February’s Cookbook: Italian in a most Italian way.

Initialially published in 1950, Il Cucchiaio d’Argento or The Silver Spoon, is Italy’s top all time selling cookbook. The architectural magazine, Domas, apparently tiring of the rationalist movement (no idea what that means) and the new industrial renaissance (again, no idea), decided to throw their hat into the culinary ring. It was quite a large hat. The magazine commissioned a team of chefs to scour the country to collect the good, the bad, and the ugly of regional and classic Italian cooking. They narrowed it down to a respectable 2000+ recipes and “ecco!” Instant Classic.

The recipes are simple with an economy of ingredients that lends itself to improvisation. Rather than provide the finished product, the book gives a framework on which the individual cook can build the dish to his own tastes. At least that is what I think. Reviews of the Italian version are glowing with no mention by anyone I read of the sparseness of the recipes which is odd. There do seem to be some differences between the English and the Italian versions. Amazon reviewer and resident of Rome, Eric J. Lyman, claims “lazy translators and unambitious editors ruin this English-language edition.”

He continues:

Just to give a few examples: metric measurements are awkwardly translated (one recipe suggests adding 11.35 ounces of cheese to a dish, another says the cook should add “1 to 4 portions” of salt — without saying how large the portions should be), vocabulary is inexact (the words “pot,” “pan,” and “skillet” seem to be used interchangeably, as do “glass” and “cup”), no suggestions are made for meat and vegetable ingredients difficult to find away from Italy’s shores, and basic information such as how many people a certain dish will serve and how long it will take to prepare (all of which is in the original) are just left out. There are typographical errors and misspellings galore, several of them comical. But my favorite mistakes include some that just left me scratching my head: one marinade must be “stirred frequently and infrequently for 5 to 12 hours” (the Italian says it must be “stirred regularly but not often for 5 to 6 hours”) and there’s a cake that upon completion must be “carefully cooled, or not” when in Italian it must be “cooled until warm to the touch.”

And that is from his review of the new edition which, at least in theory, has fewer errors than the original English translation I have on my shelf. To state something that should be obvious to those who know me, that makes me more excited about this month’s choice. I am bending the guidelines this time around. It is policy that I not give the measurements of the ingredients because despite the fact that a recipe cannot be copyrighted, I like the concepts of intellectual property and the rights of authorship. As this out of date translation is slapdash and I still believe lends itself to interpretation, I will be listing the recommended methods and measurements and the methods and measurements I actually used while astonishingly maintaining that all failures are the fault of the book, allowing for not even the hint of human error and attributing all successes to the cook. I am really happy about the imprecision of this book. It reminds us that the nation that built the Ferrari GTO also built the Fiat Cinquecento.

I’m certain that I will make some dishes recognizable to most as Italian: lasagna, puttanesca, etc. But for this book, with 2000+ entries I will do my best to select the least Olive Gardenish entries as possible. Expect octopus.

For the timid, follow along with the newest edition. The braver among you will seek out the older, more mistake laden first English edition. I give it a difficulty rating of 8 out of something. The rules are simple. In order to try new things, vary our diet, and otherwise have fun in the kitchen, we choose a cookbook on the first (or the second when we are busy) and endeavor to make, at minimum, ten items from the book by the end of  the month. This is a short month and our record is poor, but I am foolishly optimistic. For Friday night, a not very octopusesque Chicken in Red Wine.

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2 Responses to February’s Cookbook: Italian in a most Italian way.

  1. Pingback: From the Cookbook #2: Chicken legs in red wine, page 913 |

  2. Pingback: Shame and Scorn Vol. 2 |

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