Thursday, 13 February 2014

The Silver Spoon

Il cucchiaio d'argento (The Silver Spoon in English) is a major Italian cookbook, a kitchen reference work originally published in 1950 by the design and architecture magazine Domus. It contains about 2000 recipes drawn from all over Italy, and has gone through eight editions. It is one of the most popular cookbooks in Italy, and was born from a post-World War II pricing dispute between the publishers and some of the distributors of the popular Il talismano della felicità by Ada Boni. Editoriale Domus still publishes the book as a single volume as well as a series of single-subject books (currently covering Antipasti&Contorni (appetizers and side dishes), Primi (first courses), Secondi (main courses), Dolci (desserts), and summer dishes).

Several English versions (customized for the country of sale) were published as The Silver Spoon by the United Kingdom's Phaidon Press in 2005, then later in German, French and Dutch. They are based on the 1997 Italian edition, with a special section of recipes from prominent Italian cooks around the world. While Phaidon's original edition had been criticized for awkward measurements (the US edition does not include metric conversions), the English editions have overall been well received and very popular. In the US the book became a New York Times Bestseller, catching some in the industry by surprise. Phaidon followed up in 2009 with The Silver Spoon: Pasta and The Silver Spoon Book for Children. A revised English edition was released in November 2011, with adjusted measurements, 400 new photographs, as well as a new cover, more similar to the red leather binding of the original Italian edition.

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.
Kyle Phillips

****Tongue in cheek warning.****

You're probably sick of hearing the rave reviews on this behemoth (you know: blah blah, 2000 recipes, every Italian kitchen has had one for 50 years, Italian bible of cooking, beautiful photography, etcetera, etcetera), so here we go, we're going to try to pan it at epicurean. Yes.
First off, a couple sentences as example:
"Place two sage leaves on each portion and season with salt and pepper. Roll up, wrap in the pancetta slices and secure with toothpicks."

I mean come on, I'm lost here - shouldn't that have taken up at least two or three flowery paragraphs?
But no, the entire recipe it comes from - 'Chicken Roulades with Sage' - clocks in at a puny 90 words total of instruction. All of the recipes are like this. Look down below, see what we mean, we'll wait. The photos accompanying many of the recipes are surely just setting us up for disappointment (such 'preparing simple food with fresh ingredients in starkly rustic-yet-elegant setting' photos abound in The Book). As if we should be so easily fooled. Surely we can't follow these simple directions and reproduce such attractive results.

It must be chock full of recipes that end up not tasting very good. We haven't found them yet, but will update this review when they show up. Any book that has recipes for ostrich, octopus, oxtail, orecchiette and omelets has to be fallible at some point.

It seems a little shady really, almost trying to come off as attractive as a coffee table cookbook (it practically is the size of a coffee table - ha!) but is too heavy to lug around the house, so you end up having to buy two copies - one for the kitchen, and one for the shelf or table with reinforced legs.
It is just too easy too obsess over, and only comes with two ribbon markers - it needs about 50 to be truly useful.

See, this tome is found in the cooking section of stores, but is really an avocation - not just a book at all - make no mistake. It is tricksy.

So take that, Phaidon Press, you have been denied your flowery one liner praising the book. Oh, all right:

Amazing - The Silver Spoon is required reading, owning, eating, and living.
You need to get it.

i know i know. who actually sits down and reads cook books?
Word on the street is that this is the Italian's version of the Joy of Cooking... there are indeed ingredients you won't find at your local Safeway, and sometimes the translations are off. Still, i get lot of really good ideas from here and it is a complete immersion into another culture, beyond what we as Americans know to be Italian food. It's a nice place to dream about food.

Jenny G

1 comment:

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