La (Mia) Cvcina Italiana

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.

La Cucina Italiana

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).

pasta and cannellini beans, 1987

Below: Pasta e fagioli all’isolana as photographed by blork in 2011 (with just a touch of bokeh).

pasta and cannellini beans, 2011

Recipe coming soon.

5 thoughts on “La (Mia) Cvcina Italiana

  1. Old magazines are really fun to look at.
    Can’t wait to see your recipes like always ;)

  2. I kind o’ like the cucina photo, the clearly distinct beans and pasta each one highlighted with its own little orb of light, the one errant pepper grind on the white rim, the black and white squares on the tiles which don’t quite balance, some contrivance in each corner of the photo (for balance?). It couldn’t be busier if it took place in central station. It’s so self conscious and yet …

  3. True enough. I think my beans would have been more distinct if the sauce had been a bit less thick, and it’s easy enough to add an errant bit of pepper with photoshop.

    In fact, this particular Cucina photo is not bad at all. It “suffers” from a lack of bokeh, but that is (as my quotation marks imply) a strictly relative thing. Back then, full focus was something to strive for, as opposed to todays food-porny style.

    But you should see some of them. Crazy elaborate displays of otherwise conventional food (e.g., see the cover of the top magazine in the photo of the stack, above). Strange colors, bizarre patterns, etc. But that’s how people liked it back then. (Oh, like that was so long ago!)

  4. I think the colors are quite Italian – bright but clashing. It’s easy to forget that the different European cultures had different esthetics before taste became a common market denominator regulated from Brussels. Exhibiting something of this “before” quality, the pictures have an exotic quality and yet, at the same time, remind me of the old Good Housekeeping photos and the commercials where Kraft marketing gurus tried to convince us that marshmallows, Miracle Whip and Cheez Whiz were a yummy combination.

    And, yes, your sauce is thick and perhaps not so esthetically pleasing but thick sauce tastes better.

    Food porn! You’ve coined a new term!

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