Top positive review
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Beautiful work - a great accomplishment (with a few nitpicks)
on November 7, 2005
_The Silver Spoon_ was originally published in Italy in 1950 by the Italian architectural and design magazine _Domus_. (Italian Title "Il Cucchiaio d'argento." The eighth edition came out in 1997.)The publishers at Phaidon, the British publishing house, have done a remarkable job of translating and designing _The Silver Spoon for American and British cooks. The cookbook combines both traditional Italian recipes, and more contemporary Italian recipes influenced by other cuisines. If I had to make a comparison, I would say that it's much like a Italian version of "The Joy of Cooking," though not nearly as comprehensive.
I have three or four "classical" Italian cookbooks, and many of the recipes in those books are repeated here. I think that I'll hang on to them - but more for the extra information relating to Italian cuisine (which this book lacks) than for the recipes.
_The Silver Spoon_ is divided into 14 chapters (with a preface):
Eating is a Serious Matter (preface)
Cooking Terms - This chapter is a comprehensive glossary of all of the cooking terms used in the book. It covers terms for ingredients, cookware, and cooking techniques. I especially liked how the authors delineated exactly what they mean for specific terms related to technique; for example, "Brown in a Pan: To cook vegetables over low heat in butter or oil until they go a light golden color. This is particularly common with thinly slice donion or garlic cloves. Meat or vegetables may also be cooked in oil or butter ina skillet over high heat until a rich, even brown in color during the first or final stage of cooking." Equally detailed descriptions are given for everything from "Aceto Balsamico" to "Whisk/Beat". Experienced cooks may find these descriptions unneccesary, but as an amateur, I really appreciated them. The definitions of Italian words "Cacciatore", "Ribollita", etc. are the only indications in the entire book of the origins of any particular dish.
Tools and Equipment - This chapter gives information on the types of cookware necessary for the recipes included, some notes on kitchen organization, and two full-color pages of pictures of the different types of cookware neccessary.
Sauces, Marinades, and Flavored Butters - This chapter includes recipes for nearly every sauce that I've ever heard of - including all of the mother sauces, each with two to ten sauces based on them.
This chapter is divided into the following subchapters:
Flavored Butters ( five pages of recipes for these)
Antipasti, Appetizers, and Pizzas - Include Crostini, Pates, Quiches, Canapes, and many others.
First Courses - Soups, Pasta (fresh and dried), and Rice Dishes
Eggs and Frittata
Vegetables - How to prepare every vegetable under the sun (including some I have never heard of) and salads. The salads chapter seems a bit short, though meat and seafood salads are including in those sections.
FIsh, Crustaceans, and Shellfish - Includes information on serving sizes, cooking techniques, and how to get rid of ligering fish smells in the kitchen. Has seperate subchapters for 32 types of fish, 12 types of shellfish, snails and frogs (5 recipes for frogs alone!)
Meat and Variety Meats - Gives information on Cuts of meat (Both Italian and American) for Lamb, Pork, Beef, and Veal, along with several hundred recipes. Also includes bits on sausages and "Variety Meats", or Offal.
Poultry - The basics (Chicken, Turkey, Duck) with Squab, Capon, and Guinea Fowl also.
Cheese - a short chapter giving first Courses and appetizers using cheese
Desserts and Baking - Gives recipes for every type of pastry imaginable, frostings and sauces, creams, puddings, you name it. An exhaustive chapter. (But nothing on baking bread.)
Menus by Celebrated Chefs - Includes menus with recipes from 23 Italian, Italian-American, and Anglo-Italian Chefs. Includes Lidia Bastianich and Mario Batali. (No Pictures in this section, but plenty more recipes. )
The book contains both a list of recipes by ingredient and a comprehensive index.
The recipes are not direct translations from the Italian - the translators have converted ingredients into imperial units and have written the instructions so that they are more descriptive.I found the recipes easy to read and to understand. For the most part, the writing is concise, but instructions are given in such a way that a person unfamiliar with a technique used can easily complete the recipe - the Italian version was apparently written for more advanced cooks.
The design is very well executed. This is a cookbook to be used, and used often. Aspects of the design that I really appreciated were the different colored edges on the paper for each chapter, so that you might turn immediately to the section that you wish to, and the lack of a dust jacket, which I find to be a nuisance on cookbooks that are to be used often.
This is not a cookbook for people who like anecdotes or pictures. The recipes have no introduction except for their Italian names. The pictures are well done - the food is simply displayed in the pan it was cooked in, or on a white plate on a plain background with out garnishes. The pictures are not labeled clearly (The labels are there, but they are tiny - you really have to look for them.) with the name of the dish. There are several line drawings, from the original, I believe, but they serve a decorative purpose only.
I have several very small nitpicks with the the book: the lack of certain regional dishes that I took to be well-known; The printing is light - I would have prefered a solid black, which is easier to read, than the charcoal grey that is used for all of the recipes; I really would have enjoyed information for at least some of the dishes on where they came from, and information on the differences in the regional cuisines of Italy would have been helpful. This information may have been superfluous in an Italian edition, but would be appropriate in an American one. There is also no section on baking breads, which is very strange for a book that claims to cover the whole of Italian cuisine. There is also no coverage of the history of Italian cuisine.
However, all of these problems aren't worth docking a whole star when one takes into consideration the wealth of recipes included. I have only made a few simple salads, but they've turned out deliciously. The design of the book makes it very easy to use in the kitchen - the binding lays open flat, and includes two ribbons to mark your page, and the text is plain and easy to read. This is going to be a really fun cookbook to use, and I'm sure that I'm going to use it for decades.