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Archive | May 24th, 2014

Author Leon’s ‘Brunetti’s Cookbook’ a Mystery Lover’s Find

Author Leon’s ‘Brunetti’s Cookbook’ a Mystery Lover’s Find

Those who are passionate about serious detective fiction (the kind without cats as main characters) know the name Donna Leon as one of the best writers around. Set in Venice, Italy, her books are literate and witty. Her main character, Commissario Guido Brunetti, is very smart, a crack investigator with a quiet, inexorable approach to taking down killers.

Brunetti's Cookbook coverBrunetti also has some endearing traits — and the one that endears him to foodies is that he (and his family) savors the simple but deftly created meals that come from his wife Paola’s kitchen. Literal-minded, intellectual and outspoken, Paola is also a university professor — and suffers no fools gladly.

Leon was born in the United States, but has lived in Venice for decades. So, her award-winning Brunetti series is grounded in her direct experience of the fascinating city. Yes, it is known for its history, architecture, winding canals and boats and corner shops offering the best of Italian pastries and espresso, seasonal food and a strong culinary culture.

She also mixes in the blemishes that tourist brochures avoid: the garbage that floats in the canals, the mobs of unruly tourists and the tacky shops that cater to them. But most of all, crime.

The mobsters, murderers, serial killers and others who make up the bad guys in this vividly and intelligently written series would seem to be so rampant as to require a small army to keep them at bay. And Guido Brunetti, a sort of one-man army against this lot in Venice, can’t fight on an empty stomach.

Brunetti's Cookbook illusNevertheless, says Leon in the first of six essays included in the book, she never intended to write a cookbook — her characters ate the way Italians eat, with an expectation that the food would be excellent and meals luxurious.

“Though many Italians have read the books and remarked on them to me over the years, none has ever mentioned the presence of food: For them, as for me, Brunetti’s meals are simply a part of the received culture. How would people be expected to eat?” she says.

“Brunetti’s Cookbook,” (Atlantic Monthly Press, $24.95) is the second printing of the book, which originally was published in Great Britain in 2010 as “A Taste of Venice: At Table with Brunetti.”

So, while the book is not a new release, the recipes, the stories and charming color illustrations by Tatajana Hauptmann are timeless. The recipes are accompanied by text from Leon’s novels and the recipes were created by Roberta Pianaro.

I didn’t know this book existed until I had read many of the books in Leon’s Brunetti series. The recipes sounded simple and every book had me convinced I’d soon be making such wonders as Paola’s Seafood Antipasto, or Monkfish Cutlets with Peppers or Risotto with Squash Blossoms and Ginger.

One day, while reading, it occurred to me that of course, someone must have thought to present a cookbook project to the author. And if not, I’d be the one to do it. I went to Amazon and there it was: A cookbook embracing all of that beautiful food and also quite wonderful — excerpts from the books to accompany them, to provide context for many of the dishes and to display samples of Leon’s writing prowess.

It was hard to choose just a few recipes to share, too. But I chose them based on what I’d found most enticing. And yes, I still plan to cook them.

If you wish to enter into Brunnetti’s world, I’d suggest finding the book list for Leon’s series, start with No. 1 and make your way through the two dozen or so books. Another suggestion: Don’t chomp your way through these carefully crafted police procedurals, take your time — there is much to savor!

Recipes:

Chicken Breasts with Artichokes (Petto di pollo al carciofi)

Swordfish with Savoury Breadcrumbs (Pesce spada al pangrattato saporito)

Risotto with Squash Blossoms and Ginger (Risotto di fiori di zucca e zenzero)

 

Posted in Cookbooks, WalkerSpeak2 Comments

Farmers Markets Have Found Their Foothold in SA

Farmers Markets Have Found Their Foothold in SA

The array of foods at farmers markets has grown.

The array of foods at farmers markets has grown.

Ten years ago, San Antonio’s idea of a farmers market was little more than a roadside stand with some fruits and vegetables out of the back of a pickup truck. There were some exceptions, such as the Saturday get-together in the Olmos Basin, where you could get fresh eggs and even some exotic items mixed in with the usual array of zucchini, squash and beans as well as the ever-popular tomatoes and peaches.

Red and white onions at the Pearl Market.

But the audience was small. That would change within five years, when the Pearl Farmers Market opened. It wasn’t just the market and the initial wave of interest in the renovation project that had begun at the once-abandoned brewery. People’s eating habits had begun to change. They wanted something fresher, more organic and different from what they could get at most supermarkets.

Beets at the Quarry Market.

Beets at the Quarry Market.

But they got more than that. They found ranchers selling grass-fed beef as well as humanely raised pork and chicken. They found local bakers, a local chocolatier, winemakers, a bee keeper with raw local honey and Sandy Oaks with its locally produced olive oil. There were also food vendors, herb growers, musicians, cooking events and plenty of dogs, all of which made the Pearl a destination on Saturday mornings.

Suddenly, it was easy to see that the brightest and best flavors for you to put on your table could be bought year-round from your very own region. Within a short time, leeks, pattypan squash, fennel, daikon radish, kohlrabi, an assortment of mushrooms, purple carrots and okra, candy stripe beets and baby artichokes all came to be a part of what’s grown in the region and offered at the markets.

Dogs and farmers markets go together.

Dogs and farmers markets go together.

Other markets have joined the scene, but perhaps none has made as much an impact as the Quarry Farmers and Ranchers Market, which celebrated its third anniversary recently. This Sunday morning spot, in the parking lot of the Quarry shopping center at 255 E. Basse Road, has a decidedly different vibe and yet it offers many of the same items, from fresh produce and local baked goods to live music and food treats. With more than 30 booths, the array is rich, whether you’re looking for seasonal fruits, vegetables and herbs, locally raised meats or locally processed foods.

So, whether you shop on Saturday or Sunday, at the Pearl or the Quarry or any of the other markets in the region, you have greater choices for eating healthier than ever before, thanks to the growth of farmers markets in the area.

Bakers have become a market fixture.

Bakers have become a market fixture.

The Pearl Farmers Market

The Pearl Farmers Market

Posted in In Season2 Comments

Risotto with Squash Blossoms and Ginger

Risotto with Squash Blossoms and Ginger

Brunetti's Cookbook illusSquash blossoms are another item that will be in season soon, and a great place to find them is in farmers markets. This is an unusual recipe for risotto and it would be good with either of the other two recipes we’ve shared from “Brunetti’s Cookbook.”

Risotto with Squash Blossoms and Ginger

3/4 pound squash blossoms

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 shallots, finely chopped

1 teaspoon salt

2 crushed chicken bouillon cubes

2 tablespoons fresh ginger root, peeled and grated

1 3/4 cups risotto rice, such as Arborio, Carnaroli, Vialone Nano

1 ounce butter

1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Wash the squash blossoms. Keep the pistils and cut the petals. Heat the oil in a non-stick casserole and fry the shallots lightly together with the salt and 2 tablespoons of water. When transparent, add the squash blossoms and pistils and 1 cup water and cook for 15 minutes. Add the crushed stock cubes and 1 teaspoon of the ginger. Add the rice and cook, adding 4 cups of boiling water, 1 cup at a time. Cook for 20-30 minutes until al dente, then add the remaining ginger and mix well. Add the butter and Parmesan, and serve.

From “Brunetti’s Cookbook” by Donna Leon and Roberta Pianaro

 

 

 

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