Home Fresh Meat About Books Appearances Recipes Press Contact

Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

The Next Big Thing: Eating Italy

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

I bumped into my friend Joe Yonan a few weeks ago at The Roger Smith Cookbook Conference. But we didn’t get to talk shop. We didn’t sit down over a taco or take a city stroll to discuss the cookbooks we’re working on. So Joe tagged me in The Next Big Thing Blog Hop, a fun Q&A that’s like a writer’s game of tag. Read Joe’s post to see who was “it” before him. At the end of this post, find out who’s it next. Spin the wheel! Where it stops, nobody knows!

What’s the title of your next book?
The title is Eating Italy. We’re still haggling over the subtitle. Jeff Michaud and I like “A Road Trip for Food Lovers” but the publisher likes “A Culinary Adventure Through Italy’s Best Meals.” We have to decide soon because the book is out this Fall (2013) from Running Press.

Jeff Michaud at his in-laws in northern Italy

Jeff Michaud at his in-law's house in northern Italy

Where did the idea come from?
The initial idea came from Jeff Michaud, the James Beard award-winning chef at Osteria in Philadelphia. He thought his culinary romance in Italy would make a good read. And he has tons of great recipes. I came up with the title. It was inspired by Eataly, the high-end Italian food emporium that opened in Torino in 2007 (three years before the New York outpost).

So it’s a cookbook?
Yup. But it’s not a restaurant book. Some of the recipes are cheffy but others are casual weeknight dishes. For example, it takes three days to laminate the dough for Fig Strudel, but you can turn out Zucchini Flowers Stuffed with Ricotta and Tuna on a busy Wednesday night. Jeff’s cooking mirrors both his professional training and his family’s home cooking. His new family, that is. The family he married into in Italy.

He got married in Italy? What is a one-sentence synopsis of the book?
A cookbook and coming-of-age story in which a young chef falls in love with a country, a cuisine, and a woman.

How did the ghostwriting actually work?
Basically, it’s Jeff’s story and Jeff’s food. I just put everything into words. Which is no small feat. It’s sort of like acting. To rehearse my part, we went to Italy. I visited all the restaurants where Jeff cooked and cities where he had formative experiences (the book is organized by city). Jeff and I also cooked and talked in person, by phone, and over the Web to discuss everything about his life, culinary philosophy, and food. For the better part of a year, I got to live and write vicariously as someone else.

It took a year to write the book?
Roughly.

Are the recipes tested?
I personally tested all 125 recipes in the book. Check #eatingitaly on Instagram for iPhone pics.

What’s the coolest recipe?
Tough question. One of my favorites is the Whole Roasted Pig’s Head. My 10-year-old son ate the eyeballs! I also like the Pear and Treviso Salad with Taleggio Dressing. It’s a cool combination of flavors and textures. And using taleggio cheese in a creamy dressing is just badass. Oh, and the Bonet. Holy shit is that good. It’s a rich, chocolate rum custard with a soft crust of crushed amaretti cookies and built-in sauce of dark, syrupy crème caramel. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Bonet - a traditional dessert from PIemonte (forgive the sub-par iPhone capture)

Bonet - a traditional dessert from Piemonte (forgive the sub-par iPhone capture)

Did you learn anything by writing the book?
I learned that it’s really creepy for a ghostwriter to write a sex scene. I also tested dozens of ravioli recipes and got pretty good at making homemade pasta.

Testing the recipe for potato gnocchi

Testing the recipe for potato gnocchi

Whoa – there’s a sex scene?
Well, it is partly a love story, after all. Every recipe chapter is set in a different city and opens with a continuation of the story. Here’s the opening scene of chapter three (not the sex scene), “Cene and Fiobbio: Farm to Table…Fifty Feet”

Our toes met under the table. Matteo and Claudia’s friends were drinking and laughing at the other end of the table. They seemed miles away. We were at The Tucans, an Irish bar just down the street from Piazza Vecchia, the main square of Bergamo’s medieval-looking old city on the hill. Claudia and I could barely communicate because I didn’t know much Italian and she didn’t know English, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of her olive-brown skin. We sipped Scotch across from each other and slipped off our shoes. She seemed to like me.

If the book became a movie, which actors would play the characters?
I would say Matt Damon to play Jeff Michaud, but Matt’s become too brutish as Jason Bourne in the spy-movie series. So I’m thinking…Chris Pine. And for Claudia…Sofía Vergara.

What else about this book might pique a reader’s interest?

Besides the love story, there’s a lot of food porn. Here’s a tease from “Alba: If You Can’t Smell The Truffles, You Must Be Dead”

Earthy, rich hazelnuts from Piemonte. Coarse ground polenta from Lombardia. Dark roasted coffee from Sicilia. Bracing black licorice from Puglia. At the Slow Food festival in Torino, every region of Italy has its own section. It’s like an Italian version of Disney’s Epcot Center but light-years better with food producers who actually live and work in that region. Claudia schooled me in each region. “Taste this,” she said holding out a slab of glistening, fatty porchetta from Lazio. And later a shard of savory pecorino from Sardinia. And then a sip of Jermann’s Vintage Tunina, a golden, honey-scented wine from Fruili. She wanted me to taste how Sardinian pecorino is less salty than Pecorino Romano. How olive oils from different parts of the country have completely different aromas.

Any other good snippets you can share?

Here’s part of “Barolo and Barbaresco: I Can’t See Through This Fog”

When you make a lunch reservation at Da Cesare, that could mean anywhere from noon to 3pm. He cooks when you show up. There is no menu because it changes every day. Except for the capretto and zabaione. Cesare always spit-roasts a baby goat over a wood fire outside the kitchen. And he always serves zabaione tableside from a big copper bowl with his famous hazelnut cookies, baked and served right in the hazelnut shells. I’ve tried to make those cookies a hundred times and still can’t get them right.

That fall, he started us off with his signature porcini and white peaches, thinly sliced and sautéed with a pan sauce of chicken stock, sherry vinegar, and cream. Next came a warm salad of duck breast with orange vinaigrette and local lettuces. Claudia licked her fork, and I could hear Cesare chopping the goat on his butcher block. The meat came to the table crispy but tender and drizzled only with herbed olive oil.

Spit-roasted goat at Da Cesare

Spit-roasted goat at Da Cesare

Yum. Is the book laminated to make it drool proof?

Good idea!

What else can you tell us about the book?

Well, it’s full recipes for what some call the world’s healthiest food. Check out this recent New York Times article on how the Mediterranean diet helps prevent heart attacks and strokes.

Ok, it’s time to tag some other authors. The Next Big Thing Blog Hop started with fiction writers, moved on to cookbook authors, and now includes a fitness writer. Check out what’s next from:

Selene Yeager, Bicycling magazine’s Fit Chick, author of Ride Your Way Lean, and one of my favorite ride buddies.

Raghavan Iyer, the emperor of Indian cooking, and author of 660 Curries, The Turmeric Trail, and Betty Crocker’s Indian Home Cooking.

Mark Bitterman, salt evangelist, chocolate connoisseur, and author of Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral, with Recipes.

Stephanie Stiavetti, media maven, cookbook author, and sharp-witted food writer featured on NPR, The Huffington Post, Serious Eats, Culinate and more.

Zeppole di San Giuseppe

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

For some reason, I’ve been frying lately. French fries. Battered fish. (It was just St. Patrick’s Day. Fish and chips seemed right.) But I also fried halved Brussels sprouts and tossed them in a sherry-balsamic reduction sauce flavored with sliced garlic and enriched with coconut butter. Yes, coconut butter. It was completely delicious. Last week, Fat Tuesday was also a great excuse to eat donuts. What’s with all the fat? It’s like March is National Fat Month. I’m not complaining. I fried again this morning. For breakfast, I made Zeppole di San Giuseppe, traditional Italian, crisp-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside fritters. The recipe is from my friend Nick Malgieri, a pastry guru who included these fritters in a story he wrote for Saveur’s March issue. Pick up an issue and try them. I’m not Catholic, but if the food is this good in heaven, I might convert.

The zeppole dough is piped onto parchment

The zeppole dough is piped onto parchment

You flip the dough and parchment into hot oil then peel off the paper and fry until golden brown

You flip the dough and parchment into hot oil then peel off the paper and fry until golden brown

Dust them in cinnamon sugar and they're irresistible. Even moreso with a sweetened ricotta filling.

Dust them in cinnamon sugar and they're irresistible. Even moreso with a sweetened ricotta filling.

Stray Dandelion Greens

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009
Dandelion Greens with Ginger, Soy, and Sesame

Dandelion Greens with Ginger, Soy, and Sesame

Last week, my mom watched our kids while Christine and I rode our bikes 540 miles from Burlington, VT to Palmerton, PA. On the ride, we ate voluminous quantities of French toast, pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, BBQ brisket, pork, turkey, and chicken, and we drank gallons of water, orange juice, Gatorade, coffee, pilsner, lager, IPA, and porter. All the food (and some of the drink) was donated by VFWs, Elks, American Legions, Ommegang Brewery and other community service organizations. It was amazing to feel the love and support of so many people in small towns down the East Coast, encouraging us to pedal on in our quest to raise money for cancer research and treatment. The Pennsylvania Perimeter Ride raised about $150,000 on this ride, bringing the total funds raised for the history of the ride to more than $1 million.

We settled into being home last Sunday, tired, sore, and delirious. As we rifled through the fridge to wrassle up some lunch, a few new vegetables appeared in the produce bins. “Hmm…I didn’t buy dandelion greens and turnips before we left,” I thought to myself. But there they were—all plump and beckoning. It seems my mom’s cruise last spring has had a lasting effect on her. In March, she went on a “wellness” cruise, and heard all about the benefits of a macrobiotic diet from health professionals like Dr. Neal Barnard. She’s eating waaaay more vegetables than she did before the cruise. And that’s a good thing.

Long after my mom drove home, I was staring at her leftover veggies in our fridge. Christine said, “What are these?” ogling what looked like peeled hardboiled eggs in a ziplock bag. “They’re turnips,” I said. She gave me a quizzical look and moved on to the pantry.

The turnips will last a few days, but the dandelion greens were starting to look sad today, so I made them into a side dish for lunch. Sure, it’s 87ºF outside and our house is made of brick (brick oven pizza anyone?), but this dish is so quick and easy, it won’t heat up the kitchen too much. It’s one of my favorite ways to prepare cooking greens—whether beet greens, chard, spinach, or dandelion greens. Saute some garlic and ginger in sesame oil, add the greens and a little soy sauce, then cook the greens until they just start to wilt. Scatter on sesame seeds and enjoy. For the dandelions, I added some honey to balance their bitterness. If you want it spicy, you can toss in some crushed red pepper, too.

Simple recipe, right? It takes less than five minutes and sure beats letting all those good greens go to waste.

Carbo-Lunching

Thursday, July 30th, 2009
The raw materials

The raw materials

I’m riding my bike in the Pennsylvania Perimeter Ride Against Cancer next week. 550 miles of hilly, gorgeous, pummeling terrain from Burlington, Vermont to Palmerton, Pennsylvania. I need carbs in my body now. Carbs that last. Oatmeal. Pasta. Whole grains. Mornings this week have been full of stick-to-your-gut cereals. Dinners have been all about height-of-summer vegetables  like fresh corn, zucchini, tomatoes, and peppers. Lunches have been pasta. Elbow macaroni with tuna and pesto yesterday. Spaghetti and meatballs the day before…whatever I can scrounge up in the kitchen. I usually only have about 20 minutes for lunch, so I pull together something quick from fridge leftovers, fresh vegetables, and pantry staples. Today, we had some leftover spaghetti, the last of the smoke-roasted peppers from a recent smoking session, and some grilled corn taken off the cob from last night’s dinner. Looks like lunch to me. I brown a little sausage in olive oil, add some garlic, the roasted peppers and corn, then toss in the spaghetti. Some fresh basil from the garden, a few fresh gratings of Pecorino Romano, and lunch is ready.

Spaghetti with Sausage, Smoke-Roasted Peppers, and Grilled Corn

Spaghetti with Sausage, Smoke-Roasted Peppers, and Grilled Corn

Some of the most satisfying meals are made this way. You look in your fridge. You look in your pantry. You check the freezer. You start tasting one ingredient along with another in your mind. The roasted peppers and grilled corn share a smoky sweetness — they’ll be perfect together. Over pasta? Sure, why not! Add some fennel-scented Italian sausage and the meal takes on depth. Basil and cheese round out the flavors and olive oil will add just a suggestion of sauce.

Satisfaction often comes by answering the question: what do I want to eat? Not just “what do I want to taste?” but “what does my body need?” Today, I needed carbs. I wanted a meal that didn’t take more than 15 minutes to make. I wanted to taste the bright flavors of summer, and I had a handful of leftovers. Spaghetti with Sausage, Roasted Peppers and Grilled Corn was the answer. I’m not going to write down the recipe because it’s just too simple.

Peppers smoke-roasted in my Texas smoker - I love the oil they exude when roasted

Red peppers smoke-roasted in my Texas smoker - I love the oil they exude when roasted


SEO Powered by Platinum SEO from Techblissonline