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Italian menu you can get your teeth into

Al dente: Madness, Beauty and the Food of Rome By David Winner, Simon & Schuster, £14.99

    There is more madness and beauty in David Winner's new exploration of his adopted city than there is food. If you want recipes, nice pictures and a conventional history of Roman cuisine, this almost certainly is not the book for you.

    True, there is a chapter about The World's Greatest Tiramisu and a fascinating glimpse into Rome's Jewish food, an ancient cuisine fashioned from extreme poverty the centrepiece of which turns out to be a deep-fried artichoke.

    But much of the book touches on cuisine only tangentially. There is a chapter about food in Italian films and another about Rome's most famous executioner, who has a pizzeria named after him but whose exploits were so bloodcurdling it could seriously put you off your lunch. There are some mad (and very hungry) saints, a tour around the architecture of the Vatican, and an intriguing guide to the Italian capital's water system.

    Winner does takes some time out to explode a few food myths, like the one about pasta being the historic staple of Italians - in Rome, it didn't even feature until the 19th century.

    Tiramisu, he tells us, was invented in Treviso in 1971, probably by a housewife. And carbonara, that most Italian and least kosher of dishes dates only from the 1920s.

    As with all of Winner's books, there is a lively and quirky exploration of culture from way out in left field and some wonderfully witty and engaging writing. And there's one very memorable recipe - for stewed head of lamb. Very tasty with a nice dollop of polenta, so they say.

    Simon Round is a senior JC writer and co-author of 'Warm Bagels and Apple Strudel' (Kyle Books, £25)

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