“Tick! Smiley Face!” – With Marcella #106 & #107 (of 466)

It all began with Nigella and Anna.

As I began to work through Nigella Lawson’s ‘Kitchen’ and Anna Del Conte’s ‘Classic Italian Recipes’, I would tick the recipe I had completed and if I felt it deserved it, I’d give it a smiley face. With both books the smiley face became somewhat redundant. With the exception of two or three recipes between them, every recipe worked and tasted good.

But the phrase ‘Tick! Smiley Face!’ has stuck.

Last night, I had the delight of cooking dinner for, and eating dinner with, my brother and his two kids – my lovely niece and nephew. I had the added delight of dropping in to the shop where my nephew has begun an apprenticeship as a butcher, and ordering the meat for that night’s dinner. He served me with good manners and attentiveness. I, apparently, managed not to embarrass him in the process. It was definitely a ‘proud aunty’ moment!

Later, as we ate together, my nephew declared the dish to be a definite ‘Tick! Smiley Face’.

After dinner all four of us danced, sang, even harmonised, to ‘Stayin’ Alive’. A priceless moment of memories created!

Earlier that week, I’d also tried another of Marcella’s frittata recipes with another good friend. We didn’t, alas, do any dancing or singing to music of any kind. But I’m around these parts for a while, so there’s still time.

For those readers who love a good photo – or any photo, really – I’m delighted to present a photo sent in by one of your fellow readers, and friend of mine, who has been perfecting Marcella’s ‘Piedmontese Almond Biscuits’. Nicoleta was among the group of women who first sampled these biscuits. You can read about that past sampling back in this previous post, written back in the dim and distant days of recipe #9 (of 466).

Here’s her beautiful photo – where she has nicely coordinated the colour of the plate with the tablecloth:

Nicoleta's Repeat Attempt of Marcella's Piedmontese Almond Biscuits

Nicoleta’s Repeat Attempt of Marcella’s Piedmontese Almond Biscuits

Last Week: #106 ‘Frittata with Courgettes and Basil’ with Lois at my table.

Last Night: #107 ‘Pan-Fried Beef Steaks, Cacciatora Style’ with my Brother, Nephew and Niece at their table.

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With Marcella #1 (of 466)

At my table I am unsure if I am breaking my own rules. If I am, I am unsure if I care. Tonight I have embarked on a new project, cooking the first of 466 recipes in Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.

Should I finish Nigella Lawson’s Kitchen before embarking on another book? After 100 recipes (of 153) I ran out of steam. But I did reach a milestone.

Should I finish Anna Del Conte’s Classic Italian Recipes? I’ve cooked 49 recipes (of 75) – so I haven’t even reached a neat 50.

Could I do some ‘cross-crediting’ where Anna’s recipes overlap with Marcella’s (and Nigella draws from both their kitchens)? Or would that really be breaking the rules?

I am concerned – but not enough to stop myself beginning a new project. I’ve taken time to count the recipes. I am more than a little alarmed by the chapter entitled ‘Variety Meats’ which contains 11 recipes requiring the use of animal parts I would rather not use.

But I started, tonight, with ‘A Farm Wife’s Fresh Pear Tart’. It was simple, yet lovely. Thinly sliced pears in a light sponge batter. It was a reassuring place to start. Marcella claimed that ‘only an active campaign of sabotage could ruin it.’ I did burn the top a little, leaving it in a little too long – but I was writing an email to an Italian woman – so perhaps I get bonus points?

Who knows what rules apply here – maybe none? But I will start and see if I can finish – or maybe, in the end, be satisfied that I almost finished.

No makings of a movie here. But hopefully the makings of some stories and some moments around tables.

Tonight: #1 ‘A Farm Wife’s Fresh Pear Tart’ with Helen at my table.

A Letter to Nigella

5th February, 2014

Dear Nigella,

Last night I completed the 100th recipe from your ‘Kitchen’ cookbook. Actually, I completed the 98th, 99th and 100th recipe – but that is beside the point.

For the last two years, I have been slowly working my way through your cookbook – not chronologically – but as the occasion required and my mood (and pantry) dictated.

I don’t pretend to know you well. But I have your book and have so appreciated your work there-in – and now feel I know the book quite well!

I don’t know of any other cookbook on my shelf (apart from one of Anna Del Conte’s whose work you recommend*) that consistently and reliably delivers excellent results. I have found no errors or missing instructions and, more importantly, your recipes have never failed – giving me continued confidence to cook each new recipe. Your occasional reassuring comments along the way have also kept me company on this culinary adventure.

In time I intend to cook all the recipes in the book, but wanted to write to you on this auspicious occasion. Last night, your ‘Sherry-glazed Chorizo’, ‘Texas Brisket’ and ‘Rice Krispie Brownies’ (an unusual menu, I admit) were enjoyed by five guests at my table – one of them the Australian Ambassador to this fine country. They were delighted to be part of the ‘milestone’ event and asked that I send their greetings and expressions of appreciation!

In my work as the Women’s Minister in a local church, a great deal of my time with women is spent around my dining table and coffee table. I believe whole-heartedly in the importance of modelling simple hospitality to women who often feel daunted by the prospect. This particular cookbook of yours has suited perfectly as a companion in this cause.

For an ‘intergenerational soiree’ – the ‘Lemon Polenta Cake’; for a table of widows and older single women – the ‘Greek Lamb Chops with Lemon and Potato’; for three young medical students – the ‘Mexican Lasagne’; for two women undergoing breast cancer treatment and unable to cook for their families – tubs of ‘Barbecue Beef Mince’, ‘Cheesy Chilli’ and a pot of ‘Spring Chicken’; for a few of the countless one-to-one meals I’ve had in order to get to know the 130 (or so) women in the church – the ‘Indian-rubbed Lamb Chops’, ‘Roast Duck Legs and Potatoes, ‘Sweet Potato Supper’ and ‘Lamb with Rosemary and Port’; for two gatherings of women in the workplace – the ‘Venetian Lasagne’ and ‘Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic’. Each of the 100 recipes I’ve cooked represent significant encounters with women and the highs and lows of their lives.

At one stage in the process, personally, I had cause to cook your ‘Date Steak’, only to be later faced with reality of taking solace in your ‘Lone Linguine’. In the midst of these and many other changes, I’ve found comfort in the unending and unfailing love of God. But, alongside that, I want to encourage you that your recipes have been a constant companion and comfort to me as they have created meaningful (and tasty!) spaces to connect with women facing their own challenges.

With much appreciation,

* I’ve cooked 50 of Anna’s 75 ‘Classic Italian Recipes’ – and will write to her anon!