On Sunday, I had the best wedding meal, ever! It was a wedding meal for one – me.
I suppose I should start from the beginning, shouldn’t I?
So. My friend Spicy Veggie Girl and I are reading The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas. As many know, this 1844 literary classic is the story of a smart, handsome, young sailor named Edmond Dantès. He’s about to start a promising career and marry the love of his life, until some envious men set him up and he’s falsely imprisoned. Years later, Dantès escapes, becomes wealthy, and looks to get his revenge on the people who arranged his imprisonment.
Just before Dantès is arrested, he’s enjoying his wedding feast celebration:
Then they began to pass around the dusky, piquant, Arlesian sausages, and lobsters in their dazzling red cuirasses, prawns of large size and brilliant color, the echinus with its prickly outside and dainty morsel within, the clovis, esteemed by the epicures of the South as more than rivalling the exquisite flavor of the oyster,—all the delicacies, in fact, that are cast up by the wash of waters on the sandy beach, and styled by the grateful fishermen “fruits of the sea.”
“A pretty silence truly!” said the old father of the bride–groom, as he carried to his lips a glass of wine of the hue and brightness of the topaz, and which had just been placed before Mercedes herself. “Now, would anybody think that this room contained a happy, merry party, who desire nothing better than to laugh and dance the hours away?”
~ The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
This passage inspired me to make a seafood meal, worthy of a wedding feast – fish soup made from salmon, prawns, clams and octopus. Normally, I always strictly follow a recipe since I’m still learning to cook. But for some reason, I decided to wing it and prepare my soup as the spirit moved me. Wow! I’m not sure what came over me. I basically combined the various ways I’d prepared different soups in the past. I chose what I liked.
I started my soup with some olive oil in a pan and added onions, fresh tomatoes, cilantro, garlic, tomato paste and seasoning (Goya Sazón). After a while, I added some clam juice. Then I then added the fish head and chunks. I added the prawns, clams, and octopus. And then I added a generous amount of water to cover the fish. After the seafood cooked for a while, I seasoned the soup with a little salt and pepper. At this point, the soup tasted okay but I felt it still needed something more. I added some coconut milk. My last addition to the soup was – fresh spinach. Not long afterwards, my soup was ready.
Mmm… Mmm… Mmm! Oh my! My fish soup was delicious! Definitely worthy to be listed on a wedding feast menu! I think the coconut milk was the secret magic touch to the soup! It brought all the flavors in the soup together very nicely. This fish soup was perfect for a cool autumn day celebration. As I devoured it, my taste buds danced in my mouth.
I think Dantès and his bride-to-be would have enjoyed this meal. Heck, newlyweds George Clooney and Amal Alamudin, too.
The Count of Monte Cristo is very long and I’m still reading. I like adventure stories and this one moves along very easily. The characters are all intriguing. I also enjoy historical novels and the unabridged version of The Count of Monte Cristo explains Napoléon’s return to power and the political and social situation of that time. It’s an interesting lesson in history. Last but not least, I’m enjoying this story because it includes universal themes that one can still relate to, today – envy, betrayal, vengeance, loyalty, justice, hope, forgiveness, and mercy. Oh! It includes the theme of love, too! Captivating read.
I’m still on hiatus but have come out, briefly, to participate in Novel Food #22, which is hosted by Simona of Briciole. Novel Food is a food blogging event that combines literary works with culinary creations. I’ll return later in the week to provide a link to her roundup list of those who participated in this Novel Food event. Thanks for hosting this event, Simona! Thanks, everyone, for stopping by!
Ed. Note: You can find a round up list of participants in Novel Food #22 HERE. Check it out!
I thought I was in love with Piero, but I was in love with Sicily. I went back to see him that fall, and again the next summer. He wanted me to move in with him. Once, in the summer, next to the cornflower sea, I asked him, “But what would we do in the winter?” He said, “We’ll stay at home, cook pasta, and steam up the windows.” I went back to Los Alamos, gave six months’ notice, and numbered the days till I could be in Sicily again.
~ Mattanza: Love and Death in the Sea of Sicily by Theresa Maggio
Mattanza: Love and Death in the Sea of Sicily by Theresa Maggio is about the ancient Sicilian ritual of bluefin tuna fishing, off the coast of the island of Favignana, where it is said Calypso rescued a shipwrecked Odysseus. Every spring, schools of giant bluefin tuna would swim to this location, to reproduce; and ever since the Stone Age, fishermen would go through a ceremonial trapping and killing of these giant fish. When the book first came out, this type of fishing style was a dying tradition. Today, it’s extinct.
This is one of my all-time favorite books. I read it a few years ago and every once in a while I pick it up to reread. I enjoyed the book because it’s more than a fishing story. Mattanza is a combination of memoir, natural history and travelogue.
Maggio describes everything so vividly and beautifully – from the fishing custom, her love story, the people she meets on the island, to her relationship with them and the fishermen – that I couldn’t help but be fascinated. I couldn’t help but want to know more. Mattanza is a powerful, captivating story of man, fish, life, death and love.
Perhaps, I should have prepared some kind of tuna meal. However, I loved Piero’s response, above, to Theresa and felt like preparing a simple pasta dish – Pasta, Chickpeas, Onions and Oregano. This is a favorite recipe. I used whole grain spaghetti, oregano, thyme and chili garlic sauce. Mixed together with the spaghetti, the meal was delicious. Making pasta and steaming up the windows during winter (or anytime of the year) sounds like a good idea to me.
This is my contribution to the 18th edition of Novel Food, hosted by Simona of Briciole. I’ll return later in the week to provide a link to her roundup list of those who participated in today’s Novel Food.
Ed. Note: You can find a list of other participants in the 18th edition of Novel Food HERE. Check it out!
Pasta with Chickpeas, Onions and Oregano
as seen on Lucullian Delights
400-500 g/14-17,5 ounce pasta
1 can of chickpeas
a good pinch of dried oregano. You can also use thyme or other herbs
chili pepper, optional
extra-virgin olive oil
While the pasta cooks, slice the onion and cook them gently in a skillet for 3-4 minutes.
Add the chickpeas, oregano and a little chili pepper and go on cooking for another 8-10 minutes. If you want, you can mash a part of the chickpeas with a fork. Squeeze a little lemon juice over.
Drain the pasta a minute before it is cooked and add it to the skillet, stir and cook for a minute and then serve.
Southern Seas – Manuel Vázquez Montalbán
A Pepe Carvalho Investigation
translated by Patrick Camiller
An unconventional mogul plans to travel to the South Pacific, but then he is murdered and his wife hires private investigator Pepe Carvalho to find out what happened. This is the story of “Southern Seas” by Manuel Vásquez Montalbán, a very famous Spanish writer whose stories are set in Barcelona. “Southern Seas” (Los Mares del Sur) is his most famous story in the Pepe Carvalho investigation series.
What an investigation this turns out to be. I like the way the mystery unfolds. The book is full of interesting characters from all walks of life. The most tantalizing character to me is the investigator Pepe Carvalho who appears to have a zeal for good food a good drink. He’s intelligent, tough, and street-smart. He can also be gentle and caring for others in his life – like Charo, his long-time girlfriend (a career prostitute); Bleda, the puppy that he spots in a pet store window, buys, and brings home; and Biscuter, who cooks many of his meals.
I enjoyed the dialog in the storyline. It’s sharp, fun and witty. I found myself laughing aloud several times. Investigator Pepe Carvalho certainly held my attention throughout the book.
I also like how Spanish politics, history and food references are sprinkled throughout the story. Like this scene between Carvalho and Biscuter, when Carvalho is about to take off in search of a troubled young woman:
‘You’re not going, are you, boss? Aren’t you staying to eat?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘I’ve made you some potatoes and chorizo à la Rioja.’
Carvalho stopped, with one foot outside the door. Potatoes and chorizo à la Rioja.
‘They’re hot,’ Biscuter insisted, when he saw him waver.
I’m not sure how potatoes and chorizo à la Rioja is prepared, but I was inspired to try my version. It sounded simple enough – potatoes and chorizo. Basically, I bought some fresh chorizo and removed the casing. I sautéed the chorizo in some oil; then I sautéed some onions and garlic, and added boiled diced potatoes to the cooked chorizo, onions, and garlic. Since the chorizo is already spicy and salty, I didn’t bother adding any salt, pepper or spices. It was tasty and filling. Now, I understand why Carvalho hesitated at the mention of the meal. I’ll have to find out how to prepare the real potatoes and chorizo à la Rioja, but overall, I liked what I’d prepared.
While I didn’t expect the solution to the mystery of the mogul’s death, the real shocker to me was the ending of the book, which had nothing to do with the mystery (or did it?). “Southern Seas” captivated my attention to the very end. I liked following the way Pepe Carvalho interacted with the people he met, as he solved his assignments. I plan on following Pepe Carvalho and the other mysteries that he will encounter and no doubt solve.
A few weeks ago, I received a free review copy of the newly translated “Southern Seas” from publisher Melville House. I enjoyed the book so much that I decided to feature it as my contribution for Novel Food, the food blogging event that combines literary works with food. It is hosted by Simona of Briciole. You can find a lineup of other Novel Food submissions on her blog.
Ed. Note: A friend who lives in Spain sent me video link of a Spanish chef preparing potatoes and chorizo à la Rioja. It is totally different than what I prepared, more like a soup with the potatoes and chorizo and other spices. It looked very delicious. In the near future, I hope to be able to prepare it.
*You can find the round up of the 17th edition of Novel Food HERE.
"Before returning to Marinella, he dropped in at the grocer’s where he sometimes got his provision. He bought green olives, passuluna black olives, caciocavallo cheese, fresh bread sprinkled with giuggiulena, and a jar of Trapanese pesto." (page 205)
The Patience of the Spider by Andrea Camilleri (An Inspector Montalbano mystery)
Oh, how I love Salvo Montalbano, one of my favorite book characters. Inspector Montalbano is good at his job of solving crimes that come his way in Sicily. In addition to the way he does his job, I like the way he enjoys his food. He doesn’t mind company when eating, however, he prefers silence during the meal, so that he can concentrate on it. I’d love to be his dining companion but I’m afraid, I wouldn’t be able to keep silent for more than a few seconds. I’d have a lot to talk about to him.
Inspector Montalbano is always eating something interesting, whether simple or fancy. The mention of Trapanese pesto peeked my interest, especially after reading a side note about it. This is the book’s notation on Trapanese pesto:
"Trapanese pesto: Pesto alla trapanese, like its cousin, pesto alla genovese, is a sauce for pasta with ground or finely chopped basil as its foundation. The Trapanese version )from the Sicilian city of Trapani), however, uses finely chopped and toasted blanched almonds instead of pine nuts, as well as several finely chopped, uncooked tomatoes, which are ground into the blend with garlic, olive oil, and black pepper. Finally, after it [is] served on the pasta one adds a sprinkling of toasted bread crumbs in the place of cheese." — page 244.
I liked the idea of this untraditional pesto, because it included tomatoes and almonds. While I could have easily made my Trapanese pesto based on the above description alone, I decided to look for a recipe that gave specific amounts and settled on a recipe from Lidia Bastianich. I like her added touch of a peperonchino to the mix, which lent an ever so slight touch of heat to the pesto. Lidia’s recipe calls for spaghetti, but I made linguine. I mixed my Trapanese pesto with the linguine and topped my pasta and pesto dish with Pecorino Romano cheese. Next time, I plan on trying the topping of toasted bread crumbs (mentioned above), in place of the cheese. Either way, my dish tasted oh so good — divine!
For once, I became like the Inspector. I ate in silence and truly focused and enjoyed the simple flavors of my meal — the basil, garlic, almonds, tomatoes, and touch of peperonchino. Perfect! I guess, there really are times when one needs to be quiet and enjoy one’s meal. This was clearly the moment, for me. I think I’ll be eating pasta this way for a long while.
This is my contribution to Novel Food, which Simona hosts over at Briciole. In a few days, you can see a list of others who have joined in on the Novel Food fun, with recipes inspired by books they’ve read. Check it out!
Linguine with Trapanese pesto
Spaghetti al Pesto Trapanese alla Anna
¾ pound cherry tomatoes, very ripe and sweet
12 leaves fresh basil
? cup whole almonds, lightly toasted
1 garlic clove, crushed and peeled
¼ teaspoon peperoncino
½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for cooking the pasta
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound spaghetti
½ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated
Rinse the cherry tomatoes and pat them dry. Rinse the basil leaves and pat dry.
Drop the tomatoes into the blender jar or food processor bowl followed by the garlic clove, the almonds, basil leaves, peperoncino and 1/2 tsp salt. Blend for a minute or more to a fine purée; scrape down the bowl and blend again if any large bits or pieces have survived.
With the machine still running, pour in the olive oil in a steady stream, emulsifying the purée into a thick pesto. Taste and adjust seasoning. (If you’re going to dress the pasta within a couple of hours, leave the pesto at room temperature. Refrigerate for longer storage, up to 2 days, but let it return to room temperature before cooking the pasta.)
To cook the spaghetti, heat 6 quarts of water, with 1 tablespoon salt to the boil in the large pot. Scrape all the pesto into a big warm bowl.
Cook the spaghetti al dente, lift it from the cooking pot, drain briefly, and drop onto the pesto. Toss quickly to coat the spaghetti, sprinkle the cheese all over, and toss again. Serve immediately in warm bowls.
“Adelina had made pappanozza for him. Onions and potatoes boiled a long time and mashed with the back of a fork until they blend together. Seasoning: olive oil, a hint of vinegar, salt, and freshly ground black pepper. It was all he ate. He wanted to keep to light food.”
August Heat by Andrea Camilleri ( Chapter 8 )
An Inspector Montalbano Mystery
Pappanozza. I like this
Italian Sicilian word. I like the way it sounds – fun. I like the way it rolls off my tongue – Pap-PA-noz -za. Pap-Pa-noz-za!
I’ve been reading the Inspector Montalbano mystery series by Andrea Camilleri. Inspector Salvo Montalbano is not only good at his job of solving mysteries, but he knows how to appreciate his food – whether it’s simply or elaborately prepared. I first learned about this sharp Sicilian inspector from Simona, when she featured his stories on her blog. After reading the first book, I became hooked and fell in love with the Inspector. I enjoy not only the mysteries, but the characters, foods, and romance mentioned in the stories. You can read more about Salvo Montalbano HERE.
The passage about pappanozza, practically had me salivating, when I first read it. I love the simplicity with which the food is described and the plainness of the ingredients involved, and the way it’s prepared. The description inspired me to make my own pappanozza.
After I peeled, cut, and boiled 4 large potatoes and 6 yellow onions (normally I like to use red onions but didn’t have them), I added olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper to the mixture. Tasty! I’d used a good quality olive oil, which enhanced the taste of the potatoes. I was able to detect the hint of the vinegar, which also made a difference in the taste of the potato/onion mix. I love simple things. This was nothing fancy, yet it tasted delicious. Like Inspector Montalbano, that is all I ate. I, too, wanted to keep to light food. It was perfect.
This is my contribution for Novel Food, which Simona of Briciole is hosting. After Sunday, you will find a list of others who have participated with their contributions of good books and tasty recipes on her site. Thanks, Simona, for hosting this fun event and introducing me to the Inspector!
Ed. Note: You can find the roundup of Novel Food contributions HERE.