Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Cook Book Book Club Meeting #4

We met in the heat of August to share recipes from an old favorite of mine: Cucina Fresca by Viana La Place and Evan Kleiman.

I bought the original edition of this book years ago when I still lived in the Washington, D.C. area and found it to be an excellent choice for food to take to a picnic at Wolf Trap in the summer. Out here, it is a great go-to for the Hollywood Bowl. Evan Kleiman used to have a wonderful restaurant on Melrose Avenue called Angeli Cafe.* It closed a few years ago and it is much missed, but Evan is still around Los Angeles, where she's done a radio show on KCRW since 1997 and teaches private cooking classes.

The menu:
Fresh Ricotta--P. 92
Ricotta & Basil Tart--P. 124
Mushroom Tart--P. 122
Potato-Tomato Soup with Sage--P. 31
Parsley Frittata with Bread Crumbs--P. 108
Grilled Tuna with Tomato Garnish--P. 190
Summer Squash Stuffed with Veal Risotto--P. 166
Spinach Croquettes--P. 166
Marscapone with Raspberry Puree--P. 254
Caramelized Figs--P. 242

Table was set with dishes from 222 Fifth called Coastal Breeze. I had been looking for something that looked like a day at the beach to coordinate with my back yard (known as Maui in L.A. by those who have been to Maui; I have not) and this stoneware set fit the bill. I haunted Home Goods from here to Tucson to find 16 place-settings, and finally had to finish up by purchasing some of the soup bowls through Replacements, Ltd. Fortunately, Replacements had the same good prices as Home Goods, not the outrageous prices I saw on eBay. Flatware is my everyday Act I by Oneida. Glassware is Libbey cobalt water/iced tea and Longchamps champagne flutes. (We live in earthquake country, and after I lost my few pieces of Waterford in the 1994 earthquake, I decided I shouldn't spend more than a few dollars on my stemware.) My intention is to eventually use these dishes with an antique silver plate pattern I collect from Rogers Bros. called Columbia, which also is water-themed.

The contingent was a bit smaller than usual because my sister was back east for the summer and several people were traveling or had other conflicts. The food was, as usual, wonderful.

Fresh Ricotta with Green Olives and Herbs
We started by sampling Laurie Perry's homemade ricotta served with olives and a squeeze of lemon. It is a relatively simple process to turn milk into the soft, warm curds of cheese. Definitely worth the effort, even if it does take a lot of milk for not so much cheese. I took a class in cheese-making at Sur la Table several years ago where we made ricotta, mozzarella, and burrata. I've got the acids for doing it at home in the refrigerator (if you have a place that sells product for making beer at home, they probably also sell product for making cheese), but I haven't given it a try.

Ricotta and Basil Tart
Mushroom Tart
We were treated to two different savory tarts, a ricotta and basil tart made by Susan Avallone and the mushroom tart that Maria Alexander brought. I recall Maria saying she was running late because she had to send her husband off to buy an appropriately-sized tart pan which delayed getting the tart in the oven.

Potato-Tomato Soup with Sage
Sharon Baker brought a great potato-tomato soup with sage.The ten cloves of garlic in it were subtle, not overwhelming. It uses a little bit of cream to smooth out the texture when the soup is pureed, and it is light and refreshing.

Parsley Frittata with Bread Crumbs
Liz added an herb frittata, which has become one of her favorite things to make for a pot luck at our house.

Grilled Tuna with Tomato Garnish
I grilled tuna garnished with tomatoes and arugula. It became one of my favorite recipes from the book and I've made it several times since. The recipe calls for three pounds of tun cut into slices no thicker than half an inch, which is brushed with olive oil and grilled. It is then set aside to cool while the garnish is made with diced tomatoes, large capers, and olive oil. The arugula is set on a platter and the tuna is laid over it. Cover the tuna with the tomato mixture and then sprinkled with pepper and drizzled with a good, aged Balsamic vinegar. Simple and delicious. It's perfect for a picnic or dinner on the veranda in the summer.
Spinach Croquettes
Amie Brockway-Metcalf brought the spinach croquettes, garnished with lemons. She needed something she could put together when she got back from a trip to New York, and this worked out quite well.

Summer Squash Stuffed with Veal Risotto
Julia Roberts brought a selection of patty pan squash stuffed with veal risotto. The presentation was very pretty and delicious.

Marscapone with Raspberry Puree and Caramelized Fig with Whipped Cream
Susan Avallone was very disappointed there weren't really any dessert options that she considered "dessert," but decided to take a stab at the marscapone with raspberry puree. It was a huge hit, and she liked it well enough to make it again to serve at her cookie exchange before Christmas. 

I can't find it in my notes, but I think that Catherine Fleming must have made the caramelized figs with whipped cream. It was a light touch to end the meal.

As I write this, A Room with a View is on the television. The food from this book is largely based on the kinds of food one eats in Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna where I spent three weeks in Italy during the summer of 1985, two of which were at a food photography workshop in a little place called Vernasca. The film was released in 1986, indicating it was probably shot close to the same time I was there. I'm enjoying the scenes from places I've been in Florence, and thinking about the wonderful meals I had there. It is virtually impossible to have a bad meal in Italy.

*My favorite memory of Angeli Cafe was the night my friend Karen Bodner and I attended a family-style feast of seven fishes dinner that Evan did just before Christmas one of the last years the restaurant was opened. We were seated with several couples. One of the women was talking about a writing project she was working on about the military mule remounts that were training to be used in Afghanistan. And I'm pretty sure she talked about a book on Rin Tin Tin she had just finished. It turned out to be Susan Orlean. I gave autographed copies of the Rin Tin Tin book to Karen and my husband the next Christmas.

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