About Beth

Beth
Beth, along with her husband, Mike, is co-owner of two Italian Deli/Markets in St. Louis - Viviano’s Festa Italiano. When not creating yummy new menu items for the deli, she’s the pediatric research lab supervisor at Washington University School of Medicine. Read more out about Viviano’s Festa Italiano.

About Irene

Irene
Irene loves to think, read and dream about food. She enjoys cooking & eating in general. Although she demures about her talents, Irene has a finely-tuned palate that her friends envy. She bakes on occasion. The rest of the time she's creating memories with her family and friends. . . or she's learning a new needlecraft technique.

About Deborah

Deborah
Deborah is a wife, mother, grandmother, traveler, bootlegger, and a very poor speller! As Victor Hazan so eloquently puts it, Deborah has chosen Umbria to be the home of her soul. When she can’t be there in body, she spends her free time cooking & reading about Italy. She blogs mostly about food and about trips – past and future – here: Old Shoes New Trip.

About Doug

Doug
Doug lives in Eastern Ontario in a farmhouse built in 1903. He is a retired teacher with four adult children, a wife, a son-in-law, two Irish step-grandchildren and one grandson who he is lucky to hang with a lot. He has way too many books. Doug also blogs at To Slow Time Down.

About Cindy

Cindy
Cindy lives in Eagle River, Alaska where her freezer is always full of salmon, halibut & shrimp. Cindy participates in several regular cooking challenges. You can read more about her cooking and life in the last frontier on her blog, Baked Alaska.

About Sandi

Sandi
Sandi is a true Southerner, but a traveler & Italian cook at heart. She lives in Alabama and knows more about fried green tomatoes than fricassees. Her family owned the WhistleStop Café for many years. Sandi also blogs at Whistlestop Cafe Cooking.

About Jan

Jan
Jan, a serious home cook, has owned “Essentials” since 1992. She is passionate about all things Italian, especially the cuisine & the language. Jan blogs about her travels (next trip Italy May/June of 2010) at: Keep your Feet in the Street.

About Jerry

Jerry
Jerry is a food obsessed Canadian. He learned to love Italian food as a child while eating the meals prepared by his Napolitano uncle. He learned to cook Italian foods by watching his uncle cook these feasts for the family. This love of Italian food has been honed through serious personal experimentation in eating and cooking. Willing to try most anything once, Jerry isn't so sure about tripe! Jerry also blogs at Jerry's Thoughts, Musings, and Rants!

About Palma

Palma
Palma is a Marriage & Family Therapist in Palm Desert, CA. She’s an Italian-American with a passion for cooking, entertaining, & travel to Italy. She’s always planning her next culinary adventure to Italia on her blog, Palmabella's Passions

About Kim

Kim
Kim is our permanent sub and the image above gives you a good idea of the look on her face when she realized she was drafted. Kim loves to eat, drink, travel and cook - probably in that order. When she's not here, you can find her organizing and leading food, wine and beer tours in Europe as co-owner and operator of GrapeHops or blogging at What I Really Think.

« Irene's Final Thoughts | Main | Notes from a conscript »

"Amarcord" From the Tuesday Pomodori

I am more than a little amazed we actually accomplished this. What started as an impulsive suggestion has turned into one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

Marcella Hazan is one of my few culinary heros. I have two copies of Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. A stained and dog-eared one I've been using for years, and one I bought new when we began the project so I could send it to her for an autograph.

When the suggestion was made that we cook our way through Essentials, my immediate reaction was horror. Horror at the idea that we would be compared to a certain self-absorbed basket case who made a name for herself by stumbling through another well known cookbook.

I'm so grateful to my partners in this project. They all agreed that If we were going to do this thing, we wanted it to be about the process, not about our own personal dramas. We wanted this challenge to be an educational experience.

Most of all, we just wanted to remind as many people as we could that before there was a Food Network creating instant celebrities; before there were classically trained chefs building signature restaurants in Las Vegas; before cooking became a sport -- there was a woman who married a man who loved food. A woman who did the best she could to bring the cooking of her home country to a strange city in order to feed her husband well. And as it turned out, a woman who ended up teaching America what real and authentic Italian cooking was supposed to be. Marcella may have been knighted in Italy, but she is America's national treasure.

We set only two rules because we knew we weren't good at following them. Those two simple rules proved to be what pulled us out of our comfort zones and by doing so shaped the character of our blog.

Rule Number One: We were to follow the recipes exactly. No changes of any kind. That deceptively simple rule caused mighty consternation for a bunch of self-described "acomplished home cooks". We each trusted our own tastes and were all quite comfortable tinkering with recipes. But by following that rule, we learned a lesson about the art in cooking. It is just as much about what you don't put in a dish as what you do.

Michelanglo's David is a masterpiece - not because of the stone you see, but because of the stone you don't see. His talent was in knowing what to remove.

If Marcella tells me to peel a bell pepper before cooking, its because her talent is knowing the skin couldn't be part of the masterpiece.

Rule Number Two: - we would take the recipes in order - forced every one of us out of our comfort zones. Of the 62 recipes I was responsible for, only a handful were regular favorites I had cooked before. Some of them intimidated me. Some of them just didn't appeal. But not having a choice was very liberating.

I passed up the Risotto with Celery page in the book for years. When it ended up on my list I turned up my nose. The idea of making plain old celery the star of a risotto dish just sounded ridiculous to me. It appears my attitude was what was ridiculous. I've made it repeatedly since I was forced to on July 27th.

18essentials4.jpg

Another dish that I would have never cooked had it not been assigned was Frittata with Pasta. I seriously wondered if Marcella had thrown that recipe into the book to see if anyone was paying attention. But now? Well, if there was a picture in the dictionary next to the term "comfort food", it would be this!

22essentials4.jpg

When I discovered I had not one but three squid recipes, I considered trying to renegotiate the rule. I hated squid. In my experience, squid was deep fried, greasy rubber bands that tasted of stale oil. I made my first squid recipe, a soup with artichokes. It was tender and delicious. Next came Halibut over Squid Sauce. Quite nice. And then, one of my favorite recipes of the entire 62 weeks. Squid with Porcini Mushrooms Stuffing. This dish is now one of my food daydreams.

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As it turns out, we did have to break the no switching rule. But we did it because Doug found he absolutely could not locate a key ingredient where he lived. So he and I traded back-to-back recipes and I ended up on a wonderful quest to find fresh caul for Grilled Pork Liver Wrapped in Caul.

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But what was my favorite dish out of the entire 62? How could I even choose? As I sat here writing it turned out to be an easy choice. It was Red and Yellow Bell Pepper Sauce with Sausages , the dish that combined the adventure of making something that seemed impossible happen with the chance to give back to Marcella and Victor. It was the dish that sent me all over The Hill neighborhood looking for something that didn't exist until I insisted - sweet Italian pork sausage with only salt and pepper.

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What do I consider to be the highlight of the last 62 weeks? That's an easy one. Dan and I had the great pleasure of meeting Marcella and Victor last January when we were graciously invited to there home for dinner. What an honor sharing a table with Victor & Marcella; enjoying a meal prepared by her hands. It was something I could never have dreamed when we began this delightful journey.

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Another unexpected, yet cherished result of this project is Marcella's wonderful husband and writing partner, Victor Hazan. His old world gallantry and witty writing make it a delight to open my email and find a new note, sharing a link to yet another wonderful online source for some delicacy. They are a perfect team.

Thank you, Marcella and Victor. Thank you for allowing us to intrude on your lives for 62 weeks. Thank you for generously embracing our project. We will be forever in your debt.

Comments (6)

David:

hear hear

jgk:

Big sigh, here.
All you write is s true.
Thanks for putting it into words, Deborah.

Ray Anne:

A beautiful, touching, insightful ode to the blog. One totally consistent with your postings throughout.

It's been a pleasure. Mine. Grazie.

jane:

Deborah, thank you for having the vision to embark on this journey you carried so many of us through. I am going to miss the postings but, I will be returning to them time and again for a new idea when the question of what to have for dinner pops up. I suspect for you and the others, there will now be a hole in your lives--a void that needs to be filled. I'm pretty sure you will find a way.

Beautifully expressed Deborah, I am not surprised.

I think my favorite posts of yours were the quest for the sausage and caul fat. You are a very resourceful woman!

Thank you for taking me on this journey, albeit as an observer. I have enjoyed every day of it. I would also like to express my admiration for the "rules" of this project and to all the Pomodori for respecting and adhering to them.

Victor and Marcella look great and so do you! I miss those classes, one of the most rewarding experiences of Mark's and my lives. Calle della Testa just isn't the same...

Irene:

Love the picture of the Caul! That's a good picture of Victor, you and Marcella also.

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The previous post in this blog was Irene's Final Thoughts.

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