Do you know your sugo from your salsa? Pellegrino did!
Various editions of Pellegrino Artusi’s quintessential Italian cookery book, La scienza in cucina e l'arte di mangiar bene (Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well) are not immune to the difficulties of culinary translations. Look to tomato sauce, for starters. It can be translated as sugo or salsa, but there’s a world of difference between the two.
Full of recipes from all over Italy, the 1891 book is written in an amusing style by quirky retired landowner and businessman Artusi. He lived alone in his house in Florence’s piazza d’Azeglio, with a butler from his hometown of Forlimpopoli and a Tuscan cook, who undoubtedly made the dishes while his master watched and tasted. (I’m sure the butler did, too.)
Friendly and reassuring, the book is full of straightforward advice for nonprofessional cooks in the then-newly united Italy. Humorous commentary also abounds. I particularly like Artusi’s note on apple strudel: “Do not be alarmed if this dessert looks like some ugly creature such as a giant leech or a shapeless snake after you cook it, you will like the way it tastes.”
The English edition¹ I’m reading is excellent but some things do get lost in translation, as the authors point out. An early recipe is for sugo di pomodoro, which can be described as “tomato sauce”, but which should not be confused with salsa di pomodoro, a more complex concoction, also frequently translated into English as “tomato sauce”.