John McIntyre

From Italy, with love: the pizza

Spaghetti and lasagna are all very well, but pizza is plainly the major Italian donation to the American diet. Susan Fillion celebrates both the pizza and its Italian origins in the slender but delightful Pizza in Pienza (David Godine, $17.95).
The Pienza of the title is a little town in Tuscany which Ms. Fillion, a Baltimore artist and museum educator, makes the starting point of her illustrated history of this universally popular dish. Life in Pienza (and life in an Italian town can be very good) is limned in a series of drawings with bilingual English/Italian captions in which a child in the town discovers the history of her favorite food.
We get to the pie very quickly. To the invention in 1889 of the pizza Margherita in Naples, named after the queen and featuring the green, white, and red colors of the new Italian flag. The opening of the first American pizzeria in New York in 1905. The ballooning popularity of the dish after World War II, when American troops returning from Italy had developed a taste for the dish.
There are also a couple of pages of text at the end expanding on the history, from Cato the Elder's description of  flat bread with herbs, olive oil and honey baked on a stone, to the Neapolitan development of the dish as street food, to the postwar boom in this country. Ms. Fillion has also provided Italian food vocabulary and notes on the pronunciation of Italian words.
But the charm of the book lies in the evocative illustrations of daily life in Pienza, the Renaissance buildings and narrow streets, the daily round, the fresh produce at the weekly outdoor market, and the pizza hot from the oven.
Ms. Fillion is also the author of Miss Etta and Dr. Claribel: Bringing Matisse to America, (Godine, 2011, $18.95), which recounts the Cone sisters' lives and the gorgeous works of art that they brought to Baltimore and ultimately gave to the Baltimore Museum of Art, illustrated with Ms. Fillion's drawings and more substantial in its apparatus.
Both books display the high-quality production values that readers have come to expect from Godine.