Q&A with Emilia Terragni from The Silver Spoon
The Silver Spoon, or Il Cucchiaio D'argento, has been a bestselling cookbook in Italy for over 60 years, containing over 2,000 recipes which cover the entire Italian territory. It has since sold over 1 million copies globally.
To coincide with the publication of the brand new revised edition of the Silver Spoon, we invited Emilia Terragni, who helps translate and edit the book, to MNHQ in December 2011 for an Italian-cookery themed Q&A. She took on your questions about recipes, meal planning and Italian eating, as well as offering tips and tricks for success in the kitchen.
A. Emilia: I am a great pasta eater: I think you can mix it with practically anything, from fish to vegetables, and in the Silver Spoon you can find many quick and tasty recipes.
Q. Weblette: Are there any short cuts you can recommend? Lots of Italian cooking seems - rightly so - to take a long time, but are there 'cheats' I could use?
A. Emilia: I would recommend doing some basic recipes in large quantities in advance, then freezing them in small portions, to be ready for any occasion. These could include stocks, soffritto, but also pasta sauces, such as pesto, tomato sauce, or ragu.
Q. Spendthrift: How do Italians manage to get their children to eat vegetables, and at what age do they introduce what to them?
A. Emilia: We try to introduce them as soon as possible: the idea is to get the children used to a variety of different flavours, so that they can refine their palate, and if there is something they really don't like, you shouldn't force them, as they will eventually come around.
Q. LaVitaBellissima: Could you please give me an unsloppy recipe for Gnudi please?
A. Emilia: We have a great recipe for gnudi in our book 'Tuscany', have a look at it, page 202.
Q. HugosGoatee: If Italian cooking is all about the ingredients, it's really expensive to do the simplest of dishes. What cheap tasty dishes would you recommend for family eating? I don't mind faffing around with preparation, quite enjoy that bit, but expensive food is out of the window as long as I'm a stay-at-home-mum.
Q. Thankgodforcaffiene: I need help with gnocchi! I have tried several recipes (including the one from The Silver Spoon), and I haven't quite cracked it yet. If I add the amount of flour listed in the recipe, I end up with a slightly floury mash rather than a dough, far too loose to be shaped in any way. If however I add more flour until I get a dough, the gnocchi end up being quite chewy and (unsurprisingly) taste rather floury. Where am I going wrong? Which consistency is right?
A. Emilia: I understand that gnocchi can be quite tricky. First of all you should steam the potatoes instead of boiling them, so that there is less water. Follow the recipes we have in the Silver Spoon for the basic recipe, but then because depending on the quality of the potatoes, they could need more or less flour, check the consistency of the dough and taste it. It should be not too hard, and taste more of potatoes than flour. Also make sure you don't over-cook them, as this is another reason why they fall apart.
Q. Wahwahwah: I love polenta when it is griddled and served with a creamy mushroom sauce (a la Strada). How can I do it properly so that it doesn't end up falling to pieces and tasting like cat litter?
A. Emilia: Use a good quality polenta flour, and follow the basic recipe in the Silver Spoon.
Q. MmeLindor: I would like to know what the Italians think of the way in which many countries have adopted Italian food and then completely bastardised it. DH was astounded the first time we went to an Italian restaurant in UK and he was offered chips with his lasagne. He said: "but I already have carbs, why would I want chips?" And let's not even mention deep pan pizza.
A. Emilia: I think there are two ways of looking at it: if somebody cooks in the Italian style, using local ingredients, it can be interesting and good even if not properly Italian, however lasagne with chips is really bad - it makes no sense at all.
Q. Nettosuperstar: I once read somewhere that Italians don't embrace the food of other countries the way we do here in the UK. Is this true, and if so, why do you think that is?
A. Emilia: That used to be the case, mainly because in Italy there wasn't much immigration: we actually tended to emigrate and bring our food culture to the rest of the world. Now it is different, and we have become more curious.
Q. Sciencegeekmum: What particular dish would you say is the Italian family's equivalent of a Sunday roast?
A. Emilia: It really depends on which region you are in, but Sunday lunch is very important, and usually it includes: antipasto, a first course that can be a pasta or a risotto, a main dish that can be either fish or meat, and a dessert. A lot of people go to a trattoria on a Sunday.
Q. Mammic: Considering they spend so long eating and they eat quite a bit, have rich cuisine and there are nearly always lots of carbs serve, how do Italian women stay so thin compared to the rest of Europe?
A. Emilia: Well I think that there are two main reasons: Italian cuisine is very healthy, and we never eat in between meals – no snacks at all. We also drink very moderately and only during meals.
Q. CaptainMartinCreiff: Out of curiosity what do Italians eat for Christmas dinner?
A. Emilia: It really depends on which region you are in: I am from Lombardy and on Christmas day we have a huge antipasto, goose filled with apple or turkey filled with chestnuts, and panettone.
Q. Aristocat: How does Northern Italian food differ from Southern Italian?
A. Emilia: As Italian cuisine is very much related to local produce, in the north you have more dairy and meat dishes, and in the south you have more olive oil and fish dishes.
Q. Minitoot: I love Italian food and love cooking in Italy. But while lunch and dinner are really easy to make, I just don't 'get' Italian breakfast. In the UK I'd have porridge or muesli, but I find both of those hard to get and expensive where we live in Italy. It seems that most people eat those Mulino Bianco biscuits or grab an icecream on the way to work, but I want something healthier and more filling that isn't just fruit! What would you suggest as a healthy, filling breakfast that's easily available in a small village in the south?
A. Emilia: I am afraid that breakfast is not something us Italians are famous for. Most people have coffee and brioche or biscuit, or bread with butter and jam.
Q. Nicebutjim: My question is about Italian main courses. I used to live in Southern Italy. My experience with food there was that while the antipasti, starters and desserts would make me drool, the main courses were a little boring. Overcooked meat and meatballs mostly. Can you suggest some exciting Italian main courses for me to try out? I'd also be interested to know whether you agree - perhaps it's a regional thing?
A. Emilia: I am afraid I don't agree at all. I think that there are many, many delicious main courses in the Italian cuisine. Roast meats, stews, beautiful fishes cooked with fresh herbs. Look into The Silver Spoon and be inspired!
Q. Squigglywiggly: I'm Italian and use the Italian 1973 Silver Spoon passed on to me by my mother every week. I've given the English version to a number of friends, and I'm intrigued at how different it is in style: much more detailed and, in a way, prescriptive. Odd to me because what I like about my version is the sensible "you cook every night attitude" that often says "recipe calls for X, but you could also use Y". What were the main style changes you made when translating the Silver Spoon for the international market and why?
A. Emilia: We really wanted people to cook from this book, and very often the original silver spoon took too many things for granted, as people in Italy learn all the basics in their family kitchen. So we decide to rewrite the recipes and explain them a little bit better. If you are an experienced cook it will not harm you, but if you are not very confident, it is very helpful.
Q. MildlyNarkyPuffin: I love the fact that loads of the recipes are lovely food that happens to be vegetarian rather than being categorised as Vegetarian Recipes. Do you think that Italians are less hung up on the whole 'it's not a proper meal unless there's meat in it' attitude that seems to be common amongst many meat-eaters?
A. Emilia: I actually think that traditionally we are used to eating more vegetables than in other countries. For a long time in Italy, meat and fish were luxury ingredients and most people ate vegetables, pasta and rice. So you can easily prepare a delicious and complete meal without any meat or fish.
Q. Terence: I am about to buy this book, what would you recommend I cook first?
A. Emilia: Very difficult question, as you have 2,000 recipes to choose from.
You should look at what is in season and decide what you fancy eating, and then look up in the index and see all the recipes with that specific ingredient.
Q. PeelThemWithTheirMetalKnives: Emilia, I'm a vegetarian, so is it worthwhile me buying this book?
A. Emilia: Definitely: the vegetables chapter is huge.
Q. Gazzalw: Of the recipes from the original Italian version of the book, which one, in your opinion, would least successfully translate to British culinary tastes?
A. Emilia: I know that the British are not very keen on offal. But I think it's wonderful.
Last updated: about 3 years ago