A rather unusual gift arrived chez moi last weekend; a stack of La Cucina Italiana food magazines from the late 1980s and 1990s, 21 copies in all. They weigh a ton, as they’re printed on heavy stock in that old fashioned way, and they’re full of articles, ads, color photographs, and most importantly, recipes. There’s only one problem; it’s all written in Italian.
Fortunately, I can decipher the recipes fairly easily with a bit of patience, frequent trips to Google’s translation page, and a few leaps of faith. So far I’ve only tried one (more on that later).
As far as I know, La Cucina Italiana was at the time (and may still be) the premiere food publication in Italy. It is currently enjoying a ride on the international foodie wave, and has web sites in several different languages, including English. However, these older issues seem quite middlebrow and unfancy, aimed apparently at homemakers who were not interested in venturing beyond the conventional Italian gustatory canon. (And it should be said that I am a big fan of that canon.)
What I find most surprising is how unappealing some of the food is. Although the magazines are only 10 to 20 years old, a good many of the photographs bring to mind old Good Housekeeping magazines from the 1960s and you can imagine the plates being held by Betty Draper-like house moms in their ranch style kitchens in Westchester county.
But then, classic Italian cooking has always been about simplicity, and in these days of endless food porn a simple plate of meatballs draped with a beige cream sauce is unappealing only because it was photographed on a floral patterned plate and without fancy lighting or bokeh overload.
I don’t know how much I’ll actually learn from these magazines, or how much time I’ll spend with them. For now they’re fun to flip through and to look at the ads for unexpected things like corn oils and margarines. I expect I’ll try a few recipes, such as the cannellini beans and pasta that I’ve already deciphered and modified. (An odd choice for a hot day, but I love cannellini beans and I had all the ingredients on hand.) In that case, the main differences between the original version and mine are:
- The original recipe takes three hours. Mine took 40 minutes because I used canned beans instead of dried.
- The original served six; mine served two.
- The original recipe called for a mix of pasta types while I used only one.
- The original’s bean-to-pasta ratio emphasized the beans, while mine had a higher ratio of pasta. Next time I’ll try to make it more like the original. (After all, I see this as more of a bean recipe than a pasta recipe.)
- My sauce was thicker than the original’s but that was just luck as I was guessing at the amount of water to use. Making it wetter (which is not unappealing) would have been just a matter of adding a couple of tablespoons of water at the end.
It’s worth making again, so I will transcribe the recipe soon and present it here. (Update: recipe posted.)
Pasta e fagioli all’isolana as photgraphed by La Cucina Italiana in 1989 (with no bokeh).
Below: Pasta e fagioli all’isolana as photographed by blork in 2011 (with just a touch of bokeh).
Recipe coming soon.