Sheila Lukins, one-time proprietor of the 165-square-foot-shop Manhattan takeout shop The Silver Palate and author of several cookbooks, has died at age 66 of brain cancer.
She and business partner Julie Rosso opened the shop in 1977, selling cocktail fare, salads, pastas, side dishes, cookies and mousses. They also catered, and made sauces and preserves. Their food incorporated a wider world of flavors, including Greek, northern Mediterranean, Provencal, and rustic Italian.
It wasn't just a store -- it was a force for cultural change, and soon the need for a cookbook was obvious.
The Silver Palate Cookbook was published by Workman publishing in 1980. Many Americans discovered pesto, fresh mozzarella, balsamic vinegar and arugula in its pages. It's been referred to as the "Joy of Cooking for a new generation of American cooks."
Its best-known recipe is Chicken Marbella, a marinated combination of unlikeliest ingredients (prunes, olives, 1/4 cup of oregano, brown sugar) that cooked into an irresistibly garlicky, sweet-tangy caramelized sauce.
I've been mentally tracking it for years as it spreads through the populace. At first it was passed hand to hand at dinner parties. By now, it crosses my desk several times a year in community cookbooks, where it must be re-formulated and renamed to avoid piracy. On the internet, it's completely escaped its natural settings. Versions of it on recipezaar.com have headnotes that read "I got this recipe from a friend/coworker/mother-in-law" or "I found this on another recipe site." People don't know where it came from anymore, just that it's phenomenally good.
I was wondering what to do with a huge package of chicken thighs in the refrigerator. How could I have forgotten Chicken Marbella?
What's your favorite recipe from The Silver Palate? Is it Pasta Rafael, the stupendous artichoke and sausage pasta sauce? Or the apricot mousse? Rabbit with chartreuse? Marinated goat cheese? Rice salad? Summer Chicken? Blue cheese soup with bacon? The Big Sandwich? Date Nut Pudding? Flourless chocolate torte? Oven-roasted vegetables? And were you even aware that it came from the Silver Palate originally?