Elizabeth Minchilli, who has lived in Italy for a quarter of a century, has created a way for all of us to experience certain special food events that comprise the country’s heritage in much the same way as their monuments (think The Colosseum, St. Peter’s and the Leaning Tower of Pisa) are must-sees for visitors. She shows us how, in her latest cookbook, The Italian Table: Creating Festive Meals for Family and Friends, to completely replicate such Italian food culture in such chapters as a Sunday Lunch in Email-Romagna, Farm to Sicilian Table, Panini Party in Umbria and A Table by the Sea in Positano. Because Minchilli’s background and interests are not only culinary but also envelope style and architecture, she tells us not only what to drink and eat but also how to create the tablescape as well.
As an example, her Pizza by the Slice in Rome meal calls for “for the authentic pizzeria al taglia vibe, use plastic or—more sustainable—paper.”
Minchilli, who is from St. Louis, Missouri but moved to Rome with her parents when she was 12, developed such a passion for the all things Italy (she even married an Italian man) and in her words, had an Italian baby, an Italian house and an Italian dog.
“That was after I returned as a graduate student to study Renaissance garden architecture in Florence,” says Minchilli when I talk to her using Skype as she was at her home in Rome.
I discover, as we talk, that I already have one of her books, a luscious tome titled Villas on the Lakes that someone had given me years ago and which I still leaf through to marvel at all the wonderful photos. Minchilli is one of those people who seems to do it all, she’s written nine books including Restoring a Home in Italy, takes all her own photos, writes an award winning website, elizabethminchilli.com, developed her Eat Italy app and offers food tours to behind the scenes culinary destinations as well as posting on You Tube and other social media.
She tells me that her love for food began when she was given one of those easy-bake ovens when she was a kid.
“I became the cook of the family,” she says, though she obviously she’s moved way beyond a toy where the oven is heated by a light bulb.
The Italian Table is her ninth book.
“I’m really happy about it,” says Minchilli. “This is really the book where I can bring everything together—the food, the people who make the plates, what is surrounding us, the whole experience.”
She was motivated to write the book after being questioned countless about how Italian food and dining. To showcase that, she decided on highlight 12 different dinners and photograph and write about them in real time—as they were being planned, cooked and served.
“I wanted people to know how Italians really eat and I decided to do that by meals in different areas and then narrowed it down by going deeper into how it all comes together,” she says. “I set it up so you can go through the cookbook and decide what you like.”
She’s also included a time table, what to do, depending upon the dinner, two days before, one day before, two hours before, one hour before and when your guests arrive. And there are ways to lessen the cooking load for the more intensive and elaborate dinners.
“Food is about being social and sharing,” Minchilli tells me. “A lot of people are scared to have people over and so I wanted to take fear out of the equation. That’s why I give people a game plan by telling people when to shop, when they should set the table and also how far ahead to do things so that there’s less to do at the last minute. It reduces the stress and fear and makes it more approachable.”