After a long search, I found a true Italian family treasure: My Parent’s copy of the Talisman Italian Cook Book from the 1950 printing. This classic Italian cook book was originally penned in 1929 by the well-respected Italian chef Ada Boni (1881 – 1973). It was originally translated from Italian into English by Matilde Pei. Our copy is well worn from decades of use by my Mother, complete with her penciled annotations – when found, it even had my grandmother’s hand-written Zeppole recipe stuffed in as a book mark! This book is in rough shape – the spine is missing and the pages are dog-eared, yellowed and loose; but the true beauty is not lost, as every decadent recipe is completely readable and ready to come alive again under the hands of a new generation of cooks.
Many of the recipes found in the Talisman are truly rare and considered esoteric today. For instance, you will almost never find Ox-tongue in Rustic Sauce, Lamb Sweetbreads or Eels Genoa Style in your typical Americanized Italian restaurant, but you will find them in this cook-book. These recipes fed thousands of Italian immigrant families in the early part of the twentieth century, mainly due to the fact that they were nutritious and relatively inexpensive to make. Remember, most organ meats were considered the trash part of the animal, and was not used by a large swath of the American public at the time. It was, however, a mainstay on Italian tables of yester-year.
Of course, the standards are there too: dozens of sauces and gravies, lasagnas and ravioli of many styles, as well as the traditional livestock dishes of chicken, lamb, beef, veal, as well as fish and game. Even Pizza Chiena, or Pizza Rustica, is on page 167 as Rustic Pizza, and our version of the classic marinara is on page 221.
The recipes use ingredients common in only a by-gone era, when “skim” or “low-fat” simply didn’t exist, and where many recipes required such decadent goodness as lards, creams, or pork fat. I can’t find anything in this book that isn’t frowned upon health-wise by the modern era’s obsessively diet-conscious standards. This book is truly a gourmet’s bible. The good news is that you can find this book today – original hardcover prints of The Talisman are easily found on eBay, and new paperback copies can be found at many bookstores both in person and online. This Italian cook book is a must for every kitchen, and should be considered the go-to manual for aspiring chefs looking for true Italian old-world goodness.