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A couple of Christmases ago, my brother did a wonderful thing. He’d heard that Italy’s classic cookbook – akin to our Betty Crocker / Joy of Cooking – Il Cucchiaio D’Argento, had been translated into English. And all on his own, he gifted copies to his wife, our mom, our sister and me. Don’t tell him I said so, but I thought that was an incredibly thoughtful prize [‘prize’ explained here] especially since we’re Italian and we love to cook. Oh wait, Mom is actually Irish. But aside from the once-a-year corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day, we ate Italian. Guess that makes her an honorary Italian?

The Silver Spoon (English translation of Il Cucchiaio D’Argento) has over 1200 pages culinary wisdom including the best uses/preparation for foods like pig’s head, tripe and wild boar. It contains everything from how to stock a pantry and supply/organize a kitchen to cooking every course from antipasti to dolce.

I love this book because it contains foods and food preparations that are not typically found in US cookbooks. Like the section for anchovies with a half-dozen different preparations. And I’d always thought anchovies just came in a little tin!

And you just gotta love the intro page:

Indeed it is.

One of my fav recipes from this book comes from a special section in the back where there are a few dishes offered up from famous Italian chefs. Follows is one of Lidia Bastianich‘s.

Zite con salsiccia, cipolle e finocchio

Serves 6

1 TBSP sea salt
1 pound sweet Italian sausage (I like to use sweet and hot)
1 large fennel bulb with fronds (about 1 pound) trimmed and halved lengthwise, and cut into 2″ batons
5 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
2 onions, halved and sliced
1/2 TSP salt
1/2 TSP chili flakes
1/2 cup tomato paste
1 pound zite
fennel fronds
1 cup freshly grated Romano or Parmesan

Bring a big pot of water with the salt to the boiling point first as you will need some of it to make the sauce.

Remove sausage from the casings, break up with a wooden spoon and cook in the oil over medium high heat until it’s sizzling and beginning to brown. Push the sausage to one side of the pan and add the onions. Cook until they begin to soften, about 1-1 1/2 minutes. Push to the side with the sausage.   Add the fennel and cook until it begins to soften, about 1 minute. Push to the side with the onions and sausage, and add 1/2 TSP salt.

Add the hot pepper flakes and toast for 30 seconds, then stir into the vegetable sausage mixture.

Add tomato paste and stir constantly until it begins to caramelize, about 1-2 minutes. Stir into the rest of the pan mixture.

Ladle three cups of the boiling pasta water into the mixture, stir to combine, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for six minutes. Meanwhile, add the zite to the boiling water and cook until al dente. If the sauce becomes too thick, add more of the pasta water.

When the pasta is al dente, use a slotted spoon to transfer to the sauce. Add the fennel fronds and cook for another minute to two to combine all the flavors. Remove from the heat, add the cheese, gently toss and serve in warm bowls.

This is a quick, easy and satisfying dish that’s perfect for a weeknight meal or a casual dinner with friends. If you’ve never tried fennel before, you will be pleasantly surprised by the flavor which complements the sausage beautifully.

I often tell my mother that I think my brother is the perfect man [I don’t tell him that because his nickname for me is one I share with female dogs in general, haha]. But the proof is in the pudding, and this particular prize keeps giving and giving.