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By Phaidon Press: The Silver Spoon (Anglais)
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It's not the fault of the Italian publishers -- the book is still a one-stop resource for everything from antipasti to ziti, with great illustrations, and all bound very handsomely -- but lazy translators and unambitious editors ruin this English-language edition, which is titled The Silver Spoon.
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."
All this is all a real a shame, because this book really should be a staple of anyone's cookbook library. If you can't figure out Italian well enough to get Il Cucchino d'Argento and you won't be frustrated by the awkward and puzzling texts in this beautiful volume, then go ahead and get it. For anyone else, I'd suggest waiting a year or two until the next edition is released (and is, hopefully, edited more carefully).
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.
The blurbs on the book's cover tout the volume as `the bible of authentic Italian cooking'. I believe this can mislead some buyers in thinking that the book is devoted exclusively to Italian techniques or that the book has the very best and most definitive demonstrations of Italian cooking techniques. It would be much more accurate to compare this to either `The Joy of Cooking' or `James Beard's American Cookery' in that its emphasis is more on completeness rather than depth or excellence in pedagogical presentation. At 2000 recipes, this volume easily trumps some recent big Italian cookbooks, such as Michele Scicolone's `1000 Italian Recipes' or Mario Batali's `Molto Italiano'. If broad range is what you want, this is exactly the book for you.
What it does not have is any but the slimmest anecdotal information on regionality of dishes or exceptionally well explained techniques for such mysteries as fresh pasta making, bread baking, sausage making, or homemade mozzarella. You may also be surprised to find a large selection of terms and recipes from French, Spanish, Middle Eastern, Russian, and Japanese cuisines. This is all in keeping with a book devoted to be a reference for Italian home cooking. Italian bourgeois amateur cooks, it seems, are just as likely to use the French name for many dishes such as souffle or crepe as the Italian name. This belies the statement I read recently that it is only in America where one finds the fascination with world cuisines, as if all Italians spent all their time eating just the foods of their local province.
The introduction to this volume states that in the course of translating the book, care was taken to convert names of ingredients to designate provisions familiar to the American home. Unfortunately, they were not entirely successful in doing this, as I found multiple references to `Caesar mushrooms' with no explanation of what species of mushroom may be similar in the American megamart. What's doubly odd is that according to `Larousse Gastronomique', Caesar's mushroom is rare today and remarkably similar to a poisonous variety of mushroom. I also found the recipe directions still relatively sparse in detail and not entirely up to date to the latest in American culinary technique. One example is that for the recipe for veal saltimbocca, it calls for salting the meat after the saute. Modern practice recommends salting meat before sauteeing. Similarly, the recipes for fresh pasta or pizza dough are just a bit terse, with no good tips on the finer points of various equipment for kneading, rolling out, and cutting fresh pasta.
All this means is that this is not necessarily a good first book on Italian cooking. Marcella Hazan's books, especially `Marcella Cucina', are far better introductions to classic Italian technique, with Carol Field's `The Italian Baker' being a far superior introduction to Italian breads. But that doesn't say there is not a whole lot to like about this book, whose great strength lies in the great number of variations it gives on common dishes and the coverage it gives to dishes which many Italian cookbooks don't even bother to mention.
This book includes several great chapters on subjects that are almost entirely ignored by modern cookbook writers and Food Network faves. Anyone who has dabbled in Italian cuisine knows a little about timbales, mostly as a dish that is very complicated and done only for major celebrations. All treatments of the dish I have seen up to now reinforce this notion. It was featured as a celebratory dish in Stanley Tucci's movie `Big Night' and as a `tour de force' recipe in an episode of `Mario Eats Italy'. The best recipes I have seen for it are in excellent books on regional cooking and are all very long. This book gives us a whole chapter on timbales with twelve (12) recipes, none of which take more than one page. Another `lost' culinary subject is covered in the chapter on eggs. You expect and get lots of frittata recipes, but you also get ten recipes for shirred (baked) eggs plus recipes for eggs en cocotte, medium cooked eggs, and hard cooked eggs. And, while frittatas are a darling of the Food Network set, I have never seen them do a filled frittata or a frittata cake. You get them here!
One of the most useful items in the book may be the comparison of Italian versus American cuts of beef and the appropriate cooking techniques for each cut.
The chapter on baking and desserts is surprising in its size (about 120 pages) and by the heavy presence of both French and Austrian pastry techniques. Like every other chapter, I would not use this book as a primer on baking and pastry. I would first master my Sherry Yard (`The Secrets of Baking') or Nick Malgieri (`Perfect Pastry') or even the new `Martha Stewart Baking Handbook' before tackling these recipes, but if you really want to know what Nonna in Naples is really cooking, this is where you want to go!
The book is exceptionally well laid out, with color-coded pages by chapter and subchapter, a full index, plus a separate list of recipes. The glossary of culinary terms in the beginning is great, even if the translation is a bit quirky. This is not as definitive a coverage of ITALIAN cooking as the older `Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well' by Pellegrino Artusi, but it is a very, very good source of recipes cooked in Italy today.
Very highly recommended.
As the Publisher said "this is a popular wedding gift" for us. This means that this book is often used as a reference book. The recipes are not new yet are honest. They may help you in many occasions.
Bookshops are full of books that pretend to be Italian but, in most of the cases, the only Italian thing is the last name of the author.
So buy The Silver Spoon if like Italian food and you are looking for a complete overview of the way we cook and eat.
One has to wonder why it took so long for an English-language version to be sold in North America. This cookbook has almost everything a serious home cook could want. Most recipes are simple to prepare and turn out well, and all call for real ingredients, not canned or pre-processed glop. It's surprising how few ingredients go into most recipes and how incredibly flavourful they turn out. I've tried over 30 recipes from the book, and every one turned out perfectly and was delicious.
One unusual feature is the large section on vegetables. Too many cookbooks have huge sections dedicated to meat but a tiny vegetable section containing only a few recipes for carrots, potatoes, and corn. The Silver Spoon contains recipes for dozens of vegetables, including finnochio, mushrooms, artichokes, cabbage (all kinds), parsnips, turnips, chard, and cardoons, in addition to recipes for the more common types. There's also an extensive section on seafood and fish and a large number of "first course" recipes, including appetizers, pizzas, soups, and salads.
Other reviewers have mentioned that many recipes call for unusual amounts of certain ingredients. This is likely because the translators didn't want to test the recipes themselves and were leery of changing the recipes without testing. I personally would have preferred if both metric and imperial measures had been given. In Canada most of our food is sold in metric sizes, so sometimes I feel like I'm translating backwards (11 oz. is 300 grams, 7 oz. is 200 grams, etc.).
There are a few translation clunkers that haven't been recently mentioned: the "Caesar mushrooms" called for in some recipes are likely chanterelles, and the "farro" which makes up some grain dishes is much better known in North America as spelt. I suspect that many of these "errors" in translation are really differences between UK usage and North American usage.
The section on baking is much smaller than in most North American cookbooks. I don't know if Italian families don't eat sweets or if they buy them from a bakery, but the lack of cookie, cake, and tart recipes did seem strange to me. There is also no recipe for Italian bread, quite possibly because most Europeans live near a good bakery and don't have to choose between making bread at home or eating the styrofoamish bread sold at most North American supermarkets.
These are minor quibbles, however. The Silver Spoon contains thousands of uncomplicated recipes for delicious food. It would be a steal at twice the price.