It is so heartening for the three co-hosts of this new foodie book club, Cook the Books, to see our idea take off. Johanna at Food Junkie first suggested this kind of global foodie book club, where readers would all read one book and then discuss it and cook up something inspired from its pages. Deb from Kahakai Kitchen and I, Rachel the Crispy Cook, were excited to join her in planning our first book pick and how we would operate this book club from our respective “cucinas” in Athens, Greece, Honolulu, Hawaii and Upstate New York, USA.
The inaugural book selection for Cook the Books has been Lily Prior’s first novel, “La Cucina: A Novel of Rapture”, which proved to be a saucy and steamy tale of passion, food, family and lots of tasty Sicilian cooking. We received a lot of comments about the book. Some loved it, some thought some of the scenes were over-the-top, some enjoyed certain passages and characters more than others. All agreed that the book inspired lots of creativity in the kitchen and led us to consult our cookbooks, cupboards and markets in order to cook something as magical as we found in Ms. Prior’s prose.
Below you will find a roundup of recipes from four continents (Europe, Asia, Australia and North America) and seven countries (The Philippines, Canada, Greece, Italy, the United States, Australia, and Great Britain). Our featured author, Lily Prior, has graciously agreed to pick the winning entry from these delectable blog posts, which will be announced shortly. Because this is the first Cook the Books pick, Deb, Johanna and I want to abstain from being considered, although we are delighted to share our book musings and inspirational recipes below.
I have enjoyed serving as the first host of Cook the Books, and will now be turning over the reins to Deb as our next host. She has promised to reveal her foodie book pick after we announce the winning La Cucina entry.
On to our Sicilian feast, which I have arranged in traditional eating order. Pour yourself a glass of red wine, tuck a napkin onto your lap (you may drool) and get ready for a sumptuous array:
Our first stop is in the English kitchen of Foodycat, an Australian transplant who is quite an adventurous cook. In this last month alone she has blogged about haggis, goat curry, duck cassoulet and quince linzertorte. For her La Cucina entry, Foodycat decided on an antipasto spread where she furnished homemade Fungi Sott’olio (Mushrooms Pickled in Olive Oil and Vinegar), Salami, Caponata, and Fried Caciocavallo Cheese on Rustic Bread, paired with a white Fiano wine. She capped off this spread of Sicilian delights by baking up a batch of Pine Nut and Chocolate Macaroons.
PIATTI DI UOVA
Cook the Book Co-Host Deb of Kahakai Kitchen in Honolulu took time out from strolling along the beach (actually she’s had an enormously busy schedule lately), to cook up Uovo Sode con Salsetta (Fried Hard-Boiled Eggs in a Saffron Onion Sauce) from Carol Field’s “Nonna’s Kitchen”. Deb chose to make an egg dish because of the symbolism involved in Rosa’s rebirth and renewal in our featured novel and the dish certainly looks lovely and tasty.
PRIMI PIATTI: PASTA
The evocative scenes of Rosa infusing her emotions into the preparation of food, and in particular, in preparing pasta dough, inspired several Cook the Books readers to pull out their rolling pins and pasta machines to make sumptuous homemade fresh pasta.
Natashya of Living in the Kitchen with Puppies in Ontario, Canada, provided us with a sample of her mad kitchen skills by slow kneading her dough, drying it on her homemade pasta rack (a gift from her appreciative husband) and then bathing it in a spicy Tomato and Cremini Mushroom Sauce. Sounds divine. And please excuse me for a moment, as I replace my drool napkin.
Our next taste of pasta comes from the Philippines, where Ning of Heart and Hearth prepared Sicilian Style Spaghetti with Lots of Garlic and Meat. Ning notes that spaghetti is usually considered a children’s dish in Filipino culture, served saucy and sweet with perhaps an addition of sliced hot dogs. She decided to cook her homemade pasta in the way that L’Inglese served it to Rosa, with a tomato sauce heavily seasoned with garlic and meat.
On the island of Crete, Maria of Organically Cooked used kitchen alchemy to transform part of garden gift of an enormous pumpkin into luscious homemade Gnocchi and Fettuccine. Her cute kids ate their pasta simply with some grated Parmesan, but Maria and her husband dined more sumptuously on Pasta alla Puttanesca. Hopefully he appreciated her “orgiastic frenzy” in the kitchen.
Back to a colder climate in New York, where we visit Arlene’s food blog, The Food of Love, and enjoy a meal of Cavatelli with Bolognese Sauce. After reading about the scene where Rosa makes herself a snack of fried Caciocavallo cheese, Arlene went on a protracted, multi-state hunt for this Sicilian cheese, determined to add it to her “arsenal of the foods of love”. She was not disappointed and grated some on top of her Cavatelli and grilled another precious bit into a Ciabatta Panini with Sopressata and Caponata.
Our pasta sampler continues as Cook the Books Co-Host Johanna of Food Junkie in Athens, Greece provides a slice of her delicious Timballo. Rosa makes this special dish for L’Inglese when she wants to impress him during their first meal together. Johanna’s Timballo is a splendid mixture of chicken livers, macaroni, white wine and prosciutto in rich tomato sauce, baked in between layers of pastry.
Our final taste of pasta comes from a sunnier part of the USA, Ventura County, California, where Judy of Gross Eats showed us a different way to roll and cut homemade pasta. She rolled her sheets of dough into logs and then sliced them into coins that unfurled into pasta ribbons. The cooked pasta was topped with a Meaty Tomato Sauce and paired with Spinach with Red Pepper Flakes. MMMmmmm.
****Mango Missives had a little computer glitch which prevented her pasta dish from arriving at our table on time, but I thought I would include it since we seem to have a few extra chairs hanging around. Ms. Mango was inspired by “La Cucina” to pore through Wanda and Giovanna Tornabene’s “Sicilian Home Cooking” and prepare a batch of Fettucine with Yellow Peppers. Isn’t that a lovely addition to our feast?
SECONDI DI PESCE
Rachel, The Crispy Cook, in Upstate New York, provides the “sole” fish course in our La Cucina menu. Rachel is one of the three founders of Cook the Books and is the present host. She made Tonno alla Siracusa, inspired by the passage in the book where Rosa and L’Inglese escape for a romantic interlude at a friend’s villa. Tuna steaks are stuffed with garlic slivers and spices and then braised in a wine-enriched tomato sauce.
SECONDI DI CARNE
We must jet off to Sydney, Australia for our meat course at Suzie’s cucina, Munch+Nibble. Suzie took her cooking cues from the scene in the book where Rosa searches for her lover at the abandoned villa and prepares Braciolettine. Without a specific recipe to follow, Suzie prepared thin slices of beef rolled up into pinwheels with Pecorino cheese and hot salami, skewered and baked the lot, and then served them over a tomato sauce studded with raisins and toasted pine nuts. Very impressive.
**We have a late entry to include in our meat course from Cat of The Cat’s Pajamas in Kansas, USA. Thanks for joining us, Cat; we always have room at the table for more (people AND food, that is!). Cat showed up to our feast in her cute pink pajamas bearing a delectable Pancetta-Wrapped Pork Loin served over Cheesy Polenta.
I hope you have all saved some room for sampling our dessert cart.
From New York City, Vittoria of Deliciously Gluten-Free provides a slice of Torta di Ricotta. This lemony ricotta confection is similar to cheesecake and was inspired by a passage in the book where Rosa describes it as having a “golden, angel-scented crust”. Vittoria’s photo surely looks heavenly, with a drizzle of pomegranate molasses over it.
We end our La Cucina feast appropriately enough in Sicily, in the City of Modica, where Katia gives us each a Mustazzioli Cookie. Katia’s LoveSicily blog and website describes the culture and food of Sicily and the Sicilian culinary tours offered by Katia and her husband. Mustazzioli Cookies, made of honey, ground almonds, flour and cinnamon, are what young Rosa bakes up to work out her grief over her grandfather’s death and seem a perfect ending point for our La Cucina feast. Well, maybe I’ll just have a little glass of that Passitto di Pantelleria wine to top it all off.
I hope all our Cook the Books have enjoyed reading “La Cucina” and cooking up Italian and Sicilian marvels as much as Deb, Johanna and I. As mentioned above, author Lily Prior will be stopping by to see what we cooked up and we’ll announce our first Cook the Books winner shortly. We will bestow a badge to our winning cook-writer and will add them to the Cook the Books blogroll. Rachel will also be sending the winner a cookbook from her used and rare bookstore as a little extra bonus.
Thank you to all our Cook the Books readers and cooks for joining our first venture. We are grateful for all your efforts in helping launch our new book club. If you enjoyed “La Cucina”, perhaps you would also like to read one of Ms. Prior’s other novels, “Cabaret”, “Nectar”, or “Ardor”.