by Sybil PrattFebruary, 2006
The publishers of The Silver Spoon call it the bible of authentic Italian cooking. I think it's better described as what happens when The Joy of Cooking, How to Cook Everything and Larousse Gastronomique meet la dolce vita. It weighs in at about five pounds; has more than 1,260 pages, 2,000 recipes and 200 new photographs; and proclaims at the get-go that eating is a serious matter in Italy. Indeed, this is a serious cookbook if ever there was one. Translated here for the first time, it's been a bestseller in Italy for more than 50 years, constantly updated and adapted to changing styles without losing any of its authenticity. It's arranged by courses and you'll find many dishes that are familiar and many that are not. It's the unfamiliar that fascinated me Radicchio Lasagna, Spaghetti with Scallion and Red Chile, Fennel with Walnuts and Oranges, Tagliatelle with Creme Fraiche and Arugula, Polenta with Cod, Meatballs with Anchovies (don't make a face, they're really good), Roast Turnips with Leeks and Pumpkin (a fun variation for next Thanksgiving), wonderfully simple Spiced Figs, Ricotta and Sour Cherry Tart and so many more. Cooking directions are served up the old-fashioned way, in one paragraph some short, some quite long without the numbered steps we're used to. You'll adjust easily, just make sure you read through the recipe before starting. Inspirational rather than daunting, this mega-book is a bonanza if you're serious about Italian cooking.
WORK YOURSELF INTO A STEW
It's cold and nasty where I live, and savory slow-cooked dishes are the order of the day. Anticipating that need, Lydie Marshall serves up 120 wonderful one-dish meals in Slow-Cooked Comfort: Soul-Satisfying Stews, Casseroles, and Braises for Every Season. These time-tested techniques are all variations on a venerable theme. In a braise, the main ingredient (meat, fish, vegetable) is kept whole, as in Pork Roast Braised in Beer, Braise of Leeks in Red Wine or an unusual, unusually good oven-baked Daube of Tuna. More familiar stews and casseroles call for smaller pieces of meat and vegetables and a little more liquid, like the classic Beef Bourguignon, Spring Lamb Stew, Creamed Fennel with Macaroni and a wow of a Cassoulet fit for a party crowd. There are a few more pluses in the comfort column, too this kind of cooking is great for inexpensive cuts of meat and most of these dishes are even better when reheated, a boon in these time-deprived times.
What cools you off and warms you up, is a main course or a starter, can be thin or thick, chunky or smooth and is always reliable? It's soup, soup, beautiful soup! And when it comes to vegetable soups, who better to lead the way than Deborah Madison, our grand guru of good vegetarian cooking. So, it was with high expectations that I opened her latest,Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison's Kitchen, and I was certainly not disappointed. Madison has enjoyed making soups all her cooking life and says that this has been the most enjoyable of all my cookbooks to write and, given her award-winning cookbook triumphs, that's going some. Many of the recipes here are new for her (Silky Roasted Yellow Pepper Soup), some are personal classics (Quinoa, Corn and Spinach Chowder) and others are classic classics (Bean and Pasta Soup). You'll get all the soup-savvy specifics on canned beans versus dried, stocks, broths, finishing touches (a swirl of seasoned yogurt, ricotta dumplings), doctoring up canned soups and the 10 steps to making vegetable soups that will turn you into a veritable veg-veteran in short order. If you're wondering what to sip while you sup on your soup, there are wine pairings with each recipe.