Several months ago, I received the following email:
". . . . I came across your photo of the Salsamenteria Ruggeri on Statigram. Claudia [Roden] loves the image as she says it represents real contemporary Italian food for her. . . I wanted to ask you whether you would be happy for us to use your photo . . ."
It was so out of the blue and such a surprise [found my photo via Statigram (an Instagram metrics service)?!!] that I didn't know what to say. You see, I tend to snap shots of Salsamenteria Ruggeri on a weekly basis because I live right around the corner from the Campo de' Fiori alimentari. I am obsessed with the window facade, the signage, and the portable bacalà cart that shows up every Friday. And I love the dynamics of life that goes on in and around the shop. More often than not, my photos end up in my Instagram , Twitter and Vine profiles, because . . . well, the simple corner shop is a world of its own, day and night, and it's my world.
And then I blinked. The email contained two magic words: Claudia Roden. Aka THE living legend in the world of cookery and writing. She is a Cairo-born, Paris-educated, UK-living cultural anthropologist, television presenter and award-winning writer with 18+ books on the shelf covering Mediterranean cuisine-- Middle Eastern, Jewish, Moroccan, Lebanese, picnics, coffee, and the list goes on. Throughout her life, she traveled and tasted all twenty regions of Italy and in 1989 published Food of Italy, oft known as a "bible of Italian of Italian cuisine" [the Guardian, April 2014].
To be fair, all of Claudia's books are bibles to her readers. She has the unique ability to get into the cuisine, its cultural and most important, the personalities that accompanies and accent each dish. She just gets the world of food. It's no wonder Food of Italy was a blockbuster when it first came out in 1989, and continued to be so, with each subsequent edition.
So of course, I said yes. Only to find my photo on the cover of the best-selling, 25th anniversary edition of Food of Italy. Yes, I am proud, but more than that, I am hungry. The book is a veritable tome, with gorgeous photos by photographer Jason Lowe. Its recipes and stories are engaging and beautiful culinary tales-- I cannot stop daydreaming in Piemonte.
The following is a my fangirl interview with Claudia:
Food of Italy celebrates 25 years this month ~ what were the most surprising updates?
Claudia: I added 72 new recipes. Many updates involve ingredients that we did not have before that make cooking easier such as squid ink, frozen chestnuts, frozen artichoke bottoms, instant polenta that I can now give as an alternative.
Who are your readers? Who aren't your readers?
Claudia: The book had a big impact when it first came out because all Italian restaurants at the time served 4 pizzas, 4 pastas and 5 or 6 internationally known Italian dishes. New restaurants opened serving regional dishes. The book was a bestseller. I hope a new generation whose mothers had the book will want it for themselves. Italian food has remained popular.
There has been a lot of talk about Italian street food over the past year. What are your thoughts?
Claudia: Street food of all kinds are fashionable in Britain and the US now, partly because they are cheaper but also fun.
Do you have a favorite region?
Claudia: There are dishes that I love in all the regions, several regions are particularly appealing.
What is your favorite Lazio dish?
Claudia:I make vignole and also spaghetti a caccio e pepe often.
Why did you choose the Alimentari shot for your cover?
Claudia: It made me feel happy and I felt I would love to shop there. The night lights made it look exciting.
You have written numerous books on Mediterrean food, is there one place you consider home?Claudia: I come from Egypt and went to school in Paris. I feel at home everywhere in the Mediterranean.
What is next for your pen and plate?Claudia: Next is a a book on the Mediterranean.
[Photo courtesy of Random House UK]