Last month my mother guest-blogged her entry for the current round of Cook the Books, our happy little foody online bookclub, hosted by Deb, Rachel, Simona and Heather. And now it is my turn.
Despite my mother's evident enthusiasm for them, I hadn't previously read an Inspector Montalbano book, although I think I have seen some episodes of the TV series. I was looking forward to The Shape of Water to see what (other than the food) there was about these books that people rave about.
But... I didn't really get it. I mean, Montalbano comes across as an attractive man, and I liked the slight moral ambiguity of his role. It was the writing that got in the way. I wasn't sure if it was because the translation was awkward or if it was just the problems of a first novel in a series that takes time to develop. After all, I love Terry Pratchett's Discworld but the first one in that series is dire. I got lost in the labyrinthine relationships and bureaucracy (although that could well have been deliberate) and in many of the conversations I had to check and double check who was saying what.
I'll have to read another to really decide how I feel about it.
In trying to decide what to make, inspired by The Shape of Water, I knew it had to be pasta. I love pasta. I don't eat it as often as I would like but it really is my favourite food. If I had to exclude all but one starch from my life, I would wave goodbye to rice, bread and potatoes and cling to pasta. I had so many ideas that I ended up making two dishes.
My first was inspired by a properly Sicilian dish, pasta alla Norma. This is also a dish that my mother makes a lot when her eggplant bushes are fruiting heavily, so it seemed apt. Instead of sticking to the classic tomato and aubergine version, I gave it a bit more heft and spice with 'nduja (Calabrian sausage but since Calabria is just a short hop across a narrow strait from Sicily I bet you can get it there) and some roasted yellow peppers. It was delicious, although possibly a bit too spicy - I got a little carried away with the 'nduja.
|Penne rigate - the ridges are just the thing to hold the oily, spicy sauce|
My second dish took a slightly more fanciful journey. I'd been thinking about making fesenjan - that lovely Persian dish of poultry, walnuts and pomegranate because I happened to have duck legs, some walnuts and half a pomegranate. But I also really wanted to eat pasta. I rationalised that Sicily was under the control of the Byzantines and Arabs for a long time, and they do have a tradition of agrodolce sauces so a Persian feel would not be completely out of place.
Rather than just tossing pasta through a Persian stew, I decided to bring a bit more Italian flavour to the dish. I slowly roasted two duck legs, basting them with pomegranate molasses from time to time, then stripped the flesh from the bones and cut it into chunks. I made a very lemony (Sicily is famous for lemons, right?) walnut and sage pesto. I cooked my fettucine, reserving a cupful of the nice starchy cooking water, and then I tossed the pesto, cooking water and chunks of duck meat through the drained pasta back on the heat. I stirred it until the duck was heated through and the pasta was thoroughly coated in the pesto. Then I garnished it with pomegranate arils to provide more of an agrodolce burst. I was extremely happy with how it worked out. The pomegranate and lemon provided enough acidity to balance the rich duck and walnut, and the sage provided a nice earthiness that tied the walnuts and duck together. And of course, pasta always makes my heart sing.
|Fettucine with duck, walnuts and pomegranate|