Saturday, 4 May 2013

Life in Granville: An Italian-American Experience

Good evening, dear Reader. I've been under the weather lately and so much of my free time has been spent sleeping. (And for those of you who know me well know that I need to catch up on quite a bit of that..) In any case, I'm feeling much better now and am of course finding quite a bit of comfort through food. And while I have the energy (more so the memory), I wanted to catch you up on a dining experience from last Saturday. I received a call around 11am or so from fellow Gleek and Les Mis singing partner Amanda, who informed me that Elio, Damian and Alex were aiming to replicate for the first time her mother-in-law's recipe for Italian wedding soup, in celebration of Alex's birthday. With an invitation to join them, I went through my mental index of dishes to potential bring over and add to the occasion. For some reason, Italian wedding soup equated to lemons which yielded my first attempt at a limoncello cake with toasted meringue topping.

Crossing this recipe with the Tangy Lemon Cake recipe from my ever-reliant 1000 Classic Recipes cookbook (pg. 375), I got 1.5 sticks of unsalted butter and three eggs out of my fridge, and set my oven to 350°F. With the paddle attachment, I got my standing mixer going and creamed together the butter and 1 c light brown sugar. As that was going, I greased a large round baking dish with 1 T of butter and put the remaining butter in the mixer. To the creamed mixture, I incorporated one at a time 2 whole eggs and an egg yolk (reserve the egg white), followed by 1 tsp vanilla extract. While that was going, I sifted into a bowl 2 c all-purpose flour, 1 tsp baking powder and a pinch of salt, and separately measured out 1/4 c limoncello.

Alternating in three batches each, I incorporated the dry mix and the limoncello until the batter was rather smooth, and then finished this with the zest of half a lemon. I transferred this lot into the greased baking dish, evened out the batter, and got it into the oven for about half an hour, or until it passed the clean cake test.

Taking the cake out of the oven, I immediately got it into the freezer to cool down as I worked on the meringue topping. (The meringue mixture you're about to make will most likely deflate if you skip this step.) After increasing the oven temp to 400°F, I used the whisk attachment of my mixer to beat three egg whites (from two new eggs + the reserved one) until soft peaks, at which point I added about 1/2 c granulated sugar and 1/4 tsp cream of tartar. When the egg whites held stiffer peaks, I added the zest and juice of the other lemon half. Whipping that up once more to stiff peaks, I took the cake out of the freezer (it may still be warm, but can be transferred with your bare hands) and topped it off with the meringue mix.

This then went into the oven for seven minutes. Following the seven minutes, I turned off the oven but left the cake inside for another three before opening the oven door to reveal a toasted meringue topping.

With the cake now finished, I headed over to Amanda's and got there just in time to see the Italian wedding soup being finished with shredded chicken and chiffonaded spinach.

As the soup was reducing to concentrate the flavours, the antipasti plates were being prepared, complete with freshly sliced tomato, mozzarella fresca, extra virgin olive oil and balsamic...

...as well as soppressata, mortadella and prosciutto, parmesan reggiano, green olives and soft rolls. Both plates of food were nearly consumed in less than 10 minutes.

Soon after, it was time for the soup (topped off with freshly grated cheese), which also included handmade meatballs and egg for added texture. It was a heartwarming meal on its own, the efforts of which were well noted. In the end, and despite "something missing," it was deemed by all a very good first go at the family recipe, the stock of which apparently should be made from scratch (and should be a stock rather than a broth).

For the main course, we had quite a few choices off the barbecue, including kosher hot dogs, sausages from Columbus-based Carfagna's, and burgers, the meat of which Elio, Damian and Alex also ground and formed by hand.

Along with a side of kale, I chose the burger and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was delicious and cooked perfectly; based on the texture alone, it was quite telling that it had been hand formed rather than pre-made and previously frozen. And thus was my perfect weather, springtime foodie Saturday, spent in the company of great people and delicious food. Unfortunately, I couldn't stick around for dessert and join Amanda and company for an evening, post-dinner passeggiata. But all the same, I enjoyed my pseudo-impromptu Italian-American experience.


Before signing off, I do want to make mention of a brief, notable moment that struck me during dinner. When asked about being the keeper of the family recipe for meatballs and tomato sauce, Damian stated that he had the recipes.. in his head. And then what I've talked about countless times more theoretically became a true-life example, i.e., the joy of cooking exists within the family, however defined, and from generation to generation. Emphasizing one of my culinary pov's, Laurie Colwin writes "No one who cooks, cooks alone. Even at [one's] most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers." It is in our food and the lessons we safeguard and teach before all is lost that we find both a sense of comfort and a sense of family. It is for this reason, among others, that the philosophical and practical among us recognise the need to cook with and learn from each other, and to write the recipes down, lest we want to lose a part of who we are. And in this way, to learn through food is to learn about ourselves in the present, to pay tribute to those whose lives are older than our own, and to preserve our traditions for future generations. For the complete album, click here.

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