For centuries, many centuries, cooking has been a man’s business. Of course, not the daily one, of the home, of bringing two meals a day to the table, of feeding families, of trying to combine the ingredients available to prepare tasty (or at least edible) dishes. No, this task as dignified as it is tiring (and often boring) has always been the prerogative of an infinite sequence of wives, grandmothers, mothers, aunts, sisters, with men relegated to the comfortable role of “spectators”, calmly sitting waiting for the pasta was drained. But when it came to Cuisine with a capital C, then the gentlemen took over the chair: they codified the preparations, they wrote the first recipe books (from “De Re Coquinaria” by Apicio to the works of Bartolomeo Scappi up to the ‘nineteenth-century Pellegrino Artusi). And all the great chefs at the service of noble families first, and of newborn restaurants later, were men, with their very complicated and sumptuous recipes. All this lasted, as we were saying, for centuries until, one might say metaphorically, the day before yesterday. That is to say the first half of the last century. When, one after the other, three ingenious women understood that it was time to have their say and, literally, taught Italians how to cook. Their lives, their stories, are also the mirror of the times, of an Italy that, laboriously, changed and entered modernity in all fields, including the gastronomic one.

Ada Boni

It was 1915 when a young woman of the Roman upper class, Ada Boni (her maiden name was Giaquinto), born in 1881, she decided to found a cooking magazine, “Preziosa”. He recipes, etiquette, home economics advice, suggestions on table setting, this was the menu that the periodical proposed. Normal today, almost revolutionary at the time, especially due to the female leadership of the project. A small editorial earthquake that immediately hit the target: ladies, first from Rome and then from all over Italy, began to subscribe en masse to learn the rudiments of everyday culinary art, previously passed down only orally from mother to daughter.

Ten years later, we have arrived at 1925, Ada Boni summarizes (so to speak) her knowledge in a book: the Talisman of Happiness, in that first edition with 882 recipes written with grace and simple but at the same time refined language. The volume becomes an editorial phenomenon, and for decades it will be, in its various reprints, the “Bible” of home cooking, also becoming the favorite gift of mothers, or mothers-in-law, to newlyweds to introduce them to married life, obviously according to the canons of era and according to the author’s belief that “the happiness of a marriage begins with a laid table”. And so in every kitchen or dining room in Italy, there was, and in many cases is still present now, a copy of the Talisman, more or less worn out by use, interspersed with sheets of notes, and dotted with grease stains.


Our second story unfolds in those same years, 600 kilometers away, in Milan. The real name of her protagonist, Amalia Moretti Foggia, will mean nothing to most people. Yet, she is an extraordinary figure of a modern woman, who at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with her willpower, was able to overturn many rules. Born in Mantua and Milanese by adoption, born in 1872, she was the third woman in Italy to graduate in Medicine in 1898 from the University of Bologna. She is the first ever to specialize in Paediatrics. She was a friend of the poet Ada Negri, but also of Anna Kuliscioff and her partner Filippo Turati, she was one of the founders of the Socialist Party, avant-garde feminist, doctor of the poor at the female workers’ mutual aid society. This is her professional path, and it would already be enough to make her a great character. But it is she, with her second life lived in parallel under a pseudonym, that she fully enters among the pillars of Italian cuisine. In 1926 a column, “The Word of the Doctor”, signed by Doctor Amal, began to appear on the pages of the Domenica del Corriere.

The themes were health and hygiene but, on the same page, the column “Tra i fornelli” appeared edited by Petronilla. And behind both pseudonyms she was hiding herself, Amalia Moretti Foggia. Thus, with her simple style, in a few years Petronilla (stage name ironically borrowed from Arcibaldo’s wife, from the comic of the same name which appeared in the Corriere dei Piccoli) became the “cook of Italy”, despite her humility with which she defined herself: “I’m just any housewife who has learned to cook so I can give happy, tasty surprises to my dad and brothers.” Her recipes, later collected in various volumes, became very popular. Even in the years of the Second World War, when he taught Italians the cuisine of “without”, an autarchic cuisine designed to make up for everything that was missing on the market of the harsh war economy: butter, cocoa, oil, everything could be replaced thanks to ingenuity of the author.

Again in Milan, a few years after his debut of Petronilla, “La Cucina Italiana” landed on newsstands. It was December 15, 1929. A fundamental magazine for the evolution of Italian taste, which in its first phase was published until 1943. But what interests us for the purposes of our story is its second life, which began in 1952. When the newspaper was taken over by the Gosetti sisters, and initially published in Rome, before returning to Milan. Of the three, Anna is the one with the most entrepreneurial spirit, coming from the world of advertising, a true rarity for the time. And in fact she becomes the director, while Fernanda develops and cooks the recipes, which Guglielmina finally photographs. All three, each in their own way, are a piece of the history of Italian cuisine, but the one that over time became an emblem, so much so as to be defined as Artusi in a skirt, was the first. Which he began to sign Anna Gosetti della Saldaadding her mother’s surname to her father’s, with the quirk of “della” with a lowercase “d” to give herself, as she herself admitted, a noble tone.

His most important work, “Italian regional recipes“, published in 1967, is an essential volume for understanding the evolution of Italian gastronomy, but also for codifying the dishes that today are defined as traditional. His photography of the cuisine of the time was the result of four years of work, and two gastronomic tours from North to South, to transcribe, from region to region, the most popular versions of the recipes (which were then tested in the editorial kitchen, establishing the quantities of ingredients and cooking times). to safeguard, as Gosetti della Salda wrote in the preface of the first edition, “a precious heritage of convivial civilizations, threatened by the improvisation and conformism of a too generic national cuisine”. And also from the modernity of these words we understand how much those pages have still to tell us, and teach us.