"How the Silver Palate Cookbook Changed Our Cooking"
*March 9, 2017 By Ashley Mason
"It's not every day you flip open a 35-year-old cookbook and think, 'Hey, I'm making that coq au vin for dinner tonight.' Older cookbooks - including classics like Fannie Farmer's Boston Cooking-School Cook Book and Mastering the Art of French Cooking - call to mind the sort of fancy dishes (brandied beef, for example, or scalloped potatoes) your grandmother or mom might have happily served at a dinner party. Classy, sure, but we're not whisking that up on any given Tuesday in 2017. The Silver Palate Cookbook is the exception."
Published in 1982 by Manhattan-based duo Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso, its recipes mix Spanish, Mediterranean, and Asian flavors in a time when everyone was obsessed with French cooking techniques. Lukins and Rosso introduced their readers to arugula, pancetta, and pesto way before it was cool. Now, it's hard to find a New American restaurant (or food magazine) that doesn't use these ingredients.
Food director Carla Lalli Music's mom, Carole Lalli, a cookbook editor at Simon & Schuster, produced Rosso's next cookbook Great Good Food. She remembers how Silver Palate's changes to familiar recipes - like adding Italian sausage to beef chili—were revelatory at the time. "For the generation before, it was very labor intensive to cook some of the things from Julia [Child] or Craig [Claiborne's cookbooks]," Carole says. "[Rosso and Lukins] liberated a lot of people by showing them how to make really good food from scratch without working all day."
Regardless of how old (or not yet born) you were it came out, it's one of the most worn and well-loved cookbooks our shelves. Our staffers reflect on how The Silver Palate Cookbook still inspires their cooking. "At some point in the 1980s, Chicken Marbella became the go-to entrée for the Passover Seder in the Rapoport household. Perhaps my mom thought the prunes and olives and capers made the dish feel all Mediterranean, which in turn made it feel all Sephardic which, therefore, made it appropriate for Passover. It's the only time of the year that she would cook the dish and, every year, we'd all look forward to demolishing a couple Pyrex baking dishes of it. Years later, while at GQ, I adapted the recipe, subbing seared pork tenderloin for the chicken. Not to dis the Silver Palate - because who would ever do that - but I'm pretty sure my pork tenderloin version is even better than the original." - Adam Rapoport, editor in chief
"I'm actually on my third copy of the cookbook because I used my first one so much that it fell apart. I continually buy it because they put together such interesting ingredients. My favorite is the salmon mousse. I wouldn't say it's my signature dish, but if someone asks me to make an appetizer, people are always so glad that I’m bringing it. Over the years I've changed it slightly by adding sour cream instead of heavy cream and using more dill. It's very pretty with some crackers arranged around it and people always love it. The leftovers are great for a sandwich though they're very indulgent." - Cynthia Rothstein, mother of senior editor Meryl Rothstein and author of Recipes for Our Daughters
"I had a professor at Connecticut College who loved and used the word wildly with great relish and regularity. Everything was wildly this or wildly that. When I first had the Pasta Puttanesca I might have used wildly too because it was just wildly garlic-y with lots of strong pops of flavor: olives, capers, red pepper flakes, anchovies! The recipe description says, 'Not for the faint-hearted.' It's definitely the messiest page in my cookbook." - Chris Penberthy, research manager
"Someone once sent me their recipe for spinach-feta phyllo triangles. I brought a lot chips to parties in my college years and when I wanted to feel like a grown up, I'd make a batch of these spinach triangles. Despite the layers of melted butter, they seem pretty healthy and my friends had no problem gobbling them up. Though I’ve since moved on to other fillings like spiced ground lamb and curried chicken, I'll forever credit The Silver Palate for easing me out of my junk food rut." - Ashley Mason, editorial assistant
"My mom used to make the zucchini bread recipe from The Silver Palate Cookbook and it's really, really good. I'm pretty sure she changed the recipe a bit - maybe decreased the amount of oil and sugar - but it gets this awesome crackly top that contrasts with the moist, tender center. That one's definitely a keeper!" - Claire Saffitz, senior food editor
"Growing up, my dad used to make their osso buco recipe. He cooks like Paulie in Goodfellas, slow and methodical, never rushing. It would take him all day, prepping and filling corners of the cutting board with mise-en-place, then eventually searing and braising the meat. It filled the house with the most primal pavlovian smell for hours and hours. He would be playing opera music the whole time so I would escape Pavarotti by staying in my room, but that smell would eventually make it up to me, two floors above, and by then I knew it was time to eat. It was never anything short of cathartic to finally get to taste what we had smelled all day. Seriously though, there aren't that many 35-year-old cookbooks you could cook a random recipe out of that would still feel relevant and not make you look lame. This is one of the few." - Chris Morocco, senior food editor
"I mean, Marbella Chicken is still the gold standard. Remember when it seemed so . . .gourmet? I made it again while testing recipes for my story in The New York Times Magazine about their 25-year anniversary and realized just how far we'd come palate - (and Palate-) wise." - Christine Muhlke, editor at large
"I was raised on two salad dressings: some sort of Italian bottled situation that my mom would pour on iceberg lettuce for weekday meals and the special one, garlic-anchovy dressing from The Silver Palate Cookbook. It's basically Caesar-style but at the time I had no idea what that meant. I just remember my mom whisking and whisking until this creamy, intense, emulsified sauce miraculously appeared. She'd mix it with romaine and toss in store-bought croutons and sprinkle it all with Parm . . .not the stuff in the green can but not exactly the real deal stuff either. I still make that dressing to this day." - Andrew Knowlton, deputy editor
Julee Rosso has owned The Wickwood Inn in
the art resort