I am obsessed. Several weeks ago I discovered the Time Life Foods of the World cookbook series. Beginning in 1968, Time Life put out this series of books showcasing the cuisines of the world in different volumes written by contemporary food writers. I have a passion (some would call it an addiction) for thrift shops and about a week after I learned about these books, I found The Cooking of Italy at one of my regular haunts.
While the photos have that dark hue I always associate with photos from the sixties, the book is in no way to be dismissed as retro kitsch. It begins with a history of Italian cuisine and moves into an examination of the modern trends. It then goes on to survey the different regional cuisines of Italy. Following each chapter are recipes that go with it. Each volume of the series also includes an accompanying spiral bound book of additional recipes.
These books were wonderful at the time they were produced because they were educating the public not only on cuisines most were familiar with like French and Italian, but they also included world cuisines that many had never before encountered. These books stand the test of time. Even though I am quite familiar with many different cuisines, there are many I haven’t tried or have only a superficial knowledge. So I was on a quest to find and collect every one of these volumes and recipe books.
A week after I grabbed the Italy volume, I happened to stop by a thrift store I don’t get to very often and lo and behold I hit pay dirt! I found 7 more volumes. I had started this hunt not knowing much about these books other than many of my food heroes considered them of great value. So, when I got home with my haul and began looking through them, imagine my surprise when I discovered that the book on Classic French Cooking was written by Craig Claiborne and the book on Provincial French Cooking was written by M. F. K. Fisher! My quest quickly became an obsession.
After haunting my regular thrift shops and a couple I go to sporadically, I remembered an outlier I don’t hit very often. And then inspiration struck. Just down the street from that particular thrift shop there is an incredible used bookstore called Green Apple Books. Even better, I recently found a trade receipt I got years ago that I never redeemed. After scouring the thrift shop and coming up empty-handed (ok not completely empty-handed. I did buy Frances Mayes’s Bella Tuscany. I told you people I am obsessed with all things food-related), I then headed over to Green Apple.
They had a good selection of the Time Life books there. I was able to grab four volumes complete with their recipe books and their matching box cover. I didn’t even know they originally came with box covers! Now here’s the thing about me and my obsessions. When I have one, I am crazy and I mean crazy about them. They are all I think about until I can complete them. Back in the 90s I was ridiculous about the damn Teenie Beanies at McDonald’s. Remember Beanie Babies? Well McDonald’s put out smaller versions called Teenie Beanies in their Happy Meals every summer for about 4 years. When those Teenie Beanies came out, I would haunt daily the three McDonald’s between my apartment and work until I had all the Teanie Beanies in the set. Sometimes I would get two or three and then give them away. I moved across the country with those damn Beanies in a huge Rubbermaid tub. I had them for almost a decade when I finally realized I am never going to do anything with them and I was too lazy to deal with trying to sell them on eBay. So I donated them to a great organization in San Francisco, Support for Families of Children with Disabilities, who gave them to their families for Christmas.
The point of this digression is that I cannot maintain that level of insanity for long durations of time because the rest of my life begins to suffer. Seriously, the other week I cancelled plans because I needed to go check out Green Apple again and I couldn’t wait until the weekend. I told you I was crazy. I finally decided the madness needed to stop. I turned to eBay. Thankfully, I won the first auction for which I bid. Now my obsession can rest.
I’ve begun to read the volumes I do have, giving them the time and respect they deserve. These books aren’t just guides to different cuisines, they are snapshots in time. As I read through the recipe booklet for Cooking of Italy, I am struck by the ingredient lists. In every recipe where it calls for cheese, it is always “imported Parmesan,” “imported Fontina or Gruyère.” Italian ingredients are italicized, including: mozzarella, polenta, ricotta, cannellini, and the pastas: linguine, spaghettini, lasagne, fettuccine. There is no mention of arborio or carnaroli; it is “imported Italian rice.”
Italian ingredients have become so commonplace they have become part of the American lexicon. There is no longer a need to italicize the names or to call out that ingredients are imported. There are a plethora of Italian cooking classes. In fact, just last night I assisted a pasta class at 18 Reasons. We have come a long way from 1968. But boy am I having fun time traveling with these books, especially since I can do so at leisure as my obsession has been sated.
A Twist on a Classic – Fava Green PestoIn Cooking of Italy there is a recipe for Pesto alla Genovese, which the book translates as “Basil, garlic and cheese sauce.” Today the term “pesto” implies the basil version and no longer requires the Genovese or basil descriptors. I love making my pestos with greens other than basil and my favorite is fava greens. These are the young leaves of the fava bean plant. You can usually find them at farmers markets or organic markets in the spring. Serves 4-6 ½ lb (approx. 2 cups very tightly packed) fava greens ¼ cup toasted walnuts 1 garlic clove, peeled ¼ cup parmiggiano reggiano, grated or shredded ¼-½ cup olive oil squeeze of lemon juice salt & pepper to taste 1 lb pasta of your choice, cooked as directed ¼-½ cup pasta cooking liquid
In a food processor or blender place fava leaves, garlic and walnuts. Pureé, drizzling in olive oil until it becomes a smooth, almost liquid consistency. Turn off the food processor and put into a large bowl. Stir in the cheese, add the lemon and season to taste. Add the pasta and ¼ cup pasta cooking liquid. Toss until all the pasta is coated with the pesto, adding more cooking liquid if desired. Top with a little grated parmiggiano reggiano and serve.