I have a relatively small number of cookbooks and treasure all of them, each one for a special (and different) reason. I remember where and why I bought them, and which recipes (ricette) I got from them. They are all in the kitchen, ready to be consulted. In Italy we say that il primo amore non si scorda mai (literally: you can never forget your first love) and I subscribe to that. Similarly, I think that the first cookbook maintains a special place in one's memory. I don't know if this is a universal truth, but it holds for me.
In case you expect to see images of a treasured family heirloom, yellowed pages full of handwritten traditional Italian recipes, I am afraid you will be disappointed. The first cookbook I got by myself for myself with the clear intention of using it to direct my efforts in the kitchen is written in English and was printed, published and purchased in the US: The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook by Diana Shaw. The most frequently used cookbook of my small collection is Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison, which I purchased a year or so after my first one. The two books were actually published the same year, which is also the year my husband and I got married: I find this a sweet coincidence.
I must admit that before taking the photographs, I had not opened the book in a while. My attention focused on the pages where I had placed a bookmark (segnalibro): was it at the page of a recipe I made or of one that I intended to make? I will show you some of those pages and also the cook's bookmarks I used to mark them, each bearing a saying.
"A good cook is like a sorceress who dispenses happiness." (Elsa Schiaperelli)
I made Savory Cheesecake many times. The bookmark is on the page describing the basic version. Specific vegetable-containing variations are detailed on the pages that follow. Of those variations I made two: spinach, and cabbage and carrot. The latter is a bit more laborious, but I think it has more personality, flavor-wise. I should make it again soon. It is perfect for a dinner with guests. It can be prepared in advance, even the day before (it must cool completely and be refrigerated for at least 3 hours) .
"I saw him even now going the way of all flesh, that is to say towards the kitchen." (John Webster)
I only made Oven-Baked Leek and Fennel Pancakes once, and I remember the event clearly, because I was excited about having found some finocchio (fennel) at the store. Fennel, so common in Italy, seemed to be difficult to obtain here. This is fortunately no longer the case (though the variety is different). This recipe pairs fennel with porro (leek), another favorite vegetable of mine.
"I feel a recipe is only a theme which an intelligent cook can play each time with a variation."
Strata (plural of stratum, Latin for layer) is one of the best ways of using bread no longer fresh (pane raffermo). Now I make it with my homemade bread and homemade cheese.
"Probably one of the most private things in the world is an egg until it is broken." (M.F.K. Fisher)
I never made this version of Cantaloupe Soup. I have another recipe for this cold soup, which I have prepared many times to great acclaim, and I marked this one with the intention of making a comparison. I will try to remember this plan when melon season arrives.
I cooked many of the book's recipes and then played my variations. I guess that makes me an intelligent cook in the eyes of Madame Benoit. Now, if I could only remember where I put the booklet of bookmarks. They are nice, aren't they?
This is my contribution to the event Show Us Your Most Treasured Cookbook, pulled out of her magician's hat by Ilva of Lucullian Delights. As I mentioned at the beginning, I treasure all of my cookbooks, so I used seniority to choose one for the event. The roundup shows a great collection of beloved cookbooks and stories associated with them: make sure you read it and take note of Ilva's plea.