A Passion for Cookbooks

A good cook never forgets her first cookbook. It’s like your first kiss – a hint of things to come. And when it arrives at the right time, it becomes a primer that unravels the mystery of great food.


My first cookbook was a gift from my mother-in-law, a wonderful cook who, by the time I met her, never referred to any cookbook – probably because she was blind and cooked totally from memory and intuition. But she sure knew her way around a kitchen.


Her gift of Marcella Hazan’s The Classic Italian Cookbook (Knopf, 1978) opened my eyes to the adventure of food – the simple delight of marrying ingredients that produce a happy family.


That book ignited a lifelong passion for cookbooks and food writing. Though I’d go on to discover a lot of great writers – Alice Waters, Julia Child, Madhur Jaffrey – I always returned to Hazan.


It seemed that every recipe she suggested was golden with my  kids. They especially love conchiglie (shells) with green, red and yellow peppers and cream. In her 1995 book, Marcella’s Italian Kitchen, Hazan wrote that her family “hums happily” whenever she produces this dish. So does mine.  The recipe is below, try it out with your family.


I recently asked Bay Area Parent readers on Facebook for their favorite cookbooks and heard from Heather K. of Oakland, who recommended The Best 30-Minute Recipe by Cook’s Illustrated Magazine (Boston Common, 2006).


“We’ve made most of the recipes in there and not a single one has been a dud,” she writes. “The Sloppy Joe’s, the fish recipes, the enchiladas using leftover chicken ... all so very good.”


Sara Solovitch is an associate editor at Bay Area Parent.




Pasta Shells With Green, Red and Yellow Peppers and Cream

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  •  1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  •  1 cup onion, coarsely chopped
  •  1 cup each green, red and yellow
  •  peppers, diced into ½-inch cubes
  •  salt
  •  ground black pepper
  •  2/3 cup cream (I use half and half)
  •  1 pound conchiglie or similar pasta
  •  2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  •  ½ cup freshly-grated Parmesan


In a 10- to 12-inch sauté pan, put the butter, oil and chopped onion and turn on the heat to medium. Sauté the onion until it turns a pale gold.


Add all the diced peppers, turn up the heat to medium high and cook until tender, turning from time to time.


Add salt and generous grindings of pepper, stir well, add the cream and turn up the heat. Cook until the cream is reduced by half.


Drop the pasta into a pot of boiling salted water. Cook until it is barely tender but firm to the bite. Drain and toss immediately in a warm bowl with the peppers and cream and all their pan juices. Sprinkle with parsley and grated cheese, toss again and serve at once.




Do you have a favorite cookbook?


What’s the one you can’t live without? I’d love to hear from you and continue the discussion. Write sara.solovitch@parenthood.com.

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