Funny and ferociously opinionated, Pellegrini's 1948 book The Unprejudiced Palate is the current Cook the Books choice, picked by Simona. I read it and made a dish inspired by it in really good time, but I've had a blank blog post staring at me, trying to come up with something to say about it and now the deadline is tomorrow.
It's a curious book. It seems both to be extremely contemporary and from such an ancient past as to be completely alien. His writing is very dated, with a verbosity that most food writers wouldn't get away with now, but his concerns for eating fresh food, locally obtained and simply prepared are bang up to date. His bisection of humanity into civilised people and barbarians based on whether they ate macaroni salad would cause a twitter storm today that would only be eclipsed by his taste for eating songbirds.
I'm currently reading Judith Jones's memoir, The Tenth Muse, which has coincidentally been an excellent companion piece, providing an interesting background to Pellegrini's concerns. Her memories of the good but very plain and utterly garlicless food in her parents' house would have been startling to an immigrant from a different tradition. And her struggles to bring Mastering the Art of French Cooking to print suggest that Pellegrini's view of mid-century American housewives was not completely baseless. Many then, as now, found cooking stressful and unrewarding but without the options we have to not cook. The trends were towards labour saving and processed foods with a background of puritanism and a degree of shame in the idea of finding food pleasurable. Anathema to Pellegrini.
The recipes Pellegrini included were impenetrable to me. I just couldn't be bothered reading them carefully enough to make sense of them and actually attempt cooking them. And while his wine recipe was fascinating I don't think my landlord would tolerate me digging a basement big enough for the vat.
One thing that did stand out to me - which actually made me question all of his recipes - was his assertion that pasta needs to be cooked for about 20 minutes to be al dente. Now, maybe the pasta of his day was much thicker than we get now, but orecchiette is the only pasta I've ever had that can tolerate boiling for that long. So that was a start. And his love for bitter greens showed me the rest of the way. I sauteed tiny cubes of proscuitto with loads of garlic, shredded cavolo nero and chopped broccoli then cooked it slowly with a little chicken stock until the vegetables were soft. As much as I love a tender crisp vegetable, cavolo nero needs to be cooked to buggery to be palatable. I added some halved cherry tomatoes and let them just soften, and stirred it through the cooked orecchiette, with a little of the starchy cooking water to help the sauce emulsify. None of it was local produce, but it tasted good.