Not Born With a Silver Spoon {a cookbook review}

I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth.

Or on my bookshelf.

In fact, it wasn't until two years ago, when my colleague Ruth mentioned that the Silver Spoon is her favorite Italian cookbook, that I even knew it existed.

Of course, Italophile that I am, I bought a copy right away.

The Silver Spoon - first published in Italy as Il Cucchiao d'Argento in 1950 by Domus, a magazine of design and architecture - is the bible of Italian cooking.

The more than 2000 recipes in the book reflect the regions in which they were created, each authentic in its ingredients and preparation. These are wonderful recipes, quite distinct from what many misapprehend as Italian cookery.

In 2005, Phaidon Press published the first English version and, since then, French, German, and Dutch editions have been produced.

Recently, Phaidon created a new series of Silver Spoon books, each devoted a regional cuisine of Italy. Tuscany was published in 2011, and  Sicily in 2013.

On March 15 of this year, we welcomed Puglia to this family of beautifully-produced books. The photos are exquisite and make me want to try each and every recipe. (Pugila, when picturing Italy as a "boot," is the heel.) Phaidon sent me a review copy for this post.

For starters, I made two - the Torta di Bietole e Ricotta (Chard and Ricotta Pie) for Pi Day, and the Pasta alla Seppia.

Both recipes were tested by friends (thanks Susan and Barbara!), and both agreed that they are "keepers." The flavors in the chard and ricotta pie were well balanced, the texture of the filling was creamy, and the olive oil-based crust was unexpectedly flaky and added a delicate crunch.

The pie did take a bit longer to cook to the requisite golden brown, but that didn't bother me at all. My friend Karen, of Lemon Grove Cake Diaries, suggests that traditional recipes like this should say, "Cook until done." Really, that is so true. Every Nonna knows exactly when her chard pie is done. But she also knows we would want a timing, so she gave us 30 minutes.

The pasta alla seppia (recipe follows) was beautiful. Beautiful as a dough, beautiful, rolled out, and stunning on the plate. The recipe was spot on, although the "1-2 cuttlefish ink sacs" could be a bit vague for a beginner. I noted (in grams) how much ink I used and it was perfect.

The book actually covers both Puglia and Basilicata (the instep of the boot), and is divided by cities and towns within the two regions: Foggia, Barletta-Andria-Trani, Bari, Taranto, Brindisi, and Lecce (all from Puglia), and Potenza and Matera (from Basilicata). Puglia and Basilicata are known as "The Garden of Italy," which becomes apparent as you see the beautiful produce in their cuisine. One of my favorite sections in the book - especially for when I travel - is "Food Festivals," a monthly list of festas and sagras throughout the regions.

I can't tell you how excited I am to have this book, and to know about this series. I have ordered Tuscany and Sicily, and very much look forward to the next book in this series. In the meantime, I have plenty of wonderful Silver Spoon recipes to keep me busy!

I definitely recommend this book; it is worth the splurge at $39.95. Buon appetito!

~ David

Linguine alla Seppia  Cuttlefish Ink Linguine
Here is their recipe word for word; my notes appear in blue.

Preparation time: 30 minutes plus 1 hour resting +/- 20 minutes drying
Cooking time: 5 minutes
Serves 4

For the pasta
200 grams/7 ounces (1 2/3 cups) '00' flour *
2 eggs, beaten
1-2 cuttlefish ink sacs (8 grams) **
olive oil

For the sauce
150 grams/5 ounces canned tuna in olive oil, flaked
3 tablespoons salted capers, rinsed and patted dry
3 tablespoons olive oil

To make the pasta, place the flour in a mound on a work counter (The ink will stain. Make sure you use a surface that is not permeable - I used a large 12-inch porcelain plate), make a well in the centre, and add the eggs, ink, and salt. Mix with your hands until a dough forms, then knead until soft and smooth. Flatten the dough into a disc. Coat with a little olive oil, then wrap in plastic wrap. Leave to rest at room temperature for 1 hour.

Roll the dough out onto a floured surface into a rectangle about 3 millimeters/-inch thick. Flour the surface of the dough well, then fold loosely 4 times from the short end of the rectangle. Cut into strips 5 millimeters/¼-inch wide. Open out, shake off the excess flour and hang over the back of a chair covered by a towel to dry until the pasta is no longer tacky to the touch.

Alternate Method: Because I have an Atlas pasta roller, I opted to use it rather than hand cut. Run the pasta through the rollers starting at the thickest setting and repeat using thinner and thinner settings, stopping at the next-to-last setting. If it is too long to handle, cut in half, then run it through the cutting side of the machine to make 1/4-inch wide noodles. Instead of drying them on a towel and chair, you can flour the noodles well and dry them in small nests.

Put the tuna in a bowl with the capers and olive oil, and stir together.

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil, and add the linguine and cook for about 2 minutes, or until al dente (about 3 minutes). Drain well, then mix with the tuna. Serve.

* '00' flour is an Italian flour of the finest grind. It is known by a variety of names and numbers including "soft flour" (UK), "pastry flour" (US), "40" (France), "405" (Germany), and "0000" (Argentina). It can be found in Italian specialty stores, and in many grocery stores.

** The cuttlefish ink I used was a gift sent from friends Roque and Gabriella in Venice. It comes in 4 gram packets. I have looked online, and it is readily available from a variety of sources in these small packets.

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