A Late Tribute to The Silver Spoon

It’s been 7 years since The Silver Spoon, the Italian bible of cooking, was translated into English. I remember hearing a segment on the cookbook on NPR when it arrived on American shores. Somehow I missed opportunities to check it out of the library, and never quite wanted to dedicate the Manhattan real estate to purchasing the tome. I finally hauled home a copy from the New York Society Library (NYSL) last Thursday. See my post on my favorite New York library here.

The NYSL has old fashioned stacks, and up on Stack 11, I had been peering through books about railroad station design (alas, I did not bring home a book on the destruction of Pennsylvania Station – too depressing). Around the corner, I found the tome of The Silver Spoon. I didn’t have an extra bag to haul it and the 4 other books I wanted. I knew I’d get a little prod from the lady at the front desk to take a bag from them. They rightly want to protect their books.

Feeling strong, I lugged my finds down to the desk. “Do you want a bag?” she asked. The book is nearly 3 inches thick.

The very organization of the book is beautiful. Graphic block letters proclaim various challenges:  Barquettes! Rice Salads! Sweetbreads! Quail! Charlottes! My 2005 self, listening to the NPR segment on The Silver Spoon, remembers the commentator remarking that Americans would be hesitant to try a number of the foods presented in the Italian book. It was four years before my trip to St. John in London, two years before my first trip to Paris. The American palate has expanded by leaps and bounds in the last seven years, and all of the recipes now seem possible.  I love a cookbook that has sections for specific vegetables, and not just the 1950s American supermarket variety vegetable. Buck’s Horn Plantain! Cardoon! Chestnuts! Salsify! Pumpkin! (Mozzarella Pumpkin Sandwich anyone? I don’t even like winter squash, but I’d try it with that tang of parmesan). Unlike my saccharine American cookbooks, only a sliver, 115 pages out of 1,263, of The Silver Spoon is dedicated to desserts. That suits my savory tooth to a T.

Why didn’t I think of this before?

Polenta with Eggs
scant 2 1/4 cups coarse polenta flour
3 tablespoons butter, plus extra for the eggs
8 eggs

Make the polenta. Preheat the oven to 350F A few minutes before the polenta is ready, beat in the butter. Make shirred eggs. Pour the polenta onto a warm serving dish and lay the shirred eggs on top.

Savory Cabbage Pie (yeah, I have British Isles roots)
2 1/4 cups whole-wheat flour, plus extra for dusting
generous 1 cup butter, plus extra for greasing
3 carrots, sliced
1 medium cauliflower
1/2 white cabbage, shreadded
4 eggs, hard-cooked
5 ounces fontina cheese, sliced

Sift the flour into a bowl, add 2/3 cup of the butter and rub in with your fingertips. Stir in 3-4 tablespoons water to make a firm pastry. Set aside for 1 hour. Cook the carrots and cauliflower in separate pans of lightly salted, boiling water for 10 minutes until tender, then drain  Cut the cauliflower into flowerets. Melt 3 tablespoons of the remaining butter in a pan, add the cauliflower and cook  stirring frequently, for 5 minutes, then season and remove from the pan. Melt the remaining butter in the pan, add the cabbage and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes until softened  season and remove from the heat. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a large pie dish with butter, Divide the dough into two pieces, one larger than the other. Roll out the large piece on a lightly floured surface and line the prepared dish. Shell the eggs and slice, preferably with an egg slicer. Make a layer of egg slices in the base of the dish, cover with a layer of cauliflower flowerets, then a layer of fontina, then a layer of cabbage and carrots. Continue making layers until all the ingredients are used. Roll out the remaining dough, cover the pie, trim and crimp the edges to seal. Cut a hole in the center of the lid and prick the surface with a fork. Bake for 30 minutes and serve hot.

Yeah, I’m like that. Pretty 18th century, that pie.

Recipe I am not compelled to try:

Strawberry Risotto (though the Blueberry seems better)
about 6 1/4 cups Vegetable Stock
7 tablesppons butter
1 onion, chopped
2 cups risotto rice
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
2 1/4 cups strawberries, hulled
1 cup light cream
salt and pepper

Bring the stock to a boil. Melt half the butter in another pan, add the onion and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until the grains are coated in butter. Pour in the wine and cook until it has evaporated. Add a ladleful of the hot stock and cook, stirring until it has been absorbed. Continue adding the stock, a ladleful at a time, and stirring until each addition has been absorbed. This will take 18-20 minutes. Meanwhile, set a few whole strawberries aside, mash the remainder and add to the risotto about halfway through the cooking time. When the rice is almost tender, stir in the cream and season with salt and pepper. Serve garnished with the reserved strawberries.

Gonna have to buy the book. But not for the Strawberry Risotto.

About Becky Fifield

Becky Fifield is a cultural heritage professional with 25 years experience in institutions large and small. She is currently Head of Collection Management for the Special Collections of the New York Public Library. An advocate for preventive conservation, Ms. Fifield is a Professional Associate of the American Institute for Conservation, Chair of the AIC Collection Care Network, and former Chair of Alliance for Response NYC. She is also a scholar of 18th century female unfree labor and dress. There's a bit of pun in the title The Still Room, delineating a quiet space brimming with the ingredients of memory, where consideration, analysis, and wordcraft can take place. Ms. Fifield’s interests include museum practice, dress history, historic preservation, transit, social and women’s history, food, current events, geneaology, roadtrips, and considerations on general sense of place. Becky and her husband, Dr. V, live in the Hudson Valley.