Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Cook the Books 2013 - Marcella Hazan & the Essentials of Italian Cooking

I was struck not only with sadness at the recent passing of Marcella Hazan, but also with a bit of déjà vu. Last year cooking legend Marion Cunningham passed away while I was just a few weeks into cooking my way with a group of friends through her famed The Breakfast Book. This time, it happened just days before Cook the Books 2013 was to begin cooking from Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. What better tribute to these enormously influential women chefs, than to cook their food?

Frittata is one of those dishes my mom whips up regularly, and one she taught me to make early on. Though she uses a different style than Marcella's, this of course just made me want to try my hand at a different technique. I based my frittata on the one with Tomato, Onion and Basil on p 281, but instead used cherry tomatoes, broccoli, kale, and fresh sage and thyme. I ended up baking mine in the oven (alternative method on p 279) versus using her broiler method. This was a satisfying and healthy breakfast dish which was very easy to prepare. And, leftovers are extra handy for workday mornings.

Minestrone is a favorite. And it is officially soup weather, so the Minestrone alla Romagnola (pp 84-6) recipe was a no-brainer pick for me. And one I did not regret. This large batch fed us numerous times, over many days...and was filling and satisfying every time. I'm with Marcella, taking the time to slow cook a flavorful soup base is where it's at. Go onions and carrots and celery! Minestrone, is a soup par excellence, with simple ingredients making magic together.

Pan-Roasted Potatoes with Anchovies, Genoa Style. Period. Do I need to say anything else? Yes, I suppose I must, or you might not understand how crazy delicious these are. Crispy, golden, soft, salty, with a kick from the anchovies that is not at all fishy. Oh yeah. With slight deviance from the recipe, I added the garlic in with a few minutes left to cook, and then the parsley with a minute or two more in the pan before serving. Everything. was. just. right. There were no leftovers.

Foccaccia with Rosemary: it's hard to go wrong here. While I'm not a big bread baker, I've made my share—but never focaccia! Which I love. In fact, I think I might have subsisted on this delicious tomato-y scallion-topped focaccia in Santa Cruz during my college years. Anyhow, memory lane aside, this focaccia was very easy to make and has great olive oil flavor. And it's fun to stab it with your fingers for the "pockets". I would definitely top mine with sea salt next time and see if I could get the dough right with a little less flour, making it more moist and soft. Also, this makes a honkin' slab of focaccia. If you're not having a party, get ready to pop some in the freezer (per Marcella's advice) or make your friends and co-workers very happy with fresh baked bread. Heck, do both.

Eggplant Parmesan is another one of my mom's staples. But in this case, it has meant I've never made it myself. Yup, eggplant lover and all, I'd never made this beaut of a dish before. And there's no going back now. I think I cut the eggplant a bit thick, which meant it soaked up too much olive oil, which I didn't drain very effectively (apparently), so it was a bit heavy. I'd look to thinner slices, and less oil next time. But so glad this has made it into my repertoire, and I liked the colander layer technique for salting and "purging" the eggplant.

The best thing I can say about this book? I didn't want to stop cooking from it. You won't either. Though I do feel like I need to go on a diet after eating potatoes and focaccia and fried cheesy eggplant in just the past few days. Oh wait, next month's pick is The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook, so that plan is a farce. Onward I march in the name of Cook the Bookery...