Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Orecchiette with broccoli, proscuitto and cavolo nero

"My grandfather, who preferred bread dunked in wine - which he had regularly for breakfast until his eighty-eighth year, when he died prematurely of snakebite - sought to console me on such occasions by telling me what he had had to eat when he was a boy. The sermon was his version of the familiar one which has left grandchildren grumbling since the first grandfather mumbled it in his beard" - Angelo Pellegrini

Funny and ferociously opinionated, Pellegrini's 1948 book The Unprejudiced Palate is the current Cook the Books choice, picked by Simona. I read it and made a dish inspired by it in really good time, but I've had a blank blog post staring at me, trying to come up with something to say about it and now the deadline is tomorrow.

It's a curious book. It seems both to be extremely contemporary and from such an ancient past as to be completely alien. His writing is very dated, with a verbosity that most food writers wouldn't get away with now, but his concerns for eating fresh food, locally obtained and simply prepared are bang up to date. His bisection of humanity into civilised people and barbarians based on whether they ate macaroni salad would cause a twitter storm today that would only be eclipsed by his taste for eating songbirds.

I'm currently reading Judith Jones's memoir, The Tenth Muse, which has coincidentally been an excellent companion piece, providing an interesting background to Pellegrini's concerns. Her memories of the good but very plain and utterly garlicless food in her parents' house would have been startling to an immigrant from a different tradition. And her struggles to bring Mastering the Art of French Cooking to print suggest that Pellegrini's view of mid-century American housewives was not completely baseless. Many then, as now, found cooking stressful and unrewarding but without the options we have to not cook. The trends were towards labour saving and processed foods with a background of puritanism and a degree of shame in the idea of finding food pleasurable. Anathema to Pellegrini.

The recipes Pellegrini included were impenetrable to me. I just couldn't be bothered reading them carefully enough to make sense of them and actually attempt cooking them. And while his wine recipe was fascinating I don't think my landlord would tolerate me digging a basement big enough for the vat.

One thing that did stand out to me - which actually made me question all of his recipes - was his assertion that pasta needs to be cooked for about 20 minutes to be al dente. Now, maybe the pasta of his day was much thicker than we get now, but orecchiette is the only pasta I've ever had that can tolerate boiling for that long. So that was a start. And his love for bitter greens showed me the rest of the way. I sauteed tiny cubes of proscuitto with loads of garlic, shredded cavolo nero and chopped broccoli then cooked it slowly with a little chicken stock until the vegetables were soft. As much as I love a tender crisp vegetable, cavolo nero needs to be cooked to buggery to be palatable. I added some halved cherry tomatoes and let them just soften, and stirred it through the cooked orecchiette, with a little of the starchy cooking water to help the sauce emulsify. None of it was local produce, but it tasted good.
cookthebooks

10 comments:

Faux Fuchsia said...

looks wonderful! 20 minutes!!! WHAT? X

grace said...

i feel like most pasta would dissolve in 20 minutes! i had to google cavolo nero... :/

leaf (the indolent cook) said...

I would like to have orecchiette more often, it's such a cute shape! And yeah, 20 minutes is a pretty long time, it would be interesting to find out more about Pellegrini's assertion here.

Simona Carini said...

As always, I enjoyed reading your review :)
I am with you on cavolo nero's cooking time.
As an aside, dunking a piece of bread in red wine is something my father liked to do, not for breakfast, but at the end of his lunch.
Thank you for your contribution to this edition of Cook the Books.

Claudia said...

Funny, but true cooking instructions for that kale - "cavolo nero needs to be cooked to buggery to be palatable." Good review and a yummy sounding recipe.

Wendy Klik said...

My father was stationed in Italy during WWII and had fond memories of dunking bread into the wine so that passage spoke to me as well. Your pasta looks lovely.

Debra Eliotseats said...

I must have missed the 20 minute piece. Interesting companion boo that you mention. Lovely dish!

Deb in Hawaii said...

I love your 'ferociously opinionated' description. ;-) That he certainly was! I have been Meaning to get around to The Tenth Muse for the longest time--maybe I'll have to choose it for a future CTB pick to give me the push to read it. Your pasta looks delicious. I always love how well orecchiette holds sauces and other ingredients for perfect bites of flavor and goodness.

The Cat's Mother said...

I enjoyed reading the book but was not inspired to cook any recipes from it. Kept thinking how he was my grandfather's age and what a different world that was.

Delaware Girl Eats said...

I just made a very similar dish with orechietti and everyone loved it!

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...