Old Friends, Old Cookbooks


Like old songs on the radio, food has a way of jogging old memories, taking you back to things you’d forgotten entirely or nearly so.

A very old friend in Kansas City sent me a message that I found this morning in Paris; it brought back a flood of hazy memories from Dallas, Texas in the late 1970s, when we were both working for United Press International.

Marcella Hazan had only recently become a famous cookbook author back then, and from the size of the crowd — miniscule — at the new Williams-Sonoma store in Dallas, it was clear her fame had yet to make it across the Texas border. I was thrilled, because not only was I going to be able listen to her speak, but I was also going to be able to talk to her afterwards too, without the usual scrum of fans.

She signed both my cookbooks that day, The Classic Italian Cook Book, and her new one, More Classic Italian Cooking, and we talked and chatted. Three decades later, we are still in occasional contact through email, but in constant contact, through her recipes, which have become the core of my kitchen repertoire over the years.

These memories come to mind because my old Dallas colleague, Bob Inderman, was searching through his cookbook shelf last night, looking for a new tortellini filling or sauce to try as he was getting ready for some pasta-making during their annual New Year’s celebration out at Bittersweet Farm.

Bob found his somewhat stained copy of Marcella’s More Classic Italian Cooking, and found “something else on the book’s opening fly leaf” — a note from me, dated June 14, 1979, which reminded him (and me too, for I don’t remember this at all) that I had given Bob a copy of the book when he and his wife, Patty Moore, were leaving Dallas to move to Kansas City.

Bob tells me that I wrote that it was important that he have this cookbook. And he tells me that I made sure to let him know that I was inscribing it with the same words Marcella had written in my own copy:

“Con tantissimi auguri di felicita nella vita e . . . in cucina.”
(With many good wishes of happiness in life … and in the kitchen.)

What a great way to close out 2010 — with memories of old friendships that continue to feed us all.

Happy New Year to Bob and Patty, to Marcella and Victor, and to old and new friends wherever they find themselves. And thanks all round.

15 Responses to “Old Friends, Old Cookbooks”

  1. Tish Gilvey says:

    I agree Paula, that is a great way to close out 2010. My Julia got a baby sister for Christmas so our holiday was much blessed. Wishing you, John and family a healthy and happy New Year.


  2. A beautiful post evoking friendships and memories of great flavors. Thank you for sharing this with us. A stained and well loved cookbook is the highest honor for a cookbook author. I wish you and your family a delicious 2011.

  3. Kathy says:

    This is a charming entry to finish off the year Paula! Made me think of foods from my childhood (tasty kakes!), camp (Mrs. A’s cinnamon rolls or fresh blueberry muffins), college (Peppermint Fudge Sundae Pie), my year in England (sausage rolls and Indian curries), etc.

    Also, made me think of some of my vast collection of books, the ones that are signed by friends, or the ones that mean a lot because they were signed by the author (such as yours!).

    Happy New Year to you and yours. Looking forward to seeing KEEPING THE FEAST in paperback in February!

  4. kerry says:

    Love this post, Paula!

    And especially love this idea: “Three decades later, we are still in occasional contact through email, but in constant contact, through her recipes, which have become the core of my kitchen repertoire over the years.”

    Happiness in the kitchen = happiness in life, I think

    Happy New Year to you, too!

  5. kerry says:

    Oh, also, I just saw that you are coming to NYC for your book tour. FANTASTIQUE as they say in Paris!

  6. Lael, I can’t tell you how many friends commented in emails about this post, describing the stained and tattered state of one or another of Marcella’s cookbooks after 30 years of regular use. The latest one to arrive just described how a new copy was bought this Christmas for the next generation…

  7. Hi Kerry, Yes, I’ll be speaking at the Calandra Italian American Institute in midtown on Feb. 3, two days after the paperback comes out. (It’s got a great new cover, btw.)

  8. Thanks for this, Kathy; and know that friends here in Paris are eager to know just how you put together such a wonderful scrapbook, which found its way under our tree this year…

  9. What a wonderful post, Paula, and thanks also to Marcella and Victor for introducing Italian cooking to American kitchens. You’ve inspired me to go through my old recipe files on New Years Day — they always bring back memories. Tantissimi auguri di un buon anno nuevo!

  10. Kathy says:

    Paula, When you have your tech session in Falls Church, I will show you my secrets. 8^)

  11. Toby, you’ve just reminded me that I have a huge stack of old recipes to go through too, recipes I brought back this summer from my dad’s house… Thanks, and my new year’s resolution is to figure out how to get photos into my blog.

  12. Kathy, tech sessions: talk about JUST what the doctor ordered…

  13. Donna B. says:

    Paula, I bought Marcella’s first book after reading yours. I’ve had it a good 6 months or so and haven’t used it yet. Can you tell me one of your favorite recipes from that book? I would prefer a bit on the easier side. Thanks and Happy New Year!!!!

  14. Donna, Try the Potato Soup with Carrots and Celery (Ministrina Tricolore), which is delicous and easy (I don’t use the Fried Bread Squares with it; I just toast stale Italian or French bread to save time); or try her Chick Pea Soup using canned garbanzos (I often just use this as a thick sauce over short, stubby pasta, and using fresh rosemary, if you can find it, makes it taste even better; or try Spaghetti with Oil and Garlic, taking care to UNDERCOOK rather than overcook the garlic — there’s nothing worse than burned or overcooked garlic; we like the garlic when it’s just barely turned slightly golden); or try Fettucine All’Alfredo; Shrimp Brochettes Adriatic Style; or if you can get a bit of fresh basil, even a few leaves, try her Thin Spaghetti with Fresh Basil and Tomato Sauce. Actually any of her tomato sauces are fabulous and quick, as long as you use good quality canned Italian tomatoes. All the sauces take longer if you’re dealing with fresh tomatoes, and it’s not the season for them anyway… Enjoy!

  15. Donna B. says:

    Wow Paula – what a great reply. Can’t wait to try some of them out. I will let you know!

    Thanks much!!!

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