27 August, 2007

perfect Connecticut day... and cooking!

It's a gorgeous blue-sky day in Connecticut, we've just come from a round of sweaty tennis and a swim. I'm thrilled: John said today, "You're good enough now that it's fun for me to play with you." As opposed to the mind-bendingly dull job he had at first of simply... serving! Endlessly, since I couldn't really hit it back. I love tennis, and I hope I can find a place to play in London. The pool was freezing again, however, so we chickened out and came home for lunch.

Which brings me to: recipes.

Now, I must say that I quake even to claim to reproduce a recipe by our friend Olimpia. I say this not because I don't think I can cook, but because of an intriguing notion suggested to me by our neighbor friend Alice over the weekend. As I was describing what Olimpia had cooked for us, Alice mused, "It sounds almost like a kind of mystical thing you are suggesting, a sort of alchemy." And that is exactly right. The other person in my life whose cooking strikes me this way is my friend Alyssa, whose matzoh ball soup is legendary, and with whom I have, as I have with Olimpia, stood at the kitchen counter, watched, taken part, written down, listened. And yet... when I try their recipes myself, while they're all right, even quite good, they're lacking something. And Alice may be right: it's not an ingredient or a method, it's the magic of the cook herself. And as John always believes (I don't necessarily agree with him!) that if I love someone I think she's beautiful to look at, it's possible too that something of the love and admiration I feel for the cook permeates my taste buds right along with the garlic or chicken. Possible!

But I will do my best to tell you how to make what we ate so happily this weekend in the Catskills with our friends, Olimpia and Tony. And she let me cook with her.

Zucchini all'Olimpia
(serves 4 as an antipasto)

2 medium zucchini, sliced round
olive oil to reach an inch up the side of your skillet
1 tbsp fresh olive oil for sauteeing
4 cloves garlic, minced
drizzle more olive oil
4 leaves basil or mint (we had mint, I'd like to try basil too)
1/4 red wine vinegar
salt and fresh pepper

Heat oil in skillet until a small piece of bread on the end of a fork sizzles immediately when dipped in. Fry the zucchini slices until soft, then drain on kitchen paper.

Discard the olive oil and wipe out skillet. Cook down a bit and add 1 tbsp olive oil, then saute garlic gently (do not brown).

In a pretty serving dish, layer the zucchini slices, sprinkle garlic and mint or basil, drizzle oil and a bit of the vinegar. Repeat this till all zucchini slices are layered. Salt and pepper to taste. Marinate for at least an hour before serving.


Mozzarella in Carrozza
(serves 4 as an antipasto)

8 small slices of bread, crusts removed
4 thick rounds mozzarella
3 eggs, beaten, seasoned with salt and pepper
olive oil to come up two inches on your skillet

Place a mozzarella slice between two pieces of bread, and dip in egg. "Make sure every bit of the bread is covered, Kristen, and squish it while you coat it. Then be careful of the hot oil." This is serious. Heat the oil until, as with the fried zucchini, a piece of bread dipped in sizzles right away. Then carefully place each eggy bread sandwich in the oil. Press down with a spatula and fry until you can see the edges turning golden brown. Think: French toast with an Italian twist. Then turn over and squish again. When thoroughly fried, drain on paper towel and DEVOUR.

John and I both agreed with we'd like to try some variations (I have been accused of never being able to leave a recipe alone! sniff). How about a bit of parmesan sprinkled on the mozzarella before putting the bread cover on? Perhaps some anchovy paste as well? Or some Tabasco in the egg wash? It's so good simple, that I get tempted to mess with it.


Roast Shoulder of Pork with Garlic
(serves 8)

1 shoulder of pork
8 cloves garlic

Now, Tony did not tell me he did this, but I wonder if he drizzled some olive oil on the roast before cooking? He did explain about making incisions deep in the roast and sliding the whole cloves of garlic inside.

Roast at 375 degrees for two hours, then turn heat down to 350 for at least an hour longer, but test to achieve a happy medium between underdone and dry. Let rest for at least 15 minutes, then slice thick.


As you can imagine, it was just unbelievable. We reminisced about friends in common, old days in New York, our visit in February, our wishes that they come to us in London. Then too we exchanged lots of views on child-rearing (they are proud grandparents and great-aunt and uncle to Tony's family), and it was nice to agree on everything! "Keep communicating, keep talking. You have to know where they are and who they're with, and what they're thinking," Tony said wisely. A former New York City fire investigating officer, he has a most comforting demeanor of innate wisdom and sagacity that I just love. Not to mention: he built the kitchen himself! I adored the Wolf stove, and all the intricate and savvy little spice shelves, sliding drawers, several sinks and other luxuries that John and I filed away in our imaginations for the remote day that we might design our own kitchen.

Thank you, guys, for a great afternoon. I like to think of your dishes being made now all over the world! But missing, I fear, that spark of... Olimpia.

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