Thursday, February 09, 2006

Born With Il Cucchiaio d'Argento In My Mouth

Last month when Cranky and I sneaked out of town for a couple of days of solitude on the Sonoma coast, I schlepped along an unlikely book to page through by the firelight.
First of all, it weighs a ton. Our cabin was at the top of a flight of rickety stairs, so that made for one heavy duffel bag.
Second of all, the book has no discernable plot, it covers a dizzying assortment of characters, and lots of the words are in a foreign language.
Well, enough being coy. Yes, of course I'm talking about the new English translation of The Silver Spoon, a 50-plus-year-old treasury of home cooking that has been called "the Italian Joy of Cooking." We bought it for ourselves with Christmas money from my mom and dad.
I still haven't made anything from the book yet, but I couldn't stop bookmarking pages as I stumbled across recipe after recipe using combinations of common foods that had never in a thousand years occurred to me, but sounded logical, inevitable, kind of "Why Didn't I Think of That?"
Or more like "Wait, Are We Even Allowed to Do That?"
For instance: Milk and Onion Soup. That's it; that's all that goes into this soup, other than salt and butter, and a finishing grating of Parmesan cheese, plus croutons.
How about Rice and Potatoes. All right, that one's a little more complex, with the addition of onion, prosciutto and meat stock, but didn't mother always say rice OR potatoes? And there they are together in a yummy-sounding dish.
Here's one Thomas Keller might have dreamed up just for the name, Eggs with Eggplant. But instead of some labor-intensive statement on a plate, this is simply fried eggplant slices in a baking dish, dabbed with tomato paste and then baked with four fresh eggs broken over the top.
The dishes are so simple that some pages in the book hold up to four recipes. The food is homey, comforting and largely inexpensive. Some of the recipes sound like, "Quick, Pappa will be home soon; what can we make from our meager larder?" Spaghetti with Anchovies. Roast Turnips with Leeks and Pumpkin. Bread Soup (aka Stracciatella, with eggs and cheese). The sort of real food that results from desperation and imagination.
True, there are chapters on seafood, all the meats you could think of (a chapter on Heart, another on Brains, and Frogs, and Sausage). There's also party food, cheeses, desserts. Lots of what the average American would deem "real Italian" dishes like lasagne, minestrone, octopus in red wine — though this book doesn't scream "Italian!!"
I haven't gotten halfway through all the pages yet.
And I don't think I'll try a Julie & Julia adventure and attempt to make everything in the book. For one thing, I wouldn't know where to get an ostrich egg.
But the thing that has captivated me the most is the number of kooky, easy amalgams of everyday ingredients I have never before put together in one dish.
Rice Gnocchi. Oatmeal Soup. Savory Cabbage Pie (with hardcooked eggs). Apple Risotto. Strawberry Risotto! Green Beans in Egg Cream. Eggs baked inside scooped-out tomatoes. Meatballs in a creamy lemon sauce.
Are we allowed to do that? Where do I start?


kudzu said...

Well, if you want to start with an ostrich egg, I know where you can get one.

I covet that book! Can't wait to hear what you'll be making. Buona fortuna!

mrs d said...

Okay, the egg in the tomato thing sold me. I need to track down this book. (And I am so not a cookbook junkie. Seriously, I hardly ever read the things.)

One note: Good that you're not thinking of doing the Julie & Julia thing because, see, that only works if you have a name that alliterates so you can have a catchy title. Like say Sylvia & Silver could work, but then there's that whole spoon thing, so maybe Sylvia Moon & Silver Spoon. There. That would sell. Oh, wait. You don't live in New York. Um. Never mind. :-)

Greg said...

Meatballs in lemon sauce.Yowsir!

cookiecrumb said...

Kudzu! No way! (Ew, the instructions say to drill a hole in one end of the shell, swizzle the egg with a stick, and drain out the contents. And then you sell the shell, because it's valuable. And then you measure out portions of ostrich egg humongosity...)
Mrs D: Yep, me too. Can't wait for real tomatoes. And you should see the photo. Yarnghhnhgh. (Hey, wait. My "other" nickname is Spoony!! How about Spoony & Spoon? Hah. I'm a lying sack of shit. Oh, wait, my "other" "other" nickname is Phil Silvers.... nah...)
Greg: Solemn vow: I will print that recipe. Mmm.

kudzu said...

Cooks -- My friend was given an ostrich eggshell for Christmas and was puzzled, at first thinking it was ceramic and wondering how it was cast, etc. My grandson, almost six, has one of his own, from the source I will not tell you since you're so agin the idea. I have never tasted ostrich egg, but I know someone who uses them for baking.

cookiecrumb said...

Now, kudzu, I'm pretty open to egg tasting. This is rather tame, but at least I've tried duck eggs, quail eggs and genuine (quick-method) Chinese "Thousand" Year Old eggs in Hong Kong. As a kid, I even buried Easter eggs, hoping for that thousand-year kick...
Fish eggs. Maybe even goose eggs.
Played with (but haven't tasted, to my childhood recollection) ant eggs and lizard eggs.
So I'm not averse to ostrich eggs per se. It's just that I couldn't believe you had a source. (And apparently you do!) But... Ostrich? Too much egg for a two-person household, I'm guessing. :D

ilva said...

That's true Italian cooking for you! Simple and satifying, not the fancy stuff they try to feed us in expensive restaurants....

cookiecrumb said...

Ilva: Glad you stopped by. So many of the recipes in this book remind me of the stunningly simple yet creative and satisfying meals you write about on your blog.

Cyndi said...

Just when I thought I'd never buy another cookbook. Wait. Maybe I'll just get you to cook the best things and post the recipes on the web! ? ! Sounds like a great book.

Mona said...

I haven't heard of this book, but I can tell I think I'd really like it! What a treat, can't wait for you to pick something to make out of it!

KathyF said...

Well this is one book I will not be adding to my Amazon order. Yuck! I will leave the hearts and brains to you all. (But I have heard of strawberry risotto. Yum!)

I may be going to Heston Blumenthal's restaurant to see what he's been doing with his chemistry set. He promises to make me a veggie meal, but I'm not sure....I cannot even bring myself to eat the vegetarian haggis in my pantry.

michelle said...

Oh you lucky thing. I've been eyeing this book, and we gave it to my boyfriend's Italian grandmother (and she now says she stays up late at night reading it) for Christmas. But the recipes sound bizzare!! Do make something from this strange list and tell us if it's worth it!!

cookiecrumb said...

I have such a backlog of food I need to get around to! But I will definitely be tackling something d'Argento soon. :)
Not heart or brain, though! :D

Monkey Gland said...

Odd, when I read this book it DID scream Italian to me! All the stuff that we'd eaten on holidays in Tuscany or Sicily was there, in those lovely staccato instructions.

cookiecrumb said...

MG: Poor, sheltered me. I thought Italian food was pizza and anything with pesto or red sauce.