23 July 2021 · Behind the Cookbook
Fred Plotkin is the Italian food expert that the experts turn to. He is a connoisseur of Italian cuisine, and Renaissance man Plotkin is also an authority on opera, classical music, and art – so he is the perfect guide for a food-lover’s trip to Italy. His 1997 title Recipes From Paradise: Life and Food on the Italian Riviera is a love letter to Liguria, a region that Plotkin says “may be as close to paradise as one can find on this earth.”
The New York Times named Recipes from Paradise as its cookbook of the year. It is one of a trio of Plotkin’s cookbooks coming to ckbk, the others being La Terra Fortunata (2001) and The Authentic Pasta Book (1986).
Plotkin introduces the book below, noting that Liguria will always hold a special fascination for him, offering “the fullest expression of the Italy I love”.
by Fred Plotkin
Lucky is the man who is born in the place where he is meant to be. Almost as lucky is the man who finds the place he is meant to be early enough that he can make it part of his life in significant ways.
I am hardly alone in considering Italy a source of profound inspiration, and a compliant muse willing to share all of its glories with anyone open to them. The entire country – composed of 20 regions and more than a hundred cities of notable cultural and historical significance – can offer enough fascination, inspiration, and marvelous food culture to last several lifetimes. And yet, for me, one region has found a special place in my heart and is the fullest expression of the Italy I love.
Liguria (known to most people as the Italian Riviera) is one of the smallest regions in the country, a boomerang-shaped strip of land extending from northwestern Tuscany to the border of France and the French Riviera. Those adjoining places are very famous but, to me, lack the authenticity that most of Liguria jealously maintains.
Other Italian regions may have more geographical diversity or deeper holdings of ancient and Renaissance art. Some of them produce big and renowned wines. While Liguria does have world-famous tourist destinations (including Portofino and the Cinqueterre), it has countless towns and villages that resolutely go their own way, guarding their treasures and their secrets and offering a quality of life that – to me, at least – is hard to beat.
My Liguria is stupendously beautiful, with stunning coastal towns, mountain villages, forests full of the treasures of nature, and glorious silence. The region’s air is fragrant with a profusion of flowers, and the herbs that are the anchor of the local cuisine. The omnipresent sea gives the air a briny freshness as well as the lulling sound of waves that have washed these shores since the world began. Some Ligurian towns are older than Rome, Naples, Florence, and Venice and the people understand and protect nature in ways that are the result of their ancient traditions.
This region does have a fascinating capital, Genoa, one of the largest cities in Italy and the biggest port in the Mediterranean. After seeing Genoa for the first time, Richard Wagner said that London and Paris were dull in comparison.
Resourceful and frugal Ligurians, active witnesses to the eternal dialogue between land and sea, have developed an extraordinary culinary culture based primarily on what they can source locally. Whether it is pesto, focaccia, ravioli, sparkling fish and seafood, radiant vegetables, succulent fruit and what may be the world’s best olive oil, these foods combine to be the most delicious exponents of the way we are told to eat to have long, healthy lives.
I have put all of my life and knowledge of Liguria in my book, Recipes from Paradise: Life and Food on the Italian Riviera, which The New York Times named the best cookbook of 1997. Its pages contain many classic and unusual recipes typical of the region, including 16 versions of pesto found throughout Liguria. In addition, there are sources for acquiring the superb oils and ingredients of the region and many stories of travelers and local people who were as profoundly inspired as I by the approach to life that is part of this extraordinary place.
Recipes from Paradise: Life and Food on the Italian Riviera is one of three books of mine that are deeply personal portraits of the Italy I love, one that is less well-known than the traditional focus on Rome-Florence-Venice and a couple of nights in Tuscany or the Amalfi Coast. La Terra Fortunata: The Splendid Food and Wine of Friuli-Venezia Giulia (2001) is a portrait of an extraordinary region of diverse geography from the Adriatic coastline to the Italian Alps. Though small, the region produces some of the best wine in Italy and has a remarkable cuisine that is spice-based, making it different from the herb-scented fare of Liguria.
The Authentic Pasta Book (1986) was one of the first cookbooks written in English that effectively described Italian cuisine as a product of 20 regions with distinct geography, languages, and cultures. Some 35 years after its publication, the book remains a document of the Italy that inspired not only this writer, but millions of people around the world. Many of its recipes are so strictly local that they have not appeared often in cookbooks that were subsequently published.
I am glad you are here to share in my love of Italy’s classic cucina that inspires me still and, I am certain, will also inspire you.
Find all the recipes from Recipes From Paradise: Life and Food on the Italian Riviera on ckbk, in full.