In an Italian meal, the antipasti are often under-appreciated and quickly forgotten. Arriving before the pasta dish, they are supposed to open up the stomach, as Italians believe that l’appetito viene mangiando (appetite comes while eating). A typical antipasto is a plate or wooden cutting board with slices of local sausage, hard cheeses with honey or jam, some bruschette, and pickled vegetables in olive oil. The small portions and variety indeed make one eager to get to the main dish, but the diner who stops, slows down, and savors them is rewarded. Massimo Montanari’s new book, Let the Meatballs Rest: And Other Stories About Food and Culture, can be thought of as a delicious mix of antipasti that will leave the reader with an appetite for more of the author’s books.

Montanari, a professor of medieval history...

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