Friday 27 September 2013

My almost-first cookbook and spaghetti bolognese

What was your first cookery book? Can you remember? Have you still got it?

Those were the questions posed by Foodie Quine on her blog; I thought if I could find my first cookery book I would also make something from it.

I don't think I had any cookery books growing up but I loved my mum's main cookery book that all her cakes seemed to come from; some pages were coming loose as she had had it for a long time. I can't remember what that book was called or if she still has it, perhaps she will be able to remember?

I didn't really cook at all even when I left school and went off to Germany to be an au pair; I started collecting recipes then, but I wrote them down in a little notebook, which my au pair 'mum' Gila bought me in a local bookshop, and which I have still got today. I guess in that sense, this is my first ever cookbook:

The first recipe in it is a pasta bake. The entire recipe runs: "Melt grated cheese in 3 tbsp. marg and flour, half litre milk. Cook and drain pasta. Grease oven-proof dish. Fill with pasta, pour sauce over top. Cover top with breadcrumbs and dot with flakes of butter. Can also add ham. Bake for 30 mins at 200C." I actually remember making this for the children I looked after - they liked it (which is why their mum told me how to make it) but I think it must have tasted very bland, especially without the optional ham!

I'd completely forgotten until just now that my first 'real' cookery book was given to me as a gift by Gila when I left her employment at the end of my gap year to start university (I was going to study German so had deferred my place for a year to spend some time in Germany first). The book is called "Artusi" and is a book of Italian recipes, but as it is entirely in German I am ashamed to admit that I have never actually used it. It got put to one side when I went off to university (I lived in catered halls and didn't really cook for a few years) and then was at the bottom of my cookery book pile for a long time. It's only now that my cookery books have a nice new home - my boyfriend built me a bookcase just for cookery books while I was away on holiday, how amazing is he?! - that I saw it again and realised with shame that I had never used it.

I assumed it was a random German book and just looked it up and am even more horrified that I've never used this book - according to Amazon,
"First published in 1891, Pellegrino Artusi's La scienza in cucina e l'arte di mangier bene has come to be recognized as the most significant Italian cookbook of modern times. It was reprinted thirteen times and had sold more than 52,000 copies in the years before Artusi's death in 1910, with the number of recipes growing from 475 to 790. And while this figure has not changed, the book has consistently remained in print. Although Artusi was himself of the upper classes and it was doubtful he had ever touched a kitchen utensil or lit a fire under a pot, he wrote the book not for professional chefs, as was the nineteenth-century custom, but for middle-class family cooks: housewives and their domestic helpers. His tone is that of a friendly advisor - humorous and nonchalant. He indulges in witty anecdotes about many of the recipes, describing his experiences and the historical relevance of particular dishes. Artusi's masterpiece is not merely a popular cookbook; it is a landmark work in Italian culture."

 I never realised Gila had given me such a significant cookery book - so I pledge here and now to use the book very soon! It may take a while - and a dictionary- to figure out some of the recipes as I haven't spoken German for a while but the book can no longer sit neglected on my shelf. I'd be interested to know if any of my readers have come across this book before?

So, when I started planning this blog post I hadn't actually spotted Artusi so made something from a different cookery book. I had a student cookery book towards the end of my time at university, which for at least a year was my only recipe book. I can't remember the exact name or who wrote it, but it had very simple recipes. One thing I remember making, that I particularly enjoyed, involved pouring a can of cream of chicken soup over a chicken leg and cooking it in the oven - I think that was it! After I left university I decided I didn't need the book any more so no longer have it in my collection.

This book, "Cookshelf Italian", is the first cookery book I think I actually bought and my first 'proper' i.e. non-student, in English (!) cookery book that I actually remember using and cooking decent meals from. I bought it in Woolworths - which shows how old it must be! - I think towards the end of my undergraduate degree. In fact the date inside the front cover is 2000 which sounds about right - I would have been 21 at the time.

There are a few recipes that I remember making a lot from this book; one is the original version of the recipe that developed into this and the other is spaghetti Bolognese. Now I make spag bol in different ways depending on the ingredients and time available, but when I learnt how to make it, it was from this recipe. So I thought I'd make it again and share the recipe with you all.

You need:
serves 4
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped (though I left it out this time)
1 stick celery, chopped (I also left this out)
50g cubed pancetta
350g minced beef
400g tin chopped tomatoes
2 tsp dried oregano
125ml red wine
2 tbsp tomato puree
salt and pepper
350g dried spaghetti

Heat oil and fry the onion and garlic then add the carrot and celery if using.

Add the pancetta to the pan and fry until browned

Then add the mince and fry until browned.

Add the tin of tomatoes, puree, herbs and red wine and bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer for 30-45 minutes until most of the liquid has gone. Season to taste. Meanwhile cook the spaghetti.

Serve on a bed of spaghetti.

I am sending this to My First Cookbook hosted by Foodie Quine.
I'm also sending it to Pasta Please as the theme this month is long pasta like spaghetti. The challenge is hosted by Green Gourmet Giraffe this month on behalf of Jacqueline of Tinned Tomatoes.


  1. your cookbook reminiscences are interesting - I don't have strong memories of a first cookbook as I used my mums and then I had a notebook from when I started cooking for myself - and one of the first meals I would make when I left home was spag bol but I now make it veg (have sent you an email on alphabakes re the event)

  2. That recipe works just fine for me.


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