I have been totally consumed by finding recipes and cooking for what feels like forever! Except for a time out to get my Interior Decorating Diploma, I’ve been in love with cooking and baking. The baking thing all started when I was probably 7 or 8 and the cooking, well I used to ask our neighbours for recipes when they gave me samples to taste and I would rush home and ask my mom to buy the ingredients so I could make whatever it was.
Growing up in a Danish/Russian home, it’s safe to say we never ate any sort of Italian food…but living in Vancouver…there was always access to Chinese cooking. The Italian thing reared its head when, once again our neighbour made her ragu for spaghetti and l sneaked a taste…hooked! She got the recipe from her Italian sister-in-law. It was slow cooked stew beef in a tomato sauce seasoned with cinnamon, cloves and cayenne pepper. I spent the following Sunday making it and except for the fact that my family, who didn’t eat anything spicy or anything with garlic, spent the meal gulping gallons of water, it was a success (just cut down on the cayenne next time, OK?)
I bought my very first Italian cookbook way back in 1971. It’s “The Family Cookbook: Italian” by not very Italian sounding authors Charlotte Adams and Alvin Kerr. I poured through it and piano, piano (slowly, slowly) I began to make a few of the recipes….hey this is where I learned to make Osso Bucco and the well-stained Milanese risotto recipe (and an oven version of that wonderful saffron scented rice)…who knew that it is usually done on top of the stove??? Not me!
The book had, as its “special consultant,” James Beard! Who? I’d never heard of him! Boy oh boy! The introduction was written by J.B. and to be frank, I probably never read it and if I did would not have “gotten” what he was saying as I knew almost nothing about Italy or the cuisine! Here’s a couple of quotes from the Introduction: “The Italians, (unlike the French), unfailingly emphasize the true flavor of their ingredients. Each food is treated with respect for its unique individual contribution—and the results are notable” and “In Italy good eating and drinking is as natural as living. The intense honesty of fine Italian cookery makes eating a national joy wherever one travels in in Italy. Nowhere else these days is regional produce so strongly stressed—not even in France.”
Things have changed a lot since those days! Not only have I been studying and cooking Italian for more than 30 years…again, piano, piano, but have had the good fortune to travel in Italy on five occasions. Those trips opened our eyes…we haven’t been the same since!
From the humble beginnings of that worn red cookbook to the most recent; a Christmas gift from my husband, who shares my passion for Italian cooking and savouring Italian wines. “Il viaggio di vetri a culinary journey” the first cookbook by Marc Vetri of the Philadelphia restaurant “Vetri” is a long way from that first book! The ingredients used may be simple but oh my…the end results are so sophisticated and look amazing! I wonder what preparation I might make first? Maybe it should be the spring peas with walnuts and fresh sheep’s milk ricotta or homemade pici with hen ragu and apples? And if this isn’t enough to set me (or you) running to the stove, then how about the corzetti pasta with walnuts?
Fire up those burners!