James Beard Nominees: California Wine, Italian Pasta

The James Beard Foundation Book Award nominees were announced today, with books on wine and pasta among the contenders.

Been Doon So Long: A Randall Grahm Vinthology, by Randall Grahm (the 1989 James Beard Foundation Wine and Spirits Professional of the Year), is nominated in the Beverage category, and Oretta Zanini de Vita’s Encyclopedia of Pasta is nominated in the Reference and Scholarship category. The award winners will be announced on May 2.


Pasta on Location

by Sheila Levine, Associate Director and Publisher, University of California Press

6a00d83453e6e169e2012875694ac2970c-120wiLast month I had the great pleasure of visiting Rome to help launch our new Encyclopedia of Pasta. My hosts were the author, Oretta Zanini de Vita and the translator, Maureen Fant. They had organized two events, and my job was to talk about the book from the publisher’s perspective. It was also an opportunity to tout our other books on the intersection of food and culture.

With only an hour to catch my breath after arriving at my hotel from the airport, Maureen and I walked to Villa Celimontana which houses the Societa Geografica Italiana. Our panel consisted of a geographer, an anthropologist, the author, translator, and myself. Fifty people attended. These were scholarly types, very interested in the extensive research the author had completed in preparation for writing her book. Zanini is very assured about her subject. As her publisher, I came away confident that we had published THE expert on pasta shapes. The Almost Corner Bookshop, one of only three remaining English-language bookshops in Rome, was there to sell copies of the book. A reception followed, with beautiful pastas served on the balcony. Fortunately, I was warned not to eat because a group of us were treated to a special dinner of—you guessed it—five courses of pasta:  ravioli with ricotta and artichokes, tagliolini with little shrimp, penne with red mullet and cherry tomatoes, large shells with scampi and basil, and tortellini with pork jowl and tomato.  I ate everything—whew!

Two days later, on October 10, the American Academy in Rome hosted a second panel. This time Oretta, Maureen, and I were on stage with Christopher Boswell from the American Academy’s Sustainable Food Program. Chris trained at Chez Panisse so we talked about the pros and cons of life in Rome and Berkeley. This was an entirely different audience from the Societa Geografica Italiana: mostly expats, folks interested in the stories the author had to tell: “It is absolutely not true that Marco Polo brought pasta to Italy! We were making pasta here long before.” The audience of 75 people was very enthusiastic, they asked many questions, and most important, they bought 40 copies of Encyclopedia of Pasta. Once again, not surprisingly, a lunch of pasta followed.

I had a wonderful two days in Rome before heading to the Frankfurt Book Fair. The food was wonderful, and I’m happy to say that none of it was pasta!


Pasta’s Untold Story

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Today’s New York Times Dining section features Oretta Zanini de Vita, author of Encyclopedia of Pasta, as she opens the door onto the centuries of history that shape each type of Italian pasta. Every shape is infused with imagination and tradition—every one tells its own story, and together they shed light on Italy’s past, from celebrations and conquests to daily life and the creativity of individual people over the centuries, dating back as early as A.D. 800.

Read the New York Times article with Oretta Zanini de Vita, which also includes a recipe for handmade strozzapreti with roasted cherry tomatoes, and a slide show of Zanini de Vita shaping the strozzapreti.