On The Virtues of One and Keeping the Pastisio Fires Burning

The New York Times International Cookbook ‘by’ Craig Claiborne is among my small gathering of long-time book companions. I put the quote marks there because I’m not sure I see Craig anywhere in the book, aside from a preface where he lists a zillion names and gives thanks to a large city.

This is a book of recipes. Period. No commentary, no cultural notes, no cute little stories, no stressing over ingredients or substitutions, no ‘how to cook’ notes, no pages of equipment with details.

The collection of recipes is good and basic. So much so that the book feels substantive. But in terms of cooking from it – no, I never really did. It feels substantive, the book, but it is more on my shelves just because it feels substantive. Not because it is substantively useful to me.

There are several recipes in this book that were worthwhile to me, though. Very basic recipes but simple and delicious. Pastisio is the first – and the best of the lot. And if you don’t have pastisio every once in a while there will be a part of your soul lost. You will forget the glaring sun upon the open-aired sea, lose the taste of Retsina burning at the back of your throat, and rue the memory of cats sidling round your feet at the taverna.

Therefore it is important to keep the pastisio fires burning. One recipe. That’s why I keep this book.

You have to eat oatmeal or you’ll dry up. Anybody knows that. (Kay Thompson)

Kay was really talking about pastisio when she wrote that.

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4 thoughts on “On The Virtues of One and Keeping the Pastisio Fires Burning

  1. To me, it is much more elegant and delicate than either of its close relatives in the same category: our ‘macaroni and cheese’ and the Italian lasagne (even when the lasagne is made with besciamella). A very comforting food, Maria. πŸ™‚

  2. OK… now I have make pastitsio tonight (even ‘though it’s summer and I hate using the oven in the summer).

    BTW, I have cooked from that Claiborne book in the past — I searched for a used copy just for the Cuban Black Bean recipe — but my all-time favorite Claiborne cookbook is “An Herb and Spice Cook Book.” Even ‘though I rarely cook from recipes, many of the ones in this book are permanently in my memory, and may actually have become part of the family genome.

  3. Pastisio seems to me to be a good summer dish. πŸ™‚ I have two copies of this Claiborne book – same year, bound differently. I’m not sure how that happened – the second one was at a library sale so I bought it thinking maybe it was a different edition but no difference but for the binding!
    Cuban Black Beans – my favorite recipe is something more like Carlos’ Black Bean Soup in the Sheila Lukins All Around the World Cookbook but naturally made less soupy. More levels of flavor I think . . .
    Funny though to think of how the Claiborne’s 60 Minute Gourmet cookbooks were supposed to be startling in their time – now it’s only startling if the meal is supposed to take 10 minutes or less . . .

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