A Tale of 12 Kitchens
November 4th, 2006

Even good cookbooks are usually consumed much too fast in our household, sometimes all it takes is a free evening and nasty weather to snugly cuddle up on the sofa with the obligatory cup of hot chocolate and of course the new book. Many of our glossy books have fallen victim to this routine.

But then there is this rare occasion when you get hold of a very special book and you know it too the very moment you open it. Books that meet my individual taste spot-on and sometimes even exceed my anticipation. These are precious books, which deserve due attention. I then tend to regulate myself, consuming in small doses, because I don’t want them to end. A Tale of 12 Kitchens by Jake Tilson is one of those rare finds.

A Tale Of 12 Kitchens

There are two hearts beating in my chest and skimming across my bookshelves will quickly prove that one is dedicated to my passion for cooking, the other devoted to design. A Tale of 12 Kitchens passes both requirements with flying colors, it has to be one of the most creatively laid out cookbooks that passed through my hands. The vibrant mix of different typography and retro illustrations is breathtaking, so are the countless packaging shots (finally someone seems to have a bigger heart for packaging than I do), handwritten notes and a very own style of photography featured. It almost made me forget, that it is actually a cookbook. Well, is it one anyway? I like prefer the way Claudia Roden refers to it as “…enchantingly evocative kitchen memoir of food and cooking…” and yes it contains recipes and instruction, but probably not in the way you’d expect.

As the book title rightly suggests, this book is not a glossy cookbook you’d be afraid of taking into your kitchen, it’s a book you might as well take on long train ride for a good read – rugged in a way. The book is not pretending to be a comprehensive source for recipes, but tells a wonderful story of Jake Tilson and his artistic family, his childhood in what he calls their “first family kitchen” in Notting Hill Gate, London. To him, a starting point for many remote destinations including Tuscany, the USA and Scotland, all leaving wonderful impressions, culinary influences and cultural diversities enriching him and his family.

Forming the strozzapreti

“An entry in my mother’s 1958 notebook records what she cooked the day before i was born – shepherd’s pie and sprouts for lunch and a light supper of onion soup and pancakes.” I don’t know what’s more fascinating, the fact that the author’s mother kept note of their prepared dishes or Jake Tilson’s desire to find out what his mum had cooked the day before he was born. Undoubtedly, he is somebody paying close attention to details, very present throughout his culinary anecdotes and his fine sense of style. Tilson’s photographs of the featured recipes are all done without food styling or extra lighting, an aspect I find refreshing and likable.

Strozzapreti

The recipes aren’t overly fancy, but down to earth – many stews, roasts or the blizzard duck paired with regional specialties from the countries he has been living in. The method and cooking steps are furnished with plenty background information on either the recipe or individual ingredients and require a slightly different approach: recipes, unlike seen in so many plain-vanilla cookbooks, are being depicted in a narrated way disregarding [typical] conventions and schema. With each recipe a story is told, from short notes to elaborate memories, enhancing the recipe’s personality and appeal to the reader.

The first recipe I picked was chosen simply because I had ricotta left over and it sounded like a quick one. Delightful little dumplings, with a surprising light consistency – after all, there are no flour, semolina or breadcrumbs involved, which usually are added to aid proper absorption. A hint of skepticism -after having prepared the dough (consistency!)- was quickly put to rest seeing and tasting the final result on my plate. Light & delicious. Nevertheless, I prefer my dumplings, any for that matter, more on the firm side, next time I will add the one or the other tablespoon of flour or semolina to the dough.

A final word on Strozzapreti: the term is used for a couple of different regional Italian specialties, either gnocchi-like dumplings or simply a pasta shape, so better confirm, if you find them on a restaurant menu…

Strozzapreti

Wash the spinach, remove bigger stems and cook or steam until soft. Let the spinach cool down, then squeeze out any excessive liquid and chop finely.

In a large bowl mix together spinach, ricotta, egg, grated Parmesan and season with freshly ground black pepper, sea salt and nutmeg.

Meanwhile heat a large pot of salted water.

The author thinks of the next step as the “tricky bit”: Drop a spoonful of the mix on a floured board, dust your hands with flour and flap it from one hand to the other to give it the proper shape and get rid of the extra flour. This method worked better than I had expected. But you could also try to dust a spoonful (tbsp) of the mix with some flour and carefully roll it with your hands into the desired shape. Works well, too.

Cautiously drop them into the pot with the simmering water, but not too many at once. They are done, as soon as they float on the surface again, which takes about two to three minutes. Remove with a skimmer.

Heat some butter in a pan and add the Strozzapreti as well as the cherry tomatoes (these are not in the original recipe, but added a nice fruity touch). Sauté for one or two minutes and shake the pan occasionally, then serve on a plate with freshly ground pepper and grated Parmesan.

Strozzapreti with sauteed cherry tomatoes

Recipe source: adapted from A Tale of 12 Kitchens, p.94

Prep time & cooking: 20-30min.

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Ingredients (serves 2-3):

200g spinach

175g ricotta

30g grated Parmesan

1 egg

freshly ground black pepper

sea salt

freshly ground nutmeg

flour for cutting board and hands

50g butter

100g cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered

to serve: grated Parmesan and freshly ground black pepper

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