Where to begin . . .
Hello. This is Jerry and today I join the ranks of the other obsessive cooks making our way through 'Essentials'.
That was poetic. Or not.
Some initial thoughts? I LOVE Marcella. I have come to appreciate how she has tried to make Italian cooking accessible to North American cooks much the same way Julia Child did French cooking. I like the way Marcella provides great advice to the North American cook so that we can experience success with the recipes . . . can't find a particular ingredient in NA - this would be a good substitute. Sure, you may not end up with the same results as if you scouraged the market in a small idyllic Italian town but you're not in Italy are you? You might wish you were but reality is that you're in a suburb of Toronto and white truffles aren't to be found.
I've cooked Italian food for yonks. Seriously, it has probably been more than 40 years since I first grabbed a spoon and a spatula and helped Uncle Romolo work up a feast for the family. Uncle Romolo may be gone but his lessons for me are not - Italian food is simple, fresh, and comforting. Take that Olive Garden (AKA Italian Food HELL)!
Marcella is a master of this minimalistic technique.
This strikes home even more when one considers that Hazan was raised during the depression and the war. Readers of history know that these were particularly challenging years for those who were living in Italy. People made do with what they could find. Food wasn't wasted. Simple pleasures were what it was all about.
This recipe is a perfect example of this. Five ingredients - mushrooms, lemon juice, parmesan cheese, olive oil. Top with some salt (I left this out) and freshly ground pepper and you're good. The recipe has white truffles as an option. I've eaten white truffles in Piemonte when they are in season. They are DIVINE. I would have loved to have added white truffles to this dish but they were not to be found.
I wrote Hazan to see about substituting black truffles instead. She promptly wrote back:
This definitely is not white truffle season, and even if it were you might have second thoughts about using them, considering the price they now bring. The thing about white truffles is the aroma, there is nothing else like it, and black truffles don’t come anywhere near it. If you read the headnote, it tells you to skip the truffles if they are not available (or too expensive). If you use the right olive oil (see the headnote) and a good parmigiano-reggiano the result will still be delicious.
Classic Hazan. Use fresh, local ingredients, and enjoy the joy that simplicity brings to your plate!
We had this salad for dinner tonight - it was a Good Friday treat. It was brilliant. Because there are so few ingredients you want to use the best ingredients - no cheap olive oil and crap Wisconsin parmesan cheese ('how can that even be allowed?' he wonders allowed . . .) here. Use the best ingredients that you can find and your taste buds will sing . . .
Oh Marcella, I am gonna LOVE cooking my way through your cookbook!