This is my first Round-up post! Some of you have asked for book, movie and cookbook ideas in addition to recipes. I aim to please, so here are some of the favorites for July with a few new items thrown in for good measure. Enjoy!
What I am reading
Summer is a perfect time to read voraciously. Maybe it is the long days, the warm weather, or just the lazy atmosphere of the season. For the last couple of months, I have been consuming books like a hungry child in a candy store. My recommendation: Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels: My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Stay and Those Who Leave, and The Story of the Lost Child. Be warned; these books will get in the way of everything else in your life. Once I became captivated with Lila and Elena, which happened in the first few pages, chores didn’t get done, and I stayed up way too late spellbound by their lives and struggles.
The 4 books are set in southern Italy, and span from 1930’s to 2000’s. The centerpiece is the complex friendship between Elena and Lila, whose lives diverge and converge again and again as they survive life in the poor, violent neighborhood in Naples. Book one begins with the murder of the neighborhood crime boss juxtaposed against the girls’ innocent scuffle as they play with their dolls. This sets the stage for their complex female friendship and spans decades of Neapolitan history. Ferrante’s use of language and exposure of human nature makes these books a fascinating read.
What I am watching
My Brilliant Friend
Coming soon. HBO is working with the author, Elena Ferrante, to create a mini series based on Book one- My Brilliant Friend. Production was slow to begin because producers needed to find 4 actresses to play the role of Elena as she grew from little girl to woman. The biggest challenge was finding actresses who spoke Neapolitan dialect. Another fact of interest – The author, Elena Ferrante, who is sometimes referred to as the J. D. Salinger of Italy, will only communicate with the producers and director via email. She is reclusive and there is very little known about her life, yet she is revered as one of the most influential authors in the Italy. She is a masterful writer, and we relate to each character’s motivations, both loving and evil.
Somm and Somm: Into the Bottle on Netflix
Wine anyone? These two documentaries, the first about the path to become a sommelier and the second about the wine itself, will give a beginning wine connoisseur a breadth of knowledge to take to tasting rooms.
Both films are by journalist, Jason Wise, who has chosen a handful of handsome young lads to feature. Somm has some slow moments and gives way too much focus on the boys’ club, but is fascinating just the same. Yes, it is a time commitment; both movies, each one and a half hours, will take up a chunk of time, but by the end, we understand the arduous path to becoming a master sommelier, and learn many bits of fascination about the world of wine.
Some highlights: Robert Mondavi, winemaker in Napa county who bucked all odds, studied wine making in France and the brought his expertise to Napa Valley. He built the first new winery in California after the Prohibition. We are taken into centuries-old wine cellars where rows and rows of wine bottles are covered in mold and fungus. Come to find out that this fungus is a very important part of the storage and is coveted by wine makers. We learn about old world and new world wine, barrels, history and pricing. The master somms go deep into the cellars and open ancient bottles of wine, swish and sip and definitely do not spit.
Ugly Delicious on Netflix
If you roll out yeasted dough, top it with ham, pineapple and Jack cheese and cook it in a hot oven, is it still pizza? If you are horrified at the thought, then you are a pizza purist. If you think there is always room for change and creativity, they you might be okay with throwing anything edible on dough and calling it pizza. If you are at all interested in this debate, you might enjoy this episode of Ugly Delicious where host David Chang gathers chefs, foodies, purists, and a collection of crazies to discuss this issue.
Foodie Books and Italian Cookbooks
My Kitchen Year by Ruth Riechl
I have been devouring Ruth Riechl’s food memoir, My Kitchen Year. Once the New York Times food critic and editor-in-chief of Gourmet Magazine. Ruth spent time in her kitchen to heal her wounds when Gourmet magazine, the longest running food journal (1941-2009), closed its doors. Ruth was devastated, and turning to the familiar, she began to cook. The memoir intermingles her emotional journey and her amazing recipes that come from her lifetime of food experiences.
La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy by Italian Academy of Cuisine
If you are looking for the tome on authentic Italian cooking, look no further.
In the 1960’s, a group of Italian scholars were driven to preserve Italian cooking traditions. They knew about the grandmas in little villages who have made their tomato sauce and pasta shapes the same way for generations. Should these precious recipes be preserved as an important art form? The answer is, yes.
La Cucina sent out 7000 gourmands to traipse all over Italy to capture this cultural heritage. La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy, is a collection of over 2000 recipes from every nook and cranny of Italy. The down side: some of the recipes seem to have lost clarity in translation, but the essence of the dish comes through if you don’t mind a bit of trial and error. Here here and here are some of the recipes I adapted from this fabulous cookbook.
What’s cooking: Summer Italian dishes
Tips for roasting summer vegetables: Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated.
Asparagus – Take 2 lbs. of asparagus spears, chop off the bottom inch of each one and then, using a potato peeler, peel the skin away from the bottom half to expose the white underneath (that way you won’t have to trim off as much and they will still be tender at the ends). Toss well with 2 Tablespoons olive oil. Roast uncovered on a rimmed baking sheet for 8 – 10 minutes at 500 degrees. Preheat baking sheet prior to putting on the asparagus. This will allow the asparagus spears to brown.
Green Beans – Take 1 lb. green beans and snap off the ends. Coat evenly in 1 Tablespoon olive oil and roast uncovered on a rimmed baking sheet for 10 – 12 minutes at 450 degrees.
Brussels sprouts – Take 1 1/4 lbs. of Brussels sprouts, peel off the outer leaves and cut in half through the stem. Coat well with 2 Tablespoons olive oil, salt and 1 Tablespoon of water. Arrange the sprout halves cut side down to make sure this surface browns nicely. Roast at 500 degrees for 10 minutes covered. Then turn the sprouts and roast 10 – 12 minutes uncovered.
Add some flavor: Combine 2 Tablespoons salt, 4 teaspoons chili powder, and 1/4 teaspoon grated lime zest. Mix well and then toss with roasted vegetables after they come out of the oven.
Some of my Summer Favorites:
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If there is a topic you are interested in or have a favorite book, movie or recipe to share, I would love to hear from you.
A presto! Ciao!