The Science in the Kitchen and the Art of eating well by Pellegrino Artusi is a 127-year old cookbook. In a world overflowing with cookbooks the longevity of Artusi’s cookbook in Italian family's houses is due to his peculiar story.
At the time it was published it was the first home-cook book written in italian. Many books were circulating but they were only in French, written by professionals for professionals. Artusi had a huge impact on housewives and servants who were not trained to cook but with a few very simple dishes and with his help they extended their repertoire. Besides the recipes and the methods he added short anecdotes and he had a very intimate way of talking with the reader. Some food as he says might be 'windy'.
Before being published he faced rejection several times and among the many reasons were the fact the he was not a famous chef and not even a cook, and so publishers though the book wasn't likely to be successful. Artusi thought that the fact that he was not a cook was actually his greatest strength. All the recipes were tested by him so, as he said, any person able to hold a wood spoon would have been able to cook.
He worked in finance all his life and he was passionate about literature and cooking. He was never married and he spent his life collecting recipes during his work trips throughout Italy.
The book is not about him and his creativity, and it isn’t an ode to his ability in the kitchen as so many comtemporary cookbooks are, it’s about making good food at home possible for everyone.
After a few editions of The science in the Kitchen, women from every region of Italy started sending him recipes and after he had tested them he included them in the next edition.
As he wrote in the preface 'Cooking is a troublesome sprite. Often it may drive you to despair. Yet it is also very rewarding, for when you do succeed or overcome a difficulty in doing so, you feel the satisfaction of a great triumph. Beware of books that deal with this art : most of them are inaccurate or incomprehensible, especially the Italian ones. The French are a little better. But from either, the very most you will glean are a few notions, useful only if you already know the art'.
I always feel fascinated by how people in history have managed to not only eat but also create something delicious with a few very common ingredients. The lesson behind this recipe is that magic happens in unexpected places. What you can actually create when you don't have a lot is amazing.
I like to cook all kinds of recipes, both long and complex, and short and easy. But I like best the ones that involve just a few common ingredients used in unusual ways to achieve an amazing result.
So, the potato cake!
As Artusi suggests to the reader, the ingredients should be hidden from your guests because they will hate them. And so I hid them!
I let my husband and kids guess the 'secret' ingredient only after they had tasted it, and loved it.
They were puzzled by the potatoes, but still loved it.
It has a thin golden brown crust, a cheesecake-like texture and a very subtle lemon flavor.
Artusi's potato cake :
700 gr of potatoes. I used 2 big Russet potatoes
150 gr of sugar
70 gr of almonds
30 gr of butter
pinch of salt
zest of one lemon
breadcrumbs for dusting the pan
Steam the potatoes and once they are cooked mash them with a potato masher until perfectly smooth, with no lumps. In a food processor, or with a mortar if you want to follow precisely the recipe, grind the almonds with the sugar. Add almonds and the sugar to the potato mash with the lemon zest and the melted butter.
Add the eggs to mixture one at the time, mixing with a wooden spoon for one hour, or with an electrical mixer for ten minutes. I used the electric mixer!
Grease a pan with butter and dust with breadcrumbs and cook in the oven for one hour at 356F or until slightly brown on top.
Once cooked, let it cool and dust with icing sugar for a more elegant look.
About this blog
I blog about all the thoughts that pop up in my mind while I'm preparing my classes called 'Eat and speak the italian way' at the Amazon Community Center.
Created: September 18, 2017English