A toast to redescovered cookbooks

Cinnamon SyrupMy cookbooks are finally out of their box, and I am rediscovering them. I don’t have that many – for a food obsessed person – but I definitely have too many for a person who moves as often as I do. Sometimes I become totally obsessed with one and just make all the recipes in there, sometimes I really like one, but I can’t cook from it; sometimes I decide to give one recipe a try, and slowly discover that me and the cookbook did just not understand each other, but now that we have found a common ground, there is much to be discovered.

This happened with a little book on Arabic cooking. I fell in love with Middle East cooking, like most of us, with Claudia Roden. Middle East cooking is close enough to Italian one – surprisingly close sometimes  – but it does have its own peculiarities.  I quickly spread my addiction to the whole family: it offers a new take on extremely familiar ingredients, so everybody likes it. However I never really familiarized with this particular book, I’m not sure of why – maybe the photography, a little outdated, maybe the fact that I knew most of the dishes anyway from other sources.

Yesterday I was idly paging through this book, and randomly I opened it on the drinks section. I usually never consider making drinks. I don’t like soft drinks, and when I am eating, either I drink water, or I drink some interesting fluids like wine or beer. I also do enjoy the bitterness of  green tea with chinese and japanese cooking,  and outside a meal I drink lots of different liquids (including insane quantities of coffee, to no visible effect on my health for the moment), always without added sugar. However I quite like the idea of playing around with things you will drink as well as things you can eat. I grew up in Milan, and Milan is (expensive and very boozy) cocktail paradise. I do enjoy pestling my own mojito now and again: actually I still remember with great detail  a holiday in my grandfather’s garden with a bunch of friends, where we drunk way too much white rum mixing it with the huge mint my grandmother planted when I was a child. I remember that there was no way to tame the aggressive plant, and when my granny was no longer there to eradicate it patiently, it ended up winning on the neighbouring roses without effort.

Anyway. This is a recipe for a non alcoholic drink to be served cold, a thirst quencher, apparently good when served with chopped pistachios and dried fruit, especially dried tangerines, according to the authors. I did not have any at hand so I enjoyed it alone. It is delicious, it looks beautiful, and as an added bonus, it will make your house smell like a lost, far away place.

Cherbât –  Cinnamon Syrup


1 lt water

3 cinnamon sticks (large – mine weighted about 15 grams)

1 tablespoon sugar, or to taste

Method: boil cinnamon and water for 20 minutes, add sugar, stir well, boil for a couple of minutes more, then filter and cool. Keep in the fridge and drink within a couple of days.


6 Comments to “A toast to redescovered cookbooks”

  1. I am totally with you on how you relate to cookbooks – which is the only kind of collecting I can do. I know what you mean when you say you like a cookbook but can’t make any recipe out of it – and I experienced as well how it suddenly “clicks” when you find the one recipe that was probably there for you to try it 🙂 Did it ever happen to you to bring a cookbook to bed with you, to read until you sink into sleep? I have far far more cookbooks than I’ll ever need in the rest of my life, and from some of them I haven’t cooked a single dish yet, but I simply can’t stop stashing on them. My latest fling? Mark Bittman’s how to cook everything vegetarian. I haven’t perused it all yet just because it’s too big to take to bed… 🙂

    • Benvenuta, Marcella! Of course I always have a pile of cookbooks close to my bed, quite literally. They usually end up lying on the floor because they are too heavy to stay on my small bedside table, even though your Mark Bittman really outsized mine! Some of them make great, entertaining reads: I read Claudia Roden for months, before starting to cook with it, and I love the subtle humor of Jane Grigson, for example. Though I admit that after starting to use a cookbook seriously, it often becomes too stained and sticky to come anywhere close to a bed..

      • well, yes, of course! In-bed reading is reserved to the new ones, the just arrived, the ones you yearn to get to know better, right now 🙂

        I have never read the writers you mention: what titles would you suggest for me to begin with? I can feel a Book Depository order coming my way!

      • The first book I read from Claudia Roden is this one, in Italian (I think this is the British version). It is an entertaining read, full of short popular stories, and also the recipes are precise and delicious. It is one of my favourite books to give as a gift to curious friends, whether they like cooking or not, because it really conveys a feeling for Arabic culture.

        Jane Grigson writes about English food, and I bought it first thing when I arrived in the UK. It contained more than one surprise, but I never cooked much from it.

      • I don’t know why my previous comment appeared before yours… it was meant to reply to it!

  2. thank you, I put them on my wishlist 🙂

    (I’ve just discovered a wonderful series of Mark Bittman’s videos on the NYT site… such a nice exemple of kitchen cool 😉 )

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