My friend Martha, an incredibly gifted athlete and wonderful all-around gal, was set to play on the U.S. field hockey team in the 1984 Olympic Games. During practice one day she tore her ACL, and her Olympic journey ended abrubtly. As a consolation, she spent a semester recuperating with relatives in Italy.
Her family prepared a formal Italian meal to celebrate her arrival. They sat at the table and were served small plates of light spaghetti with butter and garlic, intended as a first course. Unfamiliar with formal Italian meal traditions, Martha asked for a second serving. And a third. Unbeknownst to her, six courses remained to be served. It was, as she said years later, an interesting introduction to her family.
I met Martha in briefly in college, but I got to know her when we taught together at Noble & Greenough school in Dedham. She taught ceramics; I taught photography. We shared a house on campus with another teaching intern. Since Nobles was a five day boarding school, during the weekdays we ate in the cafeteria. On weekends, we were on our own. In our tiny kitchen Martha would make the most delicious, and inexpensive, Italian meals: escarole soup, spaghetti carbonara, linguini with baby clams and parsley. She prepared the food the way her family in Italy had done, using what was available to her and never consulting a written recipe.
I was thinking about Martha this week as I was re-reading Pino Luongo’s A Tuscan in the Kitchen, one of my favorite cookbooks. It’s out of print but available through Amazon resellers. None of the book’s recipes includes measures or quantities, and all of them are delicious. You’ll see two on this week’s dinner plan, and you’ll just have to trust me on the chicken liver paté.
I was re-reading A Tuscan in the Kitchen after interviewing Gannon Hamilton for my new blog, Eat Something Great in Memphis. When I asked if he would share a recipe, he was glad to do so but a bit concerned that he wouldn’t be able to give precise quantities. It’s a challenge, perhaps, but in the end it’s the only way to make food your own.
| Week of September 30| 2013
Field peas | Field greens | Butternut squash Risotto
Who knew my kids would love peas? Lady peas and purple hull are their favorites. This week we’ll have fresh lima beans and see how that goes. I boil them in water with a bit of salt, maybe a bit of butter. I cook greens in chicken stock with a bit of onion and then serve with pepper vinegar. Risotto is the most complicated part, but you can peel & seed the squash, cube and cook in a microwave instead of roasting, then puree and add to a plain risotto with a bit of sage and some brown butter drizzled on top.
|Green Chile Mac ‘n Cheese | Green Salad with Apples
Yes, I know your spouse or other kitchen partner probably did not roast 100 lbs. of Hatch chile and fill your freezer. Canned green chiles will work just fine. We like the big elbow macaroni because it holds more sauce. I do not make white sauce but instead add butter, sour cream, milk and grated or cubed cheese (whatever we have) and stir together while the drained pasta is still hot. Stir in green chile (drained if canned) at the end. Or try this recipe from Boulder Locavore.
|Peasant-Style Pappardelle | Sautéed Broccoli Rabe
(adapted from Pino Luongo’s recipe, A Tuscan in the Kitchen, p. 107 – couldn’t find online) If you can’t find pappardelle, use a hearty dried noodle like penne or extra wide No Yolks noodles. While pasta cooks, sauté crumbled Italian sausage (casings removed) until brown; drain and hold on a plate. Add some butter and olive oil to the skillet and sauté chopped yellow onion until soft; add green peas and a can of crushed tomatoes. Cook until thickened and add a bit of cream; cook down a bit more then add to drained pasta and top with Romano cheese. If you can’t find broccoli rabe, another bright but bitter green would do (arugula salad, perhaps).
|Florentine-style Chicken Liver Paté | Fruit | Crostini
No, my kids probably won’t eat this. But Bernard and I will enjoy it immensely, and the kids can have Ian’s chicken nuggets. This recipe, from Pino Luongo’s A Tuscan in the Kitchen and available through epicurious.com is one of my favorites of all time. If you’re ok with paté generally, I encourage you to give it a try. If you think you won’t like the anchovies in it, you’re wrong. If we’re lucky, there will be a few more Kadota figs (less sweet than Mission figs) on our neighbor’s tree for us.
| Corn Pudding | Ham | Mache Salad
This week’s breakfast for dinner meal will be more like dinner, just easier. We all enjoyed the corn pudding recipe my daughter brought home from came (again, who knew?), so we’ll make that again: I like mache (lamb’s lettuce) because it’s tender and sweet and easier to eat than Bibb lettuce. (recipe from Frozen Fruit Salad & Shepherd’s Pie… 90 Years of Nakanawa Food and Dining Hall Memories, 2011) Beat together 1 Tbsp. sugar, 1 egg and 1 Tbsp. butter, softened. Stir in 2 Tbsp. flour, 1 ½ cups fresh corn kernels, 1 cup milk, and a pinch of salt. Pour into a greased casserole dish and bake one hour at 300 degrees.