Since 1950 Il Cucchiaio d’Argento has been one of Italy’s best selling cookbooks, featuring a dazzling array of recipes meticulously collected from all corners of the country. It was only 6 years ago that it was translated to English, extending The Silver Spoon to much more of the world with its encyclopedic anthology of culinary Italy. This year the publication was revised and updated so when it was brought to my attention, I couldn’t help but take a look.
The Silver Spoon is not one of those books filled with jaw dropping photography that has been styled down to the last carefully placed crumb or perfect dribble of sauce. Yes there are 400 more photos in the new edition but it’s the simplicity of these photos that reflect the 2000+ recipes between its hard 18x28cm covers. The recipes may be traditional but I find they’re also versatile as sometimes you just can’t get that particular ingredient and make do with what you can get your hands on. That’s the beauty of simple cooking; you can play around with it.
This 1500-page culinary behemoth is broken down into many categories starting with the likes of Cooking Terms – Tools & Equipment – Antipasti, Appetizers & Pasta – Poultry – Game – Cheese – Desserts & Baking plus many more. There’s even an Offal category with 53 recipes for the waste-not-want-not gourmands. Lungs in Marsala, anyone? Authentic menus for festive occasions are listed towards the back of the book as well as menus by some of the worlds celebrated Italian chefs. Australias own Lucio Galletto, Stefano Manfredi, Robert Marchetti and Karen Martini have even contributed menus of their own.
The narrowed down methods in The Silver Spoon mean that sometimes you just have to use your common sense, such as removing skin from fillets of fish and deboning them before making a dish like the one below.
I think the only way I can really get a taste of what a cookbook is all about is to sample its wares. I chose three recipes from The Silver Spoon and put myself to work over several hours; slicing, baking, boiling and of course snapping the results with my trusty camera. It was difficult narrowing down what to choose as there’s a lot of stuff in this book I want to make so I listened to my stomachs cravings at the time and went with the following recipes:
Preparation: 20 mins, + 1-2 hrs freezing
Place the fish in the freezer or refrigerator for 1-2 hours to firm up. Using a very sharp knife, cut the swordfish and salmon into thin slices. Arrange on a serving dish and keep in the fridge until ready to serve. Put the olive oil, garlic, brandy, parsley and thyme in a food processor and season with salt and pepper. Process to mix well. Just before serving, sprinkle the carpaccio with the dressing.
My notes: Any fish you desire can be used in this recipe but just make sure you remove the skin or any bones. The simple method doesn’t mention this but I guess if it did, the book would be much thicker. If you’re a trained sushi chef and have swanky knives that are always sharp, cut the fish straight from the fridge. Otherwise, just pop it in the freezer (on plastic so it doesn’t stick) until it’s almost frozen. Much easier to cut when it isn’t wobbly. I substituted the brandy with whiskey as that’s all I had wafting about the drinks cupboard. The herb flavours with the fresh fish are just beautiful.
Preparation 1¼ hrs; Cooking time 20 mins
Cook the potatoes in lightly salted, boiling water for 20-25 mins, then drain, peel, place in a bowl and mash with a potato masher. Stir in the flour and eggs and season with salt. Knead to an elastic dough, then roll out to a 1 cm round with a rolling pin and place on a tea towwl. Place the cheese slices on the potato dough and roll up, using the tea towel to help you. Tie the ends of the roll with kitchen string. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil, add the wrapped roll and simmer for 2o minutes. Meanwhile, melt the butter with the sage leaves. Drain the roll and place on a wooden chopping board. Cut into 1 cm thick slices and place on a serving dish. Sprinkle with the parmesan and sage butter.
My notes: I guess this dish is like one big rolled gnocchi. The suggested cheeses are quite nice to use and the heady flavour of the Taleggio goes well with the sage. I did end up using more flour in the kneading process as the potatoes were quite thirsty and even added a bit of wholemeal flour as I ran out of plain. Just make sure the water level is deep enough otherwise you’ll need to simmer the roll for much longer. There’s nothing nice about raw potato dough in the centre. Also, use a tea towel that is white or natural coloured. I used an old blue tea towel that has been washed dozens of times but it still slightly dyed the outside of the roll a lovely shade of turquoise! It scraped off easily, though. Use rubber bands instead of string, if you wish, as they work just as effectively. If there is any of the roll left over unsliced, refrigerate it and have it the following day like I did. I pan-fried the slices in a little olive oil and butter, garlic and sage until golden. The edges become soft and a little crispy and personally I preferred it this way.
Preparation: 40 minutes; Cooking time 40 minutes
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease a 1.5 litre ovenproof dish with butter. Roll out the pastry to 3mm thick on a lightly floured surface and cut into four large squares. Peel and core the apples and place one in the middle of each square. Sprinkle with the sugar and fill each cavity with a quarter of the cream and a pinch of cinnamon. Bring the corners of the squares up to the top of each apple and pinch together, leaving a small opening to allow steam to escape. Brush with the egg yolk mixture, place in the prepared dish and bake for 40 minutes.
My notes: Somehow I didn’t pay attention to the type of pastry this recipe requires as I used shortcrust instead of puff. Obviously not the same texture that puff produces but it wasn’t all that bad. I really liked it, actually; much like a little apple pie. Use the pre-rolled sheets as well. I won’t tell! You could even assemble these in advance for a dinner party, refrigerate, and bake them just before serving. The apple steams and cooks within the pocket of pastry and is perfectly cooked when you dig into it. Make sure you dollop some extra double cream on it when you’re about to eat and a good sprinkle of granulated sugar mixed with cinnamon was a nice final touch.
The Silver Spoon is published by Phaidon Press LTD