When I was cooking only for my husband, and subsequently for him and my growing son, I had no doubt about what would taste good to us and what would be the simplest way for me to produce it. I embarked on a professional food career with the same conviction. I understood cooking to be a set of simple techniques applied with respect for the basic components of a meal freshly made from good, everyday ingredients. Cooking was the craft, I thought, practiced at home to bring good food and happiness to the family table. The classes I taught and cookbooks I wrote were intended as demonstrations of those principles. Cooking was from always, cooking was forever, I thought.
A time came, however, that I began to wonder whether cooking was something else. Was it entertainment for television, was it the arbitrary creation of attention-seeking and media-ennobled chefs, did it emerge from an expensive collection of science-fiction gadgetry, was it the product of a laboratory or of a kitchen, was it foaming cauliflower or spherical tomatoes, was it a two-and-a-half hour process for frying a skilletful of potatoes? Could it be that the subject of my teaching and writing was becoming an anachronism, headed for the waste bin of history?
It was almost a year and a half ago that I began to bring up the posts of a group calling itself Pomodori e Vino. There were nine of them, seven women, two men, scattered in the US from Alabama, Florida, Missouri, and California, to Alaska. Two lived in Canada. They had proposed to cook their way in rotation through all the recipes, more than 400, in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, a book some of whose contents I had set down 40 years ago.
Every day for sixty-two weeks my Pomodori, as I began to refer to them, cooked a dish from Essentials without skipping a day or a recipe. There were no failures, although they experienced different degrees of pleasure. If you are brought up in North America, you may have a cultural impediment to the free enjoyment of lamb kidneys. Every post provided a candid commentary on the production of the recipe of the day, on its provisioning, on the sometimes unfamiliar techniques and methods it required, on the stages of its preparation, and on the final result. Photographs lucidly accompanied the steps, from assemblage of ingredients to presentation at table.
If you have ever feared, as I have, that the practice of good, simple cooking was going out of style, go to the Pomodori e Vino blog, and retrace as many of its posts as you can make time for. No comparable collection of recipes has ever before been brought so fully to life, so respectfully executed, so minutely illustrated, and so usefully commented by such a collection of genuine cooks. As I followed my Pomodori each day that they cooked from a page of that tome of mine, I was comforted to find that cooking, as I had understood and practiced it, had endured and still mattered.