MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Italy's best-selling cookbook for the last 50 years is now available in English translation: "The Silver Spoon" or, in Italian...

Ms. EMILIA TERRAGNI (Phaidon Press): (Italian spoken)

BLOCK: A massive book, 2,000 recipes, including 23 kinds of risotto, blueberry risotto, nettle risotto. Also the definitive authentic Florentine T-bone steak. And if you want to know how to cook a calf's head, "The Silver Spoon" will show you three ways to do that. Emilia Terragni is one of the editors at Phaidon Press, who converted the Italian book into English.

Ms. TERRAGNI: This is a book that my mom used, my grandmom used. So it's a book that has always been in our kitchen. And it's just so--this kind of book--you know, in Italy we have always this discussion about food in which you ask if in the carbonara you put the cream or not. And then you always say, OK, let's look up in the book just to be sure that you are doing the right thing.

BLOCK: Sort of a bible, really, in a way.

Ms. TERRAGNI: Absolutely. It is the bible. It's one of the most famous wedding presents. So everyone is getting one when he's married.

BLOCK: And what is the answer? Do you put cream in the carbonara?

Ms. TERRAGNI: No, I don't.

BLOCK: It's not in the bible, so you don't do it.

Ms. TERRAGNI: Absolutely not.

BLOCK: Well, let's talk about one of the classics in here. What would you pick out as sort of a recipe that no Italian cookbook that would pretend to be definitive could possibly be without?

Ms. TERRAGNI: Well, there are many. One is potato gnocchi. There is the basic recipes and then there are some variation on it.

BLOCK: Many variations.

Ms. TERRAGNI: Yeah. And--or as I told you, spaghetti carbonara, that looks like that is a very simple dish, but you have to do it in a proper way. Or even spaghetti aglio olio peperoncino with the three main elements and ingredients of the Italian kitchen: oil, chili and spaghetti.

BLOCK: And garlic?

Ms. TERRAGNI: And garlic, of course.

BLOCK: Now when it came to trying to translate this for an American and an English audience, what were the problems there? What kinds of things did you have to overcome?

Ms. TERRAGNI: Well, we had a lot of problem. And we had tried and we decided that it was not enough only to translate the book but we really need to rewrite it for an American audience because the way the recipes were explained in the Italian books was--were a little bit too simple. And we have decided to add a little bit more steps. And also the way in which the ingredients are listed, we are used in Italy to list them in order of importance while for the American audience it's more in order how they appear in the recipes.

BLOCK: So when you say you needed to add steps, is that because there were things that Italian cooks would just know to do implicitly that needed to be spelled out maybe?

Ms. TERRAGNI: Exactly. We always said that Italian probably they learn cooking before learn talking. And it's probably in America this is less obvious. So there are things that we give for granted, and it's much better to explain in a better way.

BLOCK: In the vegetable section there was a little mini chapter on something called buck's-horn plantain.

Ms. TERRAGNI: Oh, yeah. That's one of my favorites.

BLOCK: Is it? What is it in Italian?

Ms. TERRAGNI: (Italian spoken)

BLOCK: Which is friar's beard.

Ms. TERRAGNI: Yes.

BLOCK: And the description is it has a mouth-puckeringly sharp taste.

Ms. TERRAGNI: Yeah, and I can tell you that you can find it only in the north part of Italy. So it's really something that is related to one or two regions in Italy. And it has a very, very short season. So you can find it for just a few months.

BLOCK: I learned a couple of things here that I didn't know before. Lettuce, its juice is said to calm a coughing.

Ms. TERRAGNI: Yeah.

BLOCK: And this, which surprises me entirely, grated cheese should always be sprinkled on pasta before the sauce.

Ms. TERRAGNI: Yes. Yes, because when you sprinkle the cheese and then you put the sauce, the sauce is normally warm and so it melt the cheese. While if you do it the other way around, this doesn't happen.

BLOCK: The pasta wouldn't be warm enough to melt the cheese?

Ms. TERRAGNI: Not really, not really, not enough.

BLOCK: So it's sort of captured between two warm things, I guess...

Ms. TERRAGNI: Exactly.

BLOCK: ...the pasta and the sauce.

Ms. TERRAGNI: Exactly.

BLOCK: Emilia Terragni, thank you very much.

Ms. TERRAGNI: Thank you to you.

BLOCK: Emilia Terragni is one of the editors behind "The Silver Spoon." You can find recipes for spaghetti amatriciana, zucchini flower soup and more at our Web site, npr.org.

MICHELE NORRIS (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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