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On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of aging high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, wealthy women) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Salads, Uncategorized, Veggies/sides, on July 28th, 2017.

pasta_abrazzese_salad

A pasta salad – served at room temp – with an unusual type of pasta, like little twigs. The salad is all about tomatoes.

It’s been about 6 weeks ago I went to a cooking class – I’m now attending a relatively new one for me, with a group of homemakers, offered in a home, and my friend Cherrie and I have been invited because the chef is our friend, and because the group has room to grow a little bit. Tarla Fallgatter is the chef, and we can always count on a really delicious meal to enjoy whenever she cooks.

This salad was really big on tomato flavor – it has what’s called a confit (kan-fee) added to it, which means a method of cooking food in fat, oil or a water syrup at a low temperature, usually cooked down to a soft pulp. Most commonly it refers to goose or duck, but in this case it’s about cooking and softening the sun-dried tomatoes and dried tomatoes both, in a flavorful mixture that coats the pasta well (see the orange/red color). What was unusual about this dish, though, was the pasta. Tarla passed around the bag of pasta – one of those more expensive, imported-from-Italy types.

The pasta shapes look a lot like pale twigs, and the only thing I’ll say is that it’s important to cook them to the right consistency. If you sample one of the tiny twig ENDS, it might be done, but the thicker center of the twig pasta will still be too firm. So test it by eating the center, thicker part. And when it’s done, the narrow ends are actually overcooked, but it can’t be helped.

The confit is easy enough to make – the two types of sun-dried tomatoes, shallot, basil, some spices, olive oil and red wine. You could easily make this ahead and set aside. Toast the pine nuts and set aside and cut up the little heirloom tomatoes to add in later.

Cook the pasta – you can use any kind of pasta you want, but Tarla thought this abrezzese was just so very fun (and different). Otherwise, orzo would be good with this too. Cook it, drain it, then add the tomato stuff, add the chopped tomatoes and pine nuts. Donabrazzeze_pastae. Taste for seasoning. Make this as a side dish for an outdoor dinner, or a potluck lunch. Whatever.

What’s GOOD: this has a different flavor – intense with the sun-dried tomatoes in it, but also because of the pasta shape. Delicious salad. Nothing extraordinary, but really good nonetheless. Easy to make – takes a bit of chopping here and there, but not hard.

What’s NOT: nothing at all. Don’t stress if you can’t find the abrezzese pasta – just use orzo.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open file)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Pasta Abrazzese with Sun-Dried Tomato Confit

Recipe By: From a cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter, 2017
Serving Size: 6

2 cups cooked pasta — abrazzese or orzo
SUN-DRIED TOMATO CONFIT:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 whole shallot — peeled, diced
1 teaspoon spice rub — Blackened, Cajun or your choice
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, oil-packed — drained and julienned
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 cup red wine
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 large basil leaves — julienned
1 cup tomatoes — heirloom, mini-sized, quartered or halved
1/3 cup pine nuts — toasted
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Heat olive oil in saute pan; add shallot and cook until translucent. Stir in spice rub. Reduce heat to low, then add oil-packed and regular sun-dried tomatoes plus the red wine. Simmer until wine is reduced by about half. Add balsamic vinegar and basil leaves off the heat.
2. Place hot, cooked pasta in a medium bowl and stir in the tomato mixture, then the fresh tomatoes and toasted pine nuts. Garnish with minced Italian parsley, if desired. Taste for seasonings. May need additional salt.
Per Serving: 169 Calories; 8g Fat (41.6% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 78mg Sodium.

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  1. LJay

    said on July 28th, 2017:

    The pasta is also called ‘gemelli’ and can be found at Trader Joe’s if not in your grocery pasta aisle.

    My TJ’s doesn’t carry it where I live, but I’ll look for that name too. I have an Italian market near me and I’ll look there as well, but they don’t carry many unusual pasta styles. . . carolyn t
    Well, TJ’s DOES carry this type but it’s in tri-color, which is likely why I’d never noticed it. Thanks for making me look further! . . . carolyn t

  2. LJay

    said on July 28th, 2017:

    The pasta you are picturing is the brand Rusticella and the cut is Trofie.
    It is a specialty brand and a bit hard to find. I find their pastas take longer to cook than others because in Italy they like their pasta very firm, al dente.
    The abruzzese is the dialect/people of the area of Abruzzo.

    Well, thank you, LJ for clarifying that for me. I did find the pasta at Home Goods at a good price, but I found it hard to get it to the right al dente – the ends were soft and the middle of this particular style was still pretty firm. But it was good. And of course, Abruzzese would be about Abruzzo. Makes sense! . . . carolyn t

  3. Toffeeapple

    said on July 31st, 2017:

    I liked LJay’s input, very educational.

    I like, also the sound of this sauce so must remember to include sun-dried tomatoes when I next shop. Can you tell me though, what is Spice Rub?

    Hmm. Well, here in the US, lazy cooks don’t want to take the time to create a mixture of herbs/spices to RUB on chicken, for instance, or a steak, so the spice companies have begun providing a generic “spice rub.” THere is a Cajun spice rub, Steak spice rub, Fish spice rub, etc. It’s just a combo of herbs and spices supposedly tailored to a particular kind of protein. The problem is that once you put a bunch of herbs and spices together, they lose their potency much faster – usually a month or two at best. Usually I make my own rub, though I did recently buy a Cajun spice rub because I was using it more frequently. . . carolyn t

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