A Farewell to Parms

For the first ten years of my life, my family lived in a quaint house on a quiet street – Rosedale Avenue. The downstairs did not have doors; instead, the complete circle of living room, den, kitchen, and dining room was divided by open doorways. Every Saturday night, my father would make some elaborate dish – often chicken parmesan. As Andrea Bocelli or another Italian divo crooned, smells of garlic, bay leaf, and a happily simmering tomato sauce would drift throughout the downstairs rooms. My mother made a similarly divine eggplant parmesan every once in a while, incorporating the same ingredients in a vegetarian option.

I absolutely adored my parents’ respective “Parmesan” recipes, but often bemoaned the hour at which they were finally served. After cooking out the sauce to perfection, breading the chicken and shallow frying it, melting the cheese under the broiler, and assembling the various elements, Saturday night dinner often did not begin before a spouse grew hungry, daughters cranky, and chef positively exhausted.

Like Ernest Hemingway’s writing style, this recipe takes the essential flavors and leaves out all things superfluous. It is minimalistic but still complete and complex. With only five basic ingredients, this ratatouille (and it’s very own cheesy carrying case) is still vibrant, colorful, and satisfying. As Hemingway used the omission technique to describe the relationship between Frederic and Catherine in A Farewell to Arms, this vegetable parmesan marries very few flavors (but encompasses all that is necessary to achieving the warm Italian dish).

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Ratatouille-Filled Parmesan Baskets

1/2 aubergine (eggplant)

1 courgette (zucchini)

1 red pepper

1 tbsp tomato paste

2 tbsp olive oil

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

Chives to garnish

Instruction:

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Grate a thin layer of parmesan cheese onto parchment paper (into a disk shape). Melt in oven, remove after about 4 minutes, immediately mold into small basket shape using espresso cup or shot glass. Let molded parmesan rest in dry, cool place until set.

2. Chop aubergine, pepper, and courgette into tiny cubes. Cook in olive oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Finish by binding all vegetables in tomato paste. Season with salt.

3. Let ratatouille cool. Serve in cooled Parmesan basket. Garnish with chives.

Enjoy vegetable parmesan with Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, and check in at warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

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Mushroom With a View

I have called Philadelphia home for my entire life. We’re known for our cheesesteaks and frightening sports fans, but the city has both historical and cultural charm, and the surrounding towns add to the richness of the area. The Main Line is studded with sweeping estates, renowned universities, and my beloved high school (where my love for literature flourished). Nearby is Kennett Square, the mushroom capital of the world. I wanted to take advantage of this incredible local commodity during my brief time at home this summer, so this dish is truly a celebration of where I’ve grown up and learned so much about classical literature.

I first read E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View during my final year of high school. I was in my seventh and final year at the Academy of Notre Dame, but it was the first time I truly felt the Main Line history surrounding me. English class was held in the mansion, the main and most beautiful building. Our campus had once been the grounds of a country estate, and the stone mansion’s wraparound terrace and sweeping great hall made class feel much more glamorous. After reading certain books, our universally adored teacher, Dr. Califf, would host movie nights in the old library. He’d project onto a large screen whichever film adaptation coincided with our curriculum. A Room With a View is one of the few works that I find equally enjoyable on screen and in print. Being able to discuss the text and watch the film inside the walls of a glorious Main Line estate only heightened the experience further. The film and book adaptations appeal to all the senses, transporting the consumer to both the bustling streets of Florence to the pleasant lawns of the English countryside. These stuffed mushrooms similarly engage the nose, eyes, and tongue. The stars of the show – the mushrooms – are only enhanced by surprising lemon and smokey bacon.

I can look back on home as the place that shaped my interests and education, and it is somewhere I can continue to return to enjoy the world’s most sought after mushroom (and the occasional cheesesteak).

SONY DSCStuffed Mushrooms:

20 or so button mushrooms

1/2 small onion, minced

3 strips bacon, diced

1/4 cup parsley, chopped

2 tbsp lemon juice

1/4 cup white wine

4 tbsps melted butter

Instruction:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash mushrooms and remove stems. Dice half the amount of mushrooms and set aside. In each whole mushroom, make a small well using a melon baller.

2. In sautee pan, cook diced bacon until crispy. Remove bacon to drain on paper towel but save about two tbsps of fat in pan.

3. Sweat onion in bacon fat. Add diced mushrooms and cook on medium-high heat until moisture has evaporated. Add lemon juice and white wine to pan, scraping up bits that have stuck to bottom. Cook until moisture has evaporated again, then add bacon back to pan and combine all ingredients.

4. Assembly: spoon about a teaspoon of mixture from the pan into the remaining mushrooms. Place stuffed mushrooms in baking pan with melted butter. Bake in oven for about twelve minutes, or until mushrooms are tender.

Enjoy stuffed mushrooms with E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews! 

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The Unbearable Lightness of Bean

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This past January, I moved to London with no acquaintances and – more importantly – no concrete housing plans. As a perpetual planner, this was a very uncharacteristic thing of me to do. The first month of my living in London was a mess of hotel hopping, a brief two-hour commute from a small English village, and almost winding up in a convent with a 9pm curfew. Exhausted, I finally came upon the dorm-style housing that would be my home for the next five months. The building was right next to a cafe that served a lovely Tuscan salad, and I fell so in love with the dish that I set out to recreate it.

One of the key themes in Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being is the uniqueness of a single life. The decisions we make and the experiences that come of those decisions are unable to be replicated, giving our individual lives a certain ‘lightness.’ I cannot exactly imitate the cafe’s Tuscan salad exactly, but the choices I make regarding the ingredients and their proportions achieve a different and unique dish.

This book was given to me by a very important person in my life – someone I would not have encountered were it not for my decision to ‘wing it’ with housing in my early days abroad. The novel follows four characters whose lives collide in different ways. Like the confetti of ingredients in this summer white bean salad, no single figure would play the same role without the others complimenting and contrasting it. There are many textures and flavors in this dish that one would think it’d be overwhelming, but the salad achieves perfect lightness.

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Summer Salad:

5 cups baby arugula

1/2 cup cannellini beans, drained from can, chopped roughly

1 tomato, diced

6 or so scallions, sliced thinly

Parmesan cheese shavings (several shavings per serving)

4 or so slices of prosciutto, cut into thin strips

2 slices of sandwich bread

Salt and pepper

Vinaigrette:

1 lemon (juice of)

1/3 cup olive oil

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Salt and pepper to season

Instruction:

1. Croutons: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice bread into cubes, about 1/2 inch thick. Drizzle liberally with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Bake for about 10 minutes.

2. Bean salad: Dice tomatoes, add salt, and let sit over a strainer to remove some moisture. Add sliced scallions and chopped white beans. Let ingredients sit in strainer for a bit to allow flavors to blend. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Vinaigrette: Whisk chopped parsley, lemon juice, and olive oil. Season with salt to taste.

4. Assembly: Toss arugula in vinaigrette and transfer to plate. Top with bean salad, prosciutto, parmesan, and croutons.

Enjoy a summer white bean salad with Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and check in at warandpeach.com for more recipes and book reviews!

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The Girl with the Dragon Cashew

Over the weekend, we hosted an open house so that I could see family and friends before moving to London. From Saturday morning until well into the Sunday brunch hours, people from various walks of life came and went. In the midst of the haze of food, wine, laughter, and plenty of hugs, I began thinking about how each person at the party had influenced my life and my decision to begin an adventure across the pond. Every guest differs in age, personality, and role in my life, but they’ve all contributed a bit to what happens next.

Cooking is like solving a mystery. As a chef’s job is to find the perfect flavor combination, a crime novelist must make multiple seemingly random elements come together in the end. In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels, Stieg Larsson introduces multiple characters, each with a complex history that contributes to the plot. Like a fiery red pesto with surprising flavors, this novel’s many elements make up a delectable story. The audience may not understand throughout the creation process, and to the outside eye, some of the ingredients may seem bizarre, but the end result makes perfect sense.

SONY DSCPesto:

1/4 cup cashew nuts

1/2 sun-dried tomatoes (I used the jarred kind soaked in olive oil, drained.)

1/4 cup basil

1/2 tbsp red pepper flakes

1/4 cup olive oil

Salt, to season

1/2 pound angel hair pasta

Instruction:

1. In food processor, combine cashew nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, basil, and red pepper flakes. Slowly add olive oil and allow it to incorporate as processor is still going. Season with salt.

2. Cook angel hair pasta in boiling salted water. Mix with pesto and thin out with a few tablespoons of pasta water, if necessary.

Enjoy fiery pesto and angel hair with Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and check in at warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

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Anna Corona-na

During my first year of college, I found my way into the home of the wonderful Binns family. I worked as a nanny for the two children, a job description which occasionally included the dinnertime shift. Though this was less than five years ago, the culinary bug had not yet bitten; in fact, basic skills such as cooking rice and scrambling eggs were a great struggle. Several times I was asked to buy a rotisserie chicken at the market – and each time this happened, I absolutely panicked. The idea of carving a bird – even one that had been thoroughly cooked and essentially came ready to eat – seemed extremely daunting. Despite shredded thigh meat and massacres of white meat, the children were very forgiving (though one has since become a vegetarian, and perhaps that is no coincidence).

One of the first things we learned at culinary school was how to butcher a chicken from start to finish. From scorching the feathers off with a blow torch to creating a stock out of the remaining carcass, I have become quite familiarized with every inch of the bird.

There are so many chicken dishes in the world that it’s often hard to tell them apart. Like Tolstoy’s extended character network in Anna Karenina, which introduces different characters with same names and same characters with new nicknames, there is a danger to confusing them all . It’s possible, and even probable, to mistake the good from the bad, the spicy from the bland, the trustworthy from the villainous. The kick of Corona – with plenty of heat from the cayenne and zest from the lime – keeps this dish from banality. And with a big ol’ swig of Corona, my chicken saga ends on a much more pleasant note.

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Beer-Battered Chicken Strips

4 chicken breasts, cut into strips

Salt, pepper

2 cups vegetable oil

Batter:

6 oz. beer

1/2 cup flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

4 limes, zest of four and juice of one

1 tsp cayenne

1 1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs

Dip (dressing):

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 lime (juice of)

1/2 tsp cayenne

Pinch of salt, pepper

Instruction:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut chicken breasts into one inch strips.

2. Whisk beer, flour, salt, and pepper in shallow bowl. Combine lime zest, cayenne, and breadcrumbs in second shallow bowl.

3. Heat vegetable oil in a nonstick frying pan. Dredge each chicken strip first in the batter bowl, then in the breadcrumb bowl. Give each strip about two minutes on each side, until golden brown. Transfer to sheet pan and finish cooking in oven (should take no more than 4 or 5 minutes). You can check to make sure the strips are cooked by cutting into the thickest one and making sure there is no pink inside.

4. Mix mayonnaise, lime juice, cayenne, salt and pepper in a dipping bowl. Serve with chicken strips.

Enjoy beer-battered chicken strips with Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

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Our Flan in Havana

Around the age of 6 or so, I dreamt of becoming a spy. I’d sit on the windowsill in my parents’ bedroom and watch cars and people passing by, writing down observations and descriptions. This was pretty dull work as we lived at the far end of a quiet residential block. Occasionally if I was ‘spying’ during the early evening, I would be able to record a groundbreaking “6:48 pm: Mr. So-and-So* comes home from work.” (*Name has been changed to protect Mr. So-and-So’s privacy.)

Graham Greene clearly had a better understanding of the world of espionage. In Our Man in Havana, he describes a world of political mission and international secrecy. Greene’s main protagonist, James Wormold, stumbles through the world of the British secret service on the backdrop of Cuba in the 1940s.

The flavors of Cuban cuisine carry plenty of heat. This roasted red pepper flan is light and airy, and to the naked eye, it is quite simple, but one taste reveals its powerful flavor combination of oregano, cumin, and chili powder. Perhaps my aspirations of trickery are better suited for the kitchen.

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Roasted red pepper flan:

6 red bell peppers

1/4 cup veg oil

1 tbsp oregano

1 tbsp cumin

1/2 tbsp chili powder (or more, depending on how much heat you like!)

1 clove garlic

Salt and pepper

Zest of 1 lime

1/4 cup heavy cream

3 eggs

Instruction:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the bell peppers in quarters and remove seed and whiteish flesh.

2. Make a marinade of oil, salt and pepper, garlic, and half of the oregano and cumin for the bell peppers. Coat the peppers on both sides with the marinade and roast in oven, skin side up, for twenty minutes.

3. Remove bell peppers from oven and transfer back to marinade bowl. Cover immediately in cling film and allow steam to continue to wilt the bell pepper skins.

4. When bell peppers have cooled, remove skin and put in blender. Blend bell peppers, lime zest, chili powder, and remaining oregano and cumin. Taste and add salt to season. Blend in egg and heavy cream. Transfer into miniature spring form pan or any mold whose shape you’d like your flan to take. Place mold in larger pan and create a waterbath.

5. Cook flan in oven until for about thirty minutes (until mixture is firm and toothpick comes out clean).

Enjoy roasted red pepper flan with Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana, and check in at http://warandpeach.com/ for future recipes and book reviews!

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Me Talk Parsley One Day

Parsley Confetti Ravioli

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When my sister and I moved out of the house for college, my parents developed some eccentricities because of their newfound and undirected attention. They began watching British sitcoms from the early nineties each night. My mother became so addicted to Scrabble that she has now taken to giving it up for Lent to control herself. My father began adopting plenty of new children – the herbs in our backyard. Every day he waters, prunes, and primps. They have flourished so much under his care that they’ve taken over a large percentage of our back deck.

With parsley coming out of my ears, I decided to use the opportunity to my advantage. Just as David Sedaris took his father’s bizarre habits and turned them into the hilarious anecdotal short stories of Me Talk Pretty One Day, I’ve taken my father’s herb garden and used it for my own craft: cooking. Adding parsley to pasta dough for a confetti pattern makes the dish whimsical and fun. As Sedaris achieves lighthearted and bite-sized stories that are loaded with many different colors and flavors, these raviolis are encouraging my father and his quirks to grow. If only there were a way to melt my mother’s Scrabble tiles into a soup…

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Whole wheat pasta sheets:

3 cups whole wheat flour

4 eggs

1 tbsp salt

1/4 cup water (as needed)

Ravioli filling:

4 oz mascarpone

2 oz ricotta

4 oz mozzarella, grated

2 oz parmesan, grated

4 oz (1/4 pound) prosciutto, diced finely

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Salt and pepper

(You can play with the ratio of the four cheeses, depending on which flavors you like, but make sure there is enough mascarpone or ricotta to bind the rest of the filling together.)

Instruction:

1. Pasta dough: In a standing mixer, combine flour, eggs, salt, and water. Knead on countertop and form into a ball. Wrap in cling film and let rest at room temperature for fifteen minutes or so.

2. Filling: Combine four cheeses, prosciutto, and parsley. Season as needed and transfer to piping bag.

3. Assembly: After dough has rested, use pasta machine to roll out sheets (to gauge thinness – I rolled each sheet to 6 out of 8 settings). Pipe filling and make small raviolis, pressing the sheets together with a fork to seal.

4. Cooking ravioli: Drop raviolis in boiling salted water. When raviolis are cooked, they will float to the surface. To be safe, let them cook for a minute more. Serve with butter and parmesan shavings.

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Enjoy parsley confetti ravioli with David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day, and check in at http://warandpeach.com/ for future recipes and book reviews!

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