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The Silver Spoon: The Art of the Cookbook  What makes a classic cookbook?



It is easy to recognize a good cookbook. The elements of clarity and organization will be instantly apparent, but one book will rise above the others to become a classic, beloved by novices and the experienced alike. What makes that one cookbook a classic? Very few qualify, but the ones that rise above others stay with us for life. Somehow those books understand that cooking at home without a staff demands simplicity, and that simplicity is to be respected as the highest form of the art of cooking.

Perhaps the best way to answer the question is to trace the development of a book. At last, Italy's culinary biblehas been translated into English, and we have an opportunity to look inside the creation of a cookbook. In fact, we have a double opportunity as this is a translation that must communicate beyond Italy's geographic borders. As a result, Italy's culinary bible can now become ours as well.

review of silver spoon


History of The Silver Spoon (Il cucchiaio d'argento)


The Silver Spoon, published by Phaidon Press in November, is not an architecture, art or design book. It is a cookery book. And why is Phaidon publishing a cook book? Because The Silver Spoon is the English edition of the classic Italian cook book Il cucchiaio d’argento, the number one, most popular cook book in Italy, which has sold over 2 million copies in the last 50 years. When Phaidon discovered that this amazing book, which has a place in every Italian family’s kitchen, (including my own in Lake Como), had never been translated into English, it was too good an opportunity to miss.

Phaidon discovered the book by chance.  During one of the frantic Italian furniture fairs, Richard Schlagman, Phaidon’s Publisher, and I drove to the outskirts of Milan, for a meeting at Domus, the internationally renowned architecture and design magazine. While we were discussing various projects we asked if Domus had ever published any books. Our hosts smiled and said: “The only book that Domus has ever published is Il cucchiaio d’argento”. “Of course”, I replied, and I explained to Richard that this was the best Italian cook book - the book that every bride receives as a wedding present – the tool that teaches everyone how to cook authentic Italian cuisine. It was the book that my mother and my grandmother used, and the book that I had in my own kitchen.

Domus was founded in the 1920’s, by Gio’ Ponti.  In the beginning, it was not only an architecture and design magazine, but also a ‘home’ journal.  Besides modern buildings and stylish furniture, it featured advice on good housekeeping, and recipes. Domus went on to collect hundreds of recipes that were published all together for the first time in 1950 in Il cucchiaio d’argento.  From its very first appearance the book immediately made its mark on the world of gastronomy, and from that point onwards it has never been out of print, quickly becoming the classic volume of Italian cooking and the leading authority in Italy.

To compile Il cucchiaio d’argento, cookery experts were commissioned by Domus to collect hundreds of traditional recipes from throughout the Italian regions, showing every regional speciality.  During the more than 50 years that the book has been in print, it has been constantly updated, with various successive editions, each one adapting the recipes and techniques to our modern lifestyle without losing the principles of authentic Italian cuisine.  The result is an extraordinary cookbook containing 2,000 recipes. 

I was convinced straight away that Phaidon should publish The Silver Spoon for the international market, but to prove my enthusiasm was not driven only by a  patriotic pride, we asked a number of cookery specialists, including food editors and cooks, for their expert opinion on the book. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and Phaidon embarked on its first cook book.

The task was enormously ambitious, so we needed a team with an impressive range of experience.  Linda Doeser was appointed the cookery editor.  She has worked in publishing for over 30 years and is the author and editor of numerous cookbooks, including World Food Italy.  In order to make the book accessible and easy to follow for an international audience, Linda completely rewrote all the recipes, explaining each step in detail.  The many differences in language and editorial style between the UK and US, (for example measurements and different names for foods) meant we had to create separate editions of The Silver Spoon for both markets.

Wherever a recipe indicates Italian ingredients that are not available or are difficult to obtain in the UK and or US, we have suggested one or two alternatives, more readily available the in UK or America.  For example chamois, which is almost exclusively available in Italy, can be substituted with venison.  This means that the reader will not find recipes impossible to prepare due to a lack of ingredients.

We have kept all the recipes featured in the Italian version, even if some appear very unfamiliar to an English or an American audience. For example, I was told that Americans don’t like ‘wobbly bits’, that even liver is suspect, and that something like tongue is likely to put them in therapy for a year. Phaidon has kept all these kind of recipes, including offal, but if someone finds them unfamiliar, it is very easy to jump the recipe, or even the entire chapter, to enjoy the other 1,950 recipes.  In this way, the book remains a genuine Italian cook book, containing the food that Italians like to eat.

Phaidon worked with the Italian graphic designer Italo Lupi, transforming the old fashioned design of the Italian edition into a beautiful and easy to follow new book.  We have illustrated The Silver Spoon with 205 specially commissioned photographs by renowned food photographer Jason Lowe.  The images are stylish, all shot in natural light and against pure white, contemporary backgrounds, revealing the simple beauty of the food.

The Silver Spoon is organised by courses, each defined by a different colour.  Each chapter is then divided into various sections, which are accompanied by an introductory text that gives some hints on the ingredients, where to find them, in which seasons, and the best way to prepare them. Recipe, section and chapter names are given in English and Italian.

The Silver Spoon concludes with a selection of 25 menus by famous Italian cooks, who work around the world, who are all fans of the book.  These include Giorgio Locatelli, Aldo Zilli, Mario Batali, Lidia Bastianich, Ruth Rogers, and Arrigo Cipriani.

The result is an extraordinary book, which will transform every English-speaking reader into an experienced Italian cook, teaching them the thousands of secrets of how to cook a truly authentic Italian meal.  And at just £24.95, Phaidon is confident that The Silver Spoon will become one of Phaidon’s best-selling titles, alongside The Story of Art and The Art Book, dominating cookery book publishing for the next fifty years.  

Buon Appetito.

Recipes and pictures extracted from The Silver Spoon, £24.95 / €39.95 / $39.95, 2005, published by Phaidon Press Ltd www.phaidon.com/silverspoon

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The Silver Spoon has kindly shared these recipes with us:

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