Growing up as a first-generation Italian, I regarded food not only as nourishment but also as a link to the flavors and traditions of my forebears. In fact, that strong ethnic bond has motivated much of my cooking over the last 50 years. And while the cuisines of other countries have always intrigued me, none has inspired me more than Italian. Whenever I’m in the kitchen, memories of my Sicilian mother or Neapolitan aunt at the stove or of my family around the dinner table come to mind.
Recently, I had one such recollection while I was preparing the pasta dish that is the subject of this post, Christmas Eve Sicilian Anchovy Pasta. As a child, I hated anchovies. The way they looked—dark, shriveled, when packed in salt or rusty and slimy when tinned in oil— totally turned me off even before tasting them. “Yuck,” I would say out of earshot. But I was forced to eat or, at least, try them every time they appeared in one of the dishes on the table. When I would resist, my father would say: “They’re an acquired taste; you’ll eventually grow to like them.” It may have taken some time before the acquisition, but, as usual, my father was correct.
For my second post of the year, my husband suggested a New York Times recipe that had caught his eye and was made more appealing since we had all of the ingredients on hand: James Beard’s Farmer’s Chicken. The recipe first appeared in a feature story on James Beard by Julia Moskin that was occasioned by the publication in 2020 of a Beard biography The Man Who Ate Too Much, by John Birdsall.
Moskin attributes the recipe to a son of a member of Beard’s circle, chef Andrew Zimmern, who told her about his childhood experiences in Beard’s kitchen and “encountering tastes there for the first time, like a braise of chicken with olives, almonds and raisins, a dish with roots in Spain and California that Beard made often.” Beard claimed to have “adapted the recipe from Spanish immigrants who worked on ranches in California.”
However, having gleaned from Birdsall’s book a better understanding of Beard’s showmanship, I have to question the chef’s attribution of his dish to migrant farmers. The recipe’s bend of ingredients, currants, almonds, olives, paprika, seem more Moroccan to me; and after preparing the dish, I found the flavors quite similar to those of a tajin.
Well a new year is here and thankfully so are we. Looking back on the past few years, we consider ourselves pretty lucky. Since my last blog post, almost nineteen months ago, we’ve been through a lot: Andrew’s Keto diet for medical reasons, where we (I simply had to join him) cumulatively shed almost sixty pounds; a move back east from San Diego to be closer to friends and family; Andrew’s two surgeries, from which he’s recovered quite nicely; and the many challenges and repairs associated with settling into a new house. All this, while dodging the ever present threats of Covid with masking and boosting, might explain why I haven’t blogged for so long.
But the holidays, even with some celebrations being cancelled at the last minute, have put me in a better mood. In fact, the cancellations of some dinners and get-togethers inspired me to get back into the kitchen and celebrate at home with some old and new dishes, which I’ll summarize here.
Upon his physician’s advice, my husband recently decided to go on the Keto diet for the next two months. Given the intrinsic role food plays in our lifestyle, I couldn’t let him do it alone. So I’ve joined him on this a high-fat, moderate-protein, no carb or sugar venture.
This week Cooking from Books celebrates its 8th anniversary. So 333 posts later, rather than publishing a new one, I decided to post my very first one from May 8, 2014. I think we’ve come a long way. I thank you for your continued support and look forward to another eight years of sharing my kitchen adventures with you.
Reading John Birdsall’s hefty biography of James Beard, The Man Who Ate Too Much, motivated me to go through some of Beard’s cookbooks. He was prolific author and definitely earned his place among those cooks who influenced American cuisine by emphasizing seasonality, using local ingredients, and eschewing the mid-century elitism epitomized in Gourmet Magazine and its Francophile editors.
During this pandemic, we have watched television more than ever: movies, documentaries, opera from the Met, and, perhaps not surprisingly, cooking shows. Indeed, ever since we “cut the cable” and turned to streaming, I’m amazed at just how many television chefs there are. And although we’ve discovered a few new channels like Tastemade and Bon Appetit, none has in my opinion provided higher quality than good old PBS.
Sometimes a dish comes out so good that I regret not taking pictures for the blog of my preparing it. Then, all too often, dishes like these get lost in my files and are never written up here. Well, last night, I prepared such a dish and decided to blog about it even though the only photos I have were taken after it was cooked.
I had originally planned to begin a series of posts focusing on retro dishes from the 50s and 60s. That plan found its way to the back burner, however, when my brother suggested a recipe for penne with spicy Calabrian shrimp from Giada De Laurentiis’s latest cookbook, Eat Better, Feel Better. Read more
Once again, the recipe highlighted in today’s post was suggested by my better half, who informed me that we had a haul of salmon in our overcrowded freezer that needed to be pared down. The recipe, “Orecchiette with Salmon, Arugula and Artichokes” is by cookbook author Grace Parisi and comes from the December 2012 issue of Food and Wine.