This Is Where Olive You

I decided at a very early age that I had a particular disdain for olives. I’d stand even firmer in this opinion when people would tell me that olives were ‘an acquired taste.’ The option of snacking on these small but potent little spheres was ruled out years ago. There are things in life we claim not to like. Certain foods, certain chores, certain people. But perhaps if we were to treat these things differently we’d see a more redeemable side.

Jonathan Tropper’s This is Where I Leave You describes a dysfunctional family’s reunion while sitting shiva. Longstanding feuds and silences have left the grieving process compounded by awkwardness and hostility. The novel follows the main protagonist through his return home to a catastrophic reunion with his family, and the path to reconciliation paved with changed attitudes and a few surprises.

As I grow older and maybe even a bit wiser, I’ve begun to change my own attitude towards olives. Instead of ignoring them and wrinkling my nose, I have approached them in a new way, applying a new technique, discovering different textures and flavors, and growing to appreciate – and perhaps even like them.

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Deep-Fried Stuffed Olives

1 jar (about 20) black olives : pitted, soaked, dried

1 log (350 g) goat cheese

1 red pepper: roasted in olive oil, salt, pepper

For pané: 1/2 cup flour (mixed with a teaspoon of salt), 1 egg, 1/2 cup breadcrumb

Instruction:

1. Soak olives in water for an hour to reduce brine flavor. Rinse and dry thoroughly.

2. Roast red peppers (with olive oil, s&p) in 350 degree oven for about twenty minutes, then peel skin and dice flesh finely

3. Combine goat cheese with peppers. Pipe mixture into olives.

4. Dredge olives in salted flour, dip in egg, and cover in breadcrumbs.

5. Fill a pan with veg oil, about quarter of an inch deep. Heat oil until shimmering, but not smoking. Add olives until slightly golden brown, then flip and fry the other side.

Enjoy deep-fried stuffed olives with Jonathan Tropper’s This is Where I Leave You, and check in at warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

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 350 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!

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! 

Ryebread Revisited

I love tea time and the tradition of stopping mid-afternoon to revive the soul with a hot cuppa. But tea sandwiches always leave me either eating twenty plus or finishing the tea party with a rumbling stomach. I have sought to find an alternative that won’t spoil dinner, but will satisfy me for the duration of the afternoon.

In Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh deals with the same balance of light but not too light, traditional but not predictable. Through the lens of Charles Ryder, Waugh initially paints a picture of English nobility as indulgence, luxury, and the constant consumption of champagne and strawberries. Yet Waugh goes past the frivolity and into a more complex world of Catholic guilt and the pressures of both generation and reputation.

As Waugh used a fanciful backdrop to tackle a complicated subject matter, these hefty tea sandwiches are loaded with flavor and meatiness, yet still bite-sized and manageable.

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Tea Sandwiches:

Miniature loaf of rye bread (fifteen slices)

1 cup Swiss cheese, grated

1/3 cup scallions, finely chopped

1/3 cup pancetta, diced

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

1/4 cup mayonnaise

Chives to garnish

Instruction:

1. Chop scallions, grate cheese, cook pancetta on stove top until crispy.

2. Combine scallions, cheese, and pancetta with mayonnaise and Dijon.

3. Spread mixture onto rye bread. Place under broiler until cheese is melted. Garnish with chives.

Enjoy your tea sandwiches with Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, and check in at warandpeach.wordpress.com for future recipes and book reviews!