I was not a volunteer on the Pomodori e Vino blog. Rather, I was conscripted by Deborah in May 2010 when an original member had to drop out. I had already made comments on the blog revealing that I possessed a copy of Marcella's book, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. I was intrigued by the project; had already met Jerry, Sandi, Jan and Palma at Slow Travel GTGs in Toronto and North Carolina; and thought it would be a great way of expanding my culinary horizons.
But I must confess that I was a bit intimidated. I had only prepared one of my assigned recipes previously and several of them called for unfamiliar ingredients or implements. I would never consider myself more than an enthusiastic cook and I knew that at least some of my cohorts are very accomplished and expert in the kitchen. Plus, I wasn't really a great fan of Italian cooking. Most of my travels in Europe have been based in France, that most civilized country - and my culinary interests, such as they were, centred around French cooking.
Early on, I decided to conclude my account of preparing each recipe by addressing three issues:
1. What I liked about the recipe.
2. What I didn't like about the recipe.
3. Would I make it again?
I thought such an approach would keep me honest about the recipe and might be of some assistance to followers of the blog. It was the best decision I could have made.
How is my life different from having participated in this project?
• I don't skip over a recipe because it might seem a bit complicated or call for a novel ingredient.
• I am a familiar face in some specialty food stores in the Ottawa area.
• I do more shopping at butcher shops.
• I assemble all the ingredients for a recipe in front of me before starting.
• I plan my garden with specific recipes in mind.
• I prepare many more meals than before.
• I use the "Defrost" setting on the microwave much less often.
• I am much more confident in the kitchen.
Those are a few of the more obvious changes, but I know it goes deeper than that.
Recipe prepared most often:
Stuffed Spaghetti Frittata with Tomato, Mozzarella and Ham. This is a great recipe, a favourite with friends and family - quick and easy and delicious. Everybody asks for the recipe.
Sunchoke and Spinach Salad. I had difficulty obtaining the sunchokes - Jerry came to my rescue. I have planted sunchokes on my property. This simple recipe was my favourite salad.
Shrimp with Tomatoes and Chili Pepper. Easy to prepare with my favourite shellfish as the main ingredient.
Fricasseed Chicken with Rosemary and Lemon Juice. Now I much prefer starting with a whole chicken, fresh from a butcher shop, rather than parts wrapped in plastic and laying on a styrofoam tray.
Veal Scaloppine in Parchment with Fontina Cheese. Sure to impress, this is the first recipe I prepared that I thought approached a professional standard.
Tuscan Meat Roll with White Wine and Porcini Muchrooms. A big leap up from the humble meat loaf - economical, easy to prepare and a great result.
Crisp Fried Zucchini Blossoms. A seasonal treat not to be missed. The main reason to plant zucchinis in my garden.
Eggplant Patties with Parsley, Garlic and Parmesan. Another summer treat using fresh produce from my garden.
Diplomatico - A Chocolate Dessert with Rum and Coffee. A great dessert, as good or better than the best you can recall. Guaranteed.
Frozen Tangerine Shells Filled with Tangerine Sorbet. This takes a while and requires an ice cream maker, but the final result is well worth the time and effort.
When I joined this group I owned Marcella's book, but I had never really heard of her. I had no idea of the place that Marcella Hazan occupies in the pantheon of cooking icons. A couple of weeks ago I read her memoir, Amarcord and got a better understanding of the person behind the inspiration for this project and her generally positive comments on this blog.
Thank you, Marcella, for your faithful attention to our efforts.
And thank you to all those who have contributed comments.
And thank you to Beth, Irene, Cindy, Sandi, Jan, Jerry, Palma, Kim - my fellow travelers on this journey.
And thank you, especially, to Deborah who invited me along for the ride.