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Il Cucchiaio D'Argento

Or, the Silver Spoon


The Silver Spoon

The Silver Spoon

Like most food writers, I tend to collect cookbooks, and whenever I visit a new city or town, I drop by the best bookstore to see what they have, asking specifically for local cookbooks that of the kind that aren't distributed nationally. Among the books on display there is invariably "Il Cucchiao D'Argento" but until now I had never looked at it, because it is a compendium, and I already have a number of those.

In retrospect this was a mistake; though the publisher, Editoriale Domus, primarily deals with architecture, following the Fascist collapse in 1943 they asked the publisher of Ada Boni's "Talismano Della Felicità," who was in the Allied-controlled half of Italy, if they could print and distribute the book in the other half. Casa Editrice Colombo said yes, so they did, and after the War tried to buy the rights of the book to distribute it nationwide. They were unable to reach an agreement on the price of "Il Talismano," however, and thus decided to bring out a cookbook of their own.

The first edition of "Il Cucchiaio D'Argento" came out in 1950, proving a terrific success. Well deserved, too; the editors collected recipes from throughout Italy, talking to both chefs and home cooks, and did a beautiful job of organizing and presenting them. In particular, they were much more precise when it came to measurements and cooking times than many other Italian cooking editors, and as a result the recipes are easier to follow. Since then they have updated the book several times, most recently in 1997, adding new recipes and adjusting some of the older ones to suit more modern tastes -- in other words, reducing fat and making them lighter and easier to digest. Some, but not all, because they feel that it's important to maintain traditions, and they note that a home cook can modify a recipe to suit his or her tastes.

So what will you find? Just about everything; the book comprises 2000-odd recipes, arranged by course (antipasti, sauces, soups, pasta, frittatas, vegetables, main course dishes, and so on) and ingredient, so if you want to make a specific dish, say a hearty soup or zuppa, or have a particular ingredient, for example beef heart or sturgeon, you need merely leaf through the book until you find the proper section, where the ingredient or dish is introduced, and there are a number of recipes to choose from.

And then, if you want some advice in putting it all together, there are also sample meals by leading Italian chefs, including Gualtiero Marchesi, Fulvio Pierangiolini, and Gianfranco Vissani, and menu suggestions arranged by month.

In short, Il Cucchiaio D'Argento is one of those books you will find yourself turning to time and again, both for enjoyment and inspiration.

"But it's in Italian," you say.

Not only; the British publisher Phaidon has done a beautiful job of translating "Il Cucchiaio D'Argento" into English. The whole thing; and well; if you set the Italian and English editions next to each other and flip page by page, you'll find everything from the original in the new, and nicely translated -- not a literal translation, which can be awkward and confusing, but rather a translation that captures the flavor and meaning of the original. And they've done more, explaining things that an Italian might not need explained, suggesting substitutes for Italian ingredients that are difficult to find elsewhere, and fleshing out the quantities of the Italian ingredient lists, which, though complete by Italian standards, still call for q.b. (quanto basta, i.e. enough, say, of lemon juice or grated Parmigiano) more than English language cooks are comfortable with.

Minestrone Pugliese, a Sample Recipe, and more. | Want to buy the book? Compare Prices.

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