans turned toward Italy. France offered a sophisticated and elaborate approach to cuisine—the chef as performer—but Italy offered something quite different. If French cooking was like a Broadway production, with lavish costumes and a cast of thousands, in this new arena the sets were minimal and the players wore little, if anything. Pure forms revealed, they were the art, and their success depended upon the acumen of the chefís direction and casting.
In this thrilling and intimate culinary style, now such a vital part of the American food landscape, the eater is drawn into a bond with the ingredients themselves and, beyond them, with the earth that nurtured those ingredients. Inevitably, it is a celebration of place—of specific places, and the things they have to tell us about living on the earth. I canít think of a better emissary for this grounded lifestyle than the book you hold in your hands.
Too often, cookbooks simply present a laundry list of recipes shorn of any real-life context. But food isnít like that. Food is always of a place, and of a time. Now, when most foods in the supermarket have had their identities wiped as clean as participants in the Witness Protection Program, it is too easy to forget that even they had a life in a particular place and season.
Many of us were never really comfortable losing touch with that seasonality. After being briefly seduced by the novelty and freedom of year-round produce, we found that our old marriage to the seasons had been more rewarding than weíd realized. It gave texture to our year. Given the opportunity to walk out the door, we turned around and came right back to the kitchen. Americaís new interest in regional foods and seasonal menus is a most heartening development, but it had Italian roots, and Caleb Barber and Deirdre Heekin have been at the vanguard of that movement.
In their Woodstock osteria, Pane e Salute; in their gardens and vineyard on the slopes of Mount Hunger, which burst with miraculous fruits and herbs; and in the elegant essays and recipes in this book, Caleb and Deirdre exemplify a way of living—once second nature but now a revelation to many—in which food, love, work, and adventure are all a seamless part of the day, the month, the year. Somehow they manage to serve up discernment without pretension, a blend that is virtually impossible to find in this country. They humbly make food and art that is not humble at all—or, rather, it is, in the wordís original meaning: of the humus, the earth.
This is an earthy book, and a sexy one. Savoring olive oil from ancient terra-cotta urns in a crumbling estate in the hills of Tuscany, rolling pizza dough by night while wild dogs bay in the distance, or gliding through the Venetian Carnivale in masks, they celebrate a life lived with the senses wide open, an engagement with the world and all its fruitfulness. Itís a life they generously share in these pages, and we are well fortified by it.
—Rowan Jacobsen, author of A Geography of Oysters and American Terroir