The bible of authentic Italian cooking, “Il Cucchiaio d’argento” was first published in Italy in 1950, being Italy’s best-selling cookbook for over fifty years now. First contact I made with it some years ago at our Italian friends place, but as my Italian is practically non-existent I had to believe my friends remarks on how essential the book was for traditional Italian cooking. The more surprised I was, when out of the blue Phaidon Press Limited contacted us to see if we were interested in doing a review of the just published English version of THE SILVER SPOON. My eyes naturally started sparkling at the sound of the word “cookbook”, but I also wanted to make sure that certain ground rules important to us are being accepted – so we shared with them our “guidelines”, which basically entailed that we would openly and unbiased write from our point of view – may it be good or bad. Phaidon accepted. Now it was my turn to decide how to properly conduct the review of this cookbook. It’d be ridiculous to say I wouldn’t fall for cookbooks with extravagant, polished food photography, however, the real value of a cookbook is yet to be defined by the quality of its recipes and the soaring enthusiasm of the home cook after successfully preparing a new dish. So, what’s more obvious than trying to recreate a few selected dishes from THE SILVER SPOON, even if it meant exactly following the recipes without sneaking in any modifications – probably the hardest part for me. Twist my arm!
The book: Containing over 1200 pages, it is the most comprehensive anthology of authentic Italian recipes I have in my collection. While on a first glance I wouldn’t classify THE SILVER SPOON – the all-embracing, encyclopaedical compilation of one nation’s kitchen, almost as heavy as a brick-stone – as the kind of cookbook I usually look out for, this book taught me better.
Combining both traditional and contemporary recipes, it has been adapted to cater to the different cultural and geographical approaches in cooking (including conversion of measurements). The meat section for instance illustrates the different cuts and their nomenclature, a regional guide for pork cuts (etc.) so to speak. The English version isn’t just an exact translation of the Italian recipes, it is more elaborate yet with the intention to sustain the original character of the book. A nice add-on: the original Italian titles are maintained supplementary throughout the cookbook. Instructions are concise, nevertheless provide enough information so a less experienced cook should be able to complete the recipe.
The 2000 recipes are divided into 14 chapters, beginning with general information on cooking terms and equipment, leading over to antipasti and first courses, off to vegetable, meat, poultry and fish and last but not least, cheese and desserts. Surprisingly, I didn’t find any original bread recipes, which I would have expected to be covered to some extend (focaccia, ciabatta,…). Other areas, e.g. addressing the use of offal and local vegetables (ever heard of buck’s horn plantain?) have been paid more attention – which of course can be derived from the book’s origin. Each part starts with a short introduction, accompanied by charming little illustrations, reminding me of cheeky pencil sketches. Layout-wise every chapter features a different color, thus providing quick and handy access to the desired topic. The applied photography is pure and simple in style, no redundant accessories, it’s all about the food, depicted on very appealing full-page images (photographed by Jason Lowe, all shot in natural light). A very nice amendment to the general recipe collection is the last chapter, presenting over 20 multi-course menus from famous chefs like Mario Batali (Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca, New York) or Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray (The River Café, London) for even more culinary inspiration.
In summary: Apart from the fact that it kept me reading for almost two hours right after I opened the box, although I just wanted to skim across it for a first impression, it’s already cluttered with countless Post-Its – recipes I have lined up to try soon. Being the most comprehensive collection of down to earth Italian recipes, it doesn’t surprise, that it’s oftentimes compared to milestones like “Joy of Cooking”. Last but not least, it’s long history of being a definitive book in any Italian kitchen, makes you feel to have found the origins of the Italian cuisine. Key to success here is not simply following the trend “Italian Food”, like so many other uncountable publications do, but the fact that the country itself, for more than half a century, uses the book as a benchmark for its wonderful and worldwide praised cuisine.
thumbnails: photographed by Jason Lowe
The chosen and tested recipes: The following three examples have been selected to provide both insight into the writing style as well as document the results. In favor of an accurate impression, the instructions – with the permission of Phaidon Press Limited – have been reprinted 1:1. The included images and summaries depict our outcome.
CHICKEN LIVER PÂTÉ – PÂTÉ AI FEGATINI (p.162)
150 g/5 oz butter
400 g/14 oz chicken livers, trimmed
half of an onion, chopped
5 fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons Marsala
1 tablespoon brandy
2 tablespoons double cream, whipped
salt and pepper
Instructions: Melt 100 g/31/z oz of the butter in a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Melt the remaining butter in a frying pan. Add the chicken livers, onion and thyme and cook over a medium heat, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes. Sprinkle with the Marsala, season with salt and pepper and cook for 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, chop the chicken livers and place in a bowl. Stir in the cooled melted butter, then add the brandy and fold in the cream. Chill in the refrigerator for 6 hours.
My resume: Wow. Just wow. Never thought I could make such an amazing Chicken Liver Pâté like it was nothing. Does an overall preparation time of less than 15 minutes sound too good to be true? Totally doable. The aroma of sautéed liver combined with thyme and Marsala were floating throughout the apartment and the 6 hours chilling time were not easy to overcome ;) Experimenting and spreading it on different types of bread the next days, my favorite combination was a slightly buttered pan-toasted ciabatta and walnut-bread, drizzled with olive oil and roasted in the oven until golden brown. Just added the recipe to my list of all-time-favs of compelling party finger foods… Finger-licking-good!
PUMPKIN TORTELLI – TORTELLI DI ZUCCA (p.286)
500 g/11b 2 oz pumpkin, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
200 g/7 oz Parmesan cheese, freshly plus extra to serve
2 eggs, lightly beaten
80-120 g/3-4 oz breadcrumbs
200 g/7 oz Fresh Pasta Dough (200 g/7 oz flour, Italian Type 00, 2 eggs, salt)
50 g/2 oz butter
8 fresh sage leaves
salt and pepper
Instructions: Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Put the pumpkin in a roasting tin, drizzle with the oil, cover with foil and bake for about 1 hour. Pass the pumpkin through a food mill into a bowl, add the Parmesan and eggs and season with salt and pepper. Stir in enough breadcrumbs to make a fairly firm mixture. Rollout the pasta dough into a sheet and stamp out 7.5-cm/3-inch rounds with a pastry cutter. Spoon a little of the pumpkin filling into the centre of each round, fold in half and crimp the edges. Cook the tortelli in a large pan of salted, boiling water for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a frying pan, add the sage and cook for a few minutes. Drain the tortelli, place in a warm serving dish and sprinkle with the sage butter and extra Parmesan.
My resume: If somebody serves you home made tortelli, ravioli, tortellini, whatever kind of home-made filled pasta, it translates to a big time compliment. It IS labor of love. As my premise was to stick exactly to the recipes instructions, I didn’t even try to use the KitchenAid to make the pasta dough. Probably the one and only way to prepare pasta dough is with your own hands. I had to add 2 additional tablespoons of water, then the dough looked shiny and felt perfectly elastic.
My cognitions about pasta machines are: (A) I had to have one – even if I knew up-front, I would not use it more than once a year. (B) If this rare occasion of making home-made pasta does take place, it takes longer to find it than actually working the dough with it…the pasta machine usually ends up hiding in some box between extra light bulbs and screws and what not – that’s where I found it this time.
Remembering some troubles I encountered during my last pasta session, I made sure to pay extra attention to properly rolling out and re-folding the dough several times, until it was really thin and afterwards on accurately crimping the edges of every single, filled tortello. The pumpkin-parmesan-breadcrumb-filling had a stunning looking color, creamy consistency and a balanced smooth taste, which was the perfect counterpart for the sage butter, they were served in. Since my standard pumpkin recipes are pumpkin soup and on top even more pumpkin soup, here is a new addition for my records. But keep in mind: What starts out as fun can turn into hard work after the first batch of 20 tortelli…
CHOCOLATE PROFITEROLES – PROFITEROLES AL CIOCCOLATO (p.1109)
50 g/ 2 oz unsalted butter, softened,
plus extra for greasing
75 g/2,75 oz plain flour, extra for dusting
6 tablespoons milk
200 ml/7 fl oz double cream, whipped
For the topping
100g /3,5 oz plain chocolate, broken into pieces
25 g/1 oz unsalted butter
50 g/2 oz caster sugar