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November 30-December 6, 2005

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Cook It!

Joy of Italian Cooking

By Heather Irwin


Italian grandmothers don't use cookbooks. Or so they'd like you to think.

For more than 50 years, The Silver Spoon Cookbook (or Il Cucchiaio d'Argento in Italian) has been the bible of Italian cooking how-to's, describing in detail how to make everything from risotto and spaghetti carbonara to potato gnocchi, minestrone and a personal favorite, Biscotti Bruitti ma Buoni (Ugly But Good Cookies). Like The Joy of Cooking in America, The Silver Spoon is the one cookbook every mother owned, every bride received for a wedding gift and every nona kept hidden away to consult in secrecy. And you thought Italians were just naturally good cooks.

In fact, they are. In the first English translation of the cookbook (Phaidon Press; $39.95), the authors had to do a lot of reworking of the recipes to fit the slightly lower kitchen confidence of American cooks. Turns out we need a lot more hand-holding than our Italian counterparts when it comes to describing exactly what to do. So recipes were reorganized to show more detailed cooking and preparation instructions and clearer ingredient lists that used mostly readily available supermarket foods, though in general recipes were left intact.

At a hefty three pounds or so (my kitchen scale tops out at 24 ounces), The Silver Spoon is a monster of a cookbook filled with more than 2,000 recipes. The book is separated into recognizable sections: fish, sauces and vegetables, as well as a few less-familiar names—variety meats, frittata and a whole section merely entitled "first courses," which covers everything from soup to pasta.

According to the editors, this cookbook takes into account many of the traditional and historical Italian dishes from the North, South and everywhere in between, creating a sort of "official" guide to the foods of Italy. Among them, one of Italy's most imitated dishes, Spaghetti alla Carbonara—a hearty pasta sauce made with pancetta or bacon, eggs and cheese. In this case, the sauce does not use cream, though the addition has long been a source of debate.

Spaghetti Carbonara
2 tbsp. butter
generous 1/2 c. pancetta, diced (bacon is OK, too)
1 garlic clove
12 ounces spaghetti
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 c. Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1/2 c. Romano cheese, freshly grated
salt and pepper

Melt butter in a pan, add the pancetta or bacon and garlic, and cook until the garlic turns brown. Remove and discard the garlic. Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in a large pan of salted, boiling water until al dente, then drain and add the pancetta. Remove the pan from the heat, pour in the eggs, add half the Parmesan and half the Romano and season with pepper. Mix well so that the egg coats the pasta. Add the remaining cheese, mix again and serve.


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