In this post Julia Child era of cookbooks penned by celebrity chefs or celebrities posing as chefs, it’s heartening to return to books researched and written by cooks whom I regard as culinary scholars–writers who took up the gauntlet from Julia, writers like Paula Wolfert, Nancy Harmon Jenkins, Fred Plotkin, and Lynne Rossetto Kasper, the source for today’s recipe. If you’re thinking that “scholarly” means “dry and dull,” just pick up one of these authors’ books and you’ll find just the opposite.
Looking through a number of recently acquired cookbooks, I came across a recipe for a Tuscan beef stew called peposo (peppery) owing to its liberal use (up to 6 tablespoons) of black pepper. As I researched the recipe both in my books and online, my mouth started to water. But the more I read, the more it appeared that this tasty dish was better suited for winter than early summer. So, I placed peposo on the back burner and began to search for a more seasonal recipe, which eventually led me to Diane Darrow and Tom Maresca’s insightful collection of authentic recipes, The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen.
Ever have unexpected guests show up for dinner? Such was the case when my husband failed to tell me he had invited some friends to dinner. “It was a casual invitation,” he said. “I didn’t think they had accepted.”
We had just gotten back from doing errands on Saturday when the call came and Andrew’s friend said he and his wife would be arriving at 7. “Great,” Andrew stammered. “Looking forward to seeing you.” That gave me, who wasn’t looking so forward, about two and a half hours to get dinner ready. Read more
An old favorite found its way to our table this weekend, Chicken Thighs, with Saffron, Green Olives and Mint. I had forgotten how good this dish is with its sweet and savory onions, tangy olives, and whiffs of saffron and fresh mint. The long cooking time, actually a braise, renders chicken thighs with meat that falls of the bone and a rich sauce just waiting to be sopped up by couscous. The saffron and mint lead me to believe the origins of the dish are Sicilian, or perhaps even Moroccan.
Last night, throwing caution to the wind, I finally made a frittata from left-over rigatoni and meatballs and even a hard-boiled egg. The egg found its way into this omelet when I mistook one of my husband’s hard-boiled eggs, stored in an egg carton, for a fresh one and tried to crack it open. Well, I thought, as long as I was taking a chance with the pasta, what harm could adding the egg do? Now, I’ve made plenty of pasta frittatas before, some of them chronicled on this blog. None, however, featured something like pasta with meatballs.
With summer almost upon us, zucchini have begun appearing at our local farmers market. Indeed, seeing them there last week brought back memories of two childhood dishes my aunt would always make throughout the summer. One of these was a zucchini salad with fresh mint and garlic dressed simply with vinegar and olive oil, which I wrote about here last year. The other was zucchini a scapece, which uses the same ingredients but a different preparation that gives the dish its name. The Italian “scapece” is a derivative from the Spanish word, “escabeche,” used for a variety of foods marinated in vinegar after cooking.
“Delicious simply” perfectly describes the pan-grilled pork chops from Mark Bittman’s best-selling tome How to Cook Everything. The recipe epitomizes simple cooking that exploits salt, fat, acid, and heat to yield some of the best pork chops I’ve ever had. Indeed, after preparing this dish, I better understand the popularity of Samin Nasrat’s award-winning Netflix series eponymously named for the same culinary elements.
Recently, I’ve been reading two mid-century cookbooks: one by Jeanne Carola Francesconi, La Cucina Napoletana (1965), considered by many to be the bible on Neapolitan cooking; the other by Elizabeth David, Italian Food (1954), one of the first English-language books to emphasize authenticity and seasonality in its exploration of the subject.
Frequent cooking at home typically yields a variety of odds and ends in the fridge: a handful of mushrooms, a small piece of cheese, a few herbs, a cup of sauce. For us, ingredients like these usually wind up in a frittata or a pasta. Such was the case the other night when, while cleaning out the fridge, I found some uncooked tomato sauce and a three-ounce piece of mozzarella left over from making a pizza a few days before.
I don’t know exactly why, but it seems that when I make a homemade pizza, everything seems OK. Maybe it’s my Neapolitan heritage, but when the simplest of ingredients come together and cook in just a matter of minutes, for me, all’s well with the word.
Let others enjoy the “gourmet,” multi-topping pizzas so popular today; for me, a plain Margherita is the only way to go.
Wine Pairing: Gragnano, Dry Lambrusco