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.
I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream! Sorry, I couldn’t help myself, but after reading The Empress of Ice Cream by Anthony Capella, you’ll be screaming for ice cream, too. Actually, I’m screaming for ice cream AND my own personal ice cream maker.
The Empress of Ice Cream is a historical fiction about ice cream and two people caught up in the political climate between France and England in the 1600s and the wills of the two kings. Carlo Demirco is a handsome, Italian ice cream maker at a time when the knowledge to make ice cream is rare and only the privileged are able to taste it. Louise de Keroualle, is a beautiful but poor, French lady-in-waiting. As a gift, French King Louis XIV sends talented Carlo to become the personal ice cream maker to Charles II, King of England. He also sends the striking Louise to become Charles’s mistress. The gesture is actually part of a bribe to form alliances between the two kings.
Who knew that the subject of ice cream combined with 17th century French/English politics would be so fascinating? Louise de Keroualle is a real-life historical figure. Carlo is fictional but his presence occurs at the time when ice cream was first introduced in England.
Told from two perspectives, Carlo and Louise’s, The Empress of Ice Cream is a captivating story with a gratifying ending. The characters are all very interesting. Louise is shrewd and a survivor. Carlo is ambitious, always striving to make the best ice cream. I loved the vivid book descriptions, not only of the time period and the activity in the courts, but especially of the ice creams that Carlo makes and the people’s reactions after tasting them, especially for the first time. Here are two of Carlo’s accounts:
"Soon, to the king’s great satisfaction, I was producing ices of a kind that had never been made before — chilled cordials flavoured with orgeat, or milk ices sandwiched between layers of meringue that looked like macaroons, or sorbetti that could be held in the hand within a little lattice goblet made of spun sugar, so that they did not drip on your fine court court clothes as they melted." — page 26
"On another occasion I made him a bowl of cherries which, when examined closely, turned out to be twenty individual cherry cream ices which I had frozen one by one in a mould; while my mandarin sorbets — each one served inside the skin of a recently picked mandarin, the peel apparently unbroken, like a toy ship inside a bottle — were a wonder that the court discussed for days." — page 29
By now, I’m sure you’ve guessed that this is my entry for Novel Food, the culinary/literary blogging event. Today, it’s hosted by Simona of Briciole. I didn’t have time to make ice cream but was able to make something that goes well with ice cream – chocolate sauce. Imagine this warm chocolaty sauce with or without banana and walnuts over your ice cream. Delicious! I think I could have been an apprentice for Carlos and the King would have enjoyed this chocolate sauce. Heck! You’d all enjoy this chocolate sauce.
I will end here with the passage in the book when Carlos first tasted chocolate:
One night I found the whole kitchen smelling dark and pungent, as if livers were being cooked in a sauce of fortified wine; but this smell had a richness to it that was like no offal I had ever known. It was coming from a small saucepan on the range, where something thick and brown spat like hot lava as the cook stirred it with a wooden spoon. ‘Xocalatl,’ the cook said, as he poured the contents of the pan into a small cup for the Grand Duke’s nightcap: then, seeing my incomprehension, he offered me the end of the spoon to taste.
That is another memory I have never forgotten, one of a different kind; a heat that filled my mouth and coated my palate, leaving it full of the same rich taste for hours afterwards; bitter and thick, yet strangely warming, like the very opposite of ice. – page 7
My own personal Ice Cream Maker.
Must be able to make ice cream at my beck and call.
Being good-looking and Italian (like Carlo) won’t hurt.
Accepting applications here and now.
Chocolate sauce to be poured over ice cream
Chocolate sauce with bananas and walnuts
Lee Lee’s Famous Chocolate Sauce for Ice Cream
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2-2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup water (more or less, as needed to make a stirable consistency)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine sugar, cocoa, and salt in small saucepan.
Add the water.
Add butter to cocoa mixture.
Bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring constantly.
Allow to boil for 1 minute, stirring.
Remove from heat.
Serve warm over ice cream.
Add sliced bananas and chopped walnuts if you really want a treat!
For Novel Food guidelines, click on the banner above. Check out Bricole, for a lineup of other Novel Food entries. You’ll find a wonderful list of books and meals inspired by the stories.