Quick: What do olive oil, joy, pizza, pilgrims and totalitarianism have in common? According to Why Italians Love to Talk About Food (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; $35), a serious new work of scholarship just translated from Italian, all are essential components of Italy’s food culture. There are no recipes, but its author, Elena Kostioukovitch, has deciphered a large chunk of the culinary code that is second nature to Italians: knowledge about agriculture, festivals and cooking. She spent 20 years doing research while living in Milan, and the result was a best seller in Italy when it was published in 2006.