Apr 18, 2012

Book Cafe – Il Talismano della Felicità

I've decided to start a monthly series inspired by one of Rachel's latest posts. I love reading cookbooks as literature, and not merely to follow instructions when preparing someone else's recipe.
So every month, or so (I'm not good with deadlines and calendars, see my defunct newsletter) I promise to write about a favorite cookbook, and the inspiration it provided beyond the kitchen stove.

I'll be kicking off this series talking about a dear volume, one I treasure on a par with dearest family heirlooms.
"The Talisman of Happiness" is a well-known Italian cookbook originally published in 1929, written by magazine editor Ada Boni, updated with a gazillion editions, and commonly found in most Italian households. It is believed to be the first Italian cookbook specifically targeted to housewives. And despite women's emancipation since then, the classic manual's sales still surge mostly in springtime, in wedding season. This characteristic seasonality in purchases, according to Italian food network and magazine Gambero Rosso, is a clear sign that Il Talismano della Felicità is still very much a gift frequently bestowed upon newlywed brides.
The monumental tome presents more than 1100 recipes, and under 100 color plates. Ada begins each recipe listing ingredients, followed by a brief and concise method. Dianne Jacob, writing coach, cookbook editor, talented blogger and personal guru of mine would probably object to Ada's hiccuping use of exact quantities in her recipes, but Italians, who are used to seeing q.b. (quanto basta, meaning 'just enough') for an ingredient in modern day recipes, don't blink at her approximations.

I love that the recipes are simple and results unfailing. Her ossobuco recipe covers half a page, and the one I make following her instructions has always been a success. I love leafing through the yellowed pages of the old edition (I have two, one published in 1968) and finding old, forgotten recipes my Nonna used to make on a daily basis. And that retro 60's vintage photography, isn't it lovely?
I love that sometimes Ada contradicts herself (don't we all?) in her beliefs and directions, and I appreciate how she informally addresses her readers, yet maintaining a stately prose.

Il Talismano is my go-to resource when I have no idea what to make for dinner, my problem solver if I only have 3 ingredients in the fridge, and a reliable place for a last minute recipe accuracy check.

I have many favorites in this book, so it was a difficult choice to single out just one. This particular recipe I'll be sharing today sits in a narrow column, among stains and food splotches, in the rich pastry "dictionary," that prologues the dessert chapter.

In Italian, the name of the recipe is Mandorle Diablées, whose suitable translation could be, "Deviled Almonds."

Here it is, in an amateur translation by yours truly, with the cheek of trying to mirror Ada Boni's writing style.


For 100 g (1/2 cup) of shelled almonds
100 g (1/2 cup) egg whites
Cayenne pepper

Soak the almonds in cold water, which you'll then bring to a gentle boil. As the water trembles just before boiling, remove the small pot from the stove, let cool and then peel the husk off the almonds.

After drying them, heat almonds lightly in a mild oven, stirring and turning to brown evenly on both sides.

Transfer to a plate to cool. Break the egg whites with the tines of a fork and wet the almonds, mixing with your fingertips. Dust with a decent amount of salt mixed with Cayenne pepper, and mix to coat the almonds completely.

Spread them again on the oven sheet and allow them to dry at barely perceivable heat.

I use these as aperitivo nibbles, thrown in a salad or in bold mushroom and seafood pastas, or to spice up a boring soccer game. Chilled craft beer and freedom to belch aloud, mandatory.

Want to learn more about Il Talismano della Felicità? There's a thorough article on Ada Boni and her 'Happiness Talisman' written by friend and fellow blogger Frank, at delightful 'Memorie di Angelina.'

"There can be no true happiness if in such an essential part of our daily lives as eating is neglected." 
–– Ada Boni


  1. Is that a first edition Talismano at the top of the post? Quite a prize!

  2. My mom has that same book....a bit tattered here and there, but we still use it :)

  3. I have so many Italian recipes with "just enough" listed in the amount column. Makes me smile. Sometimes I think Italian recipes are suggestions.

  4. I love the idea of your cookbook reviews and these almonds sound wonderful!

  5. A great idea for a series Eleonora and I have enjoyed this first one.

  6. Spero che se lascio un commento in italiano vada bene lo stesso, il mio inglese è terrificante :)
    Il "Talismano" è una specie di libro sacro della cucina per me e come dici anche tu una vera risorsa per quando si è a corto di idee,ottima la scelta delle mandorle piccanti.

  7. Oh! I love my old cook books!!....thank you for sharing yours! I think I will get one out and post about it later in the week.....smiles

  8. Frank~
    No, it's a later edition, but still the one w/ blue leather spine, dates 1968! The one up at the very top in the series widget is 2000...

    It's a classic :)

    QB is in our DNA!

    I'm happy you enjoyed this first one! Stay tuned for more.

    Open to future title suggestions :)

    Scherzi?! Il Talismano è un caposaldo della nostra cultura!

    Great! Let me know when you do :)

  9. I totally love that classic too, the one I turn to for directives when I am battling with a recipe I haven't grown up with...

  10. that's a great recipe. I'm always for cooking at a "barely perceivable heat." And check out the pic of that book. It's the necronomicon of Italian cooking! :)

    I look forward to more in this series. Thanks for sharing!


  11. What a fun post! just love your site! hope you have a great rest of the week!!