There have been quite a few “understanding a country through its food” books around in the past few years, but by the far the best I have read is the recently-published Delizia! by John Dickie. It stands out because it is genuinely readable, and presented in a clear and interesting way. Dickie explains how much of the history of Italian food is the history of its cities and guides the reader from pasta being imported to Palermo by the Arabs (contradicting many popular myths about Marco Polo and noodles from China), through the “disembowling” of Naples and on to the surprisingly recent explosion in popularity of Italian food after the fall of Fascism.
From descriptions of banquets by the 16th century “Pope’s cook” Scappi, where absolutely everything seems to have been covered in cinnamon and sugar (including all the meat) to recipes from cookbooks written by Italian POWs in WW1, it’s surprising and informative in equal measure. I enjoyed reading it. Strongly recommended.