Lots to Taste with Stanley Tucci

Our Cook the Books Club current selection, Stanley Tucci - Taste My Life Through Food, presents us with a memoir full of opinion, memories, travel and the connections between his growing up in a close knit Italian American family, in film, writing, travel, and through it all the backdrop and importance of food in his life.  This round is hosted by fellow Hawaiian blogger, Deb of Kahakai Kitchen.

Tucci's mother was a wonderful cook, and he writes: "It should be obvious by now that when I was young my mother spent most of her waking time in the kitchen, and she still does to this day.  Cooking for her is at once a creative outlet and a way of feeding her family well.  Her cooking, like that of any great cook or chef, is proof that culinary creativity may be the most perfect art form."

What an enjoyable read!  And especially for us book foodies, with so many suggestions, memorable meals, recipes encountered in his full and sometimes even tragic life.  I felt as though I had met and come to know the man, with his sense of humor, conversations on whatever was happening, and sometimes rather dogmatic views, as per the one on NOT EVER cutting your spaghetti. And, not combining the wrong pasta and sauce.  I'm sure I do that on a regular basis.  Occasionally even cut my spaghetti.  OMG!

There was absolutely so much inspiration here, every other page at least.  What most appealed however, was a meal he's enjoyed a number of times at Lo Scoglio on the Amalfi coast.  Spaghetti con Zucchini alla Nerano.  I mean the way he raved, and the very simplicity of the dish itself.  Basically zucchini, basil, olive oil, salt, spaghetti and Parmigiana-Reggiano.  And, of course, the secret ingredient, a dollop of butter, ferreted out by Stanley in the restaurant's kitchen.

Spaghetti con Zucchini alla Nerano

1/2 quart oil, or as needed (I used olive oil)
8-10 small green zucchini 
1 lb, spaghetti 
2 tablespoons olive oil 
 salt to taste 
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons unsalted butter 
3 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Place oil in a deep fryer or large pot and heat to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Slice zucchini into 1/8-inch rounds.

  • As you are cooking the spaghetti, heat a little olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add zucchini and basil, and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is heated thru. Add a couple splashes of the pasta water to the zucchini, but don't overdo it. Add butter and stir until butter melts. Now add the spaghetti and stir until coated. Mix in the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese a bit at a time, til creamy, adding more pasta water and salt if needed.
  • This was truly delicious, and will likely reappear on our dinner table in some form in the near future.  I say "some form" as I have, like Mr. Tucci, near the end of his memoir, been going through food issues.  Somewhat, though nowhere near as serious as his were.  An allergy, I thought at first might be fire ant bites, but nooooo.  So now I find myself on an allergy elimination diet.  It wasn't the wine (thought possibly sulfites?) now trying, yes gluten removal.  Ack!  I don't know what Sir Tucci would have to say about corn or rice pasta. I have always been allergy free, in the past.  In my youth. Sigh.  
  • I also made the Risotto Ala Milanese, mentioned early in the book as one of his mother's specialities, last night (no gluten).  And tonight an experiment with his recipe (page 75) for spaghetti with lentils, which I'm making with buckwheat (soba) noodles). Still so many other of his mentions that I want to try.
  • Anyway, this is it, my Cook the Books Club contribution for the current selection. I'll also be linking up with Weekend Cooking, hosted by The Intrepid Reader and Baker, Marge, as well as with Heather for the Foodies Read Challenge.  Be sure to check out our CTB Roundup after the deadline on May 31st.  There's still time if you want to participate.  Our next selection, the June /July edition, will be A Cook's Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines by Anthony Bourdain, and hosted by myself, right here. Hope you'll join us.


Red Sparrow and a Ukrainian Dish in Protest

Our current Cook the Books Club selection, hosted by Simona of Bricole, has been Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews.  According to the Publishers:
"In contemporary Russia, state intelligence officer Dominika Egorova has been drafted to become a “Sparrow”—a spy trained in the art of seduction to elicit information from their marks. She’s been assigned to Nathaniel Nash, a CIA officer who handles the organization’s most sensitive penetration of Russian intelligence. The two young intelligence officers, trained in their respective spy schools, collide in a charged atmosphere of tradecraft, deception and, inevitably, a forbidden spiral of carnal attraction that threatens their careers and the security of America’s valuable mole in Moscow" .... The Publishers' rant also called the novel an "electrifying modern spy thriller", however stupefying might be a better adjective.

"The art of seduction" i.e trained and systematicaly degraded, prostitute spies.  Sadly, I was unable to finish this book, couldn't identify with the lead characters at all, aside from pity, and would agree with one reviewer, admittedly in the minority, of mostly sycophant mainstream voices, who said in part:

"If this was a novel about old spies in suits, I’D BE SO HAPPY.

But no, we have to have sex-crazed agents who read human emotions through synesthesia and cook really elaborate meals in their tiny rented flats for no apparent reason."  Read her whole review, it's quite good.

Actually, the recipes at the end of various chapters seemed not to come from any real love of cooking or even food, but to be more market driven add ons.  I found the writing mediocre and the subject not only depressing, and explicitly violent, but disgusting, with a predictable, Cold War plot.  Truly, a sad commentary on the moral state of the Union.  

So with that in mind, and after looking over various recipes from the Ukraine online, we are going with one of their national dishes, Banosh!  Said to be of the most popular traditional Hutsul dishes, specifically from the Carpathians.  Courtesy of the Ukrainian Recipes site, here it is, with a few adaptations:


1 bulb onion
200 g (7 oz) brynza, a firm sheep's milk cheese, or as I did grated Parmesan
300 g (10.5 oz) bacon or pork belly, chopped
1/3 bunch of spring onion
2 cups light cream (or part water)
1 cup cornmeal or polenta
sour cream for topping
black ground pepper – to taste
salt – to taste


Put light cream or milk  in a pot and bring it to boil.  Then, whisk in the cornmeal and continue to boil over low heat, constantly stirring with a wooden spoon. Cook the cornmeal mush until it becomes dense.  Adjust salt and pepper to your taste.

Now let’s cook topping. Cut bacon into medium pieces. Peel a bulb onion, then wash and chop it. Combine the onion with bacon in a frying pan and brown the ingredients. Now we’ll need brynza (brynza is a brined cheese made using cow, goat, or sheep milk, and sometimes including a mix of these types of milk). I couldn't find this cheese, or any close to it, so used grated Parmesan Reggianito. Cut brynza into little pieces. Wash spring onion and cut it finely.

Transfer the prepared cornmeal side dish to a serving bowl. Cover it with the fried bacon and onion. Top the banosh with brynza (or cheese of choice), sour cream and spring onion. Serve warm.

This was the perfect meal after a day of visiting my dentist and discovering that the pain in my jaw (like someone had given me a right hook) was due to possibly yawning, which caused a dislocation of the joint. No chewing was possible.  I was told to eat soft foods until it re-established itself.   Praise God, it had done so by this morning!

We both enjoyed this version of polenta, and especially with the yummy toppings. As you can see, we had another soft food on the side, avocado!

This post is my contribution for our ongoing Cook the Books selection, which is finished this Thursday, the 31st of March.  The Roundup should be interesting.  So, you are invited to check it out next week some time.  I'm also linking up with Weekend Cooking, hosted by Marge, The Intrepid Reader, and with the Foodies Read Challenge, hosted by Heather.

Our next book pick is Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci for April / May 2022, and is hosted by Deb of Kahakai Kitchen.  You are welcome to join in.  (Leave a comment here or check out our Guidelines page if you have any questions.)


Ahi in a Creamy Mushroom White Wine Sauce Despite The Body in the Piazza

I just finished The Body in the Piazza, by Katherine Hall Page.  This book should really be on our next Cook the Books list!  So much tempting food here. Page has an ongoing mystery series I've somehow missed out on (well, along with who knows how many other fine series missed up to now) this one featuring Faith Fairchild is actually the twenty-first.  Usually I try to start with the first, but I read a good review and it was available on Kindle from the library, good since I haven't had my cataract surgery yet.  Also I read a good review, though some of her earlier works didn't fare so well.  Aside from all of that, this one was very well written, and completely stand alone.  Not to mention the many delicious meal descriptions, cooked up and served both at the cooking school as well as in local restaurants and homes.   From the Publisher's Summary:

"The twenty-first Faith Fairchild mystery takes Faith and her husband, the Reverend Tom Fairchild, to Italy, where murder and mayhem mix with pecorino, panna cotta, and prosecco. To celebrate their twentieth wedding anniversary, amateur sleuth Faith Fairchild and her husband, the Reverend Tom Fairchild, leave placid New England behind for a week of romance and fine food in Italy. The bruschetta, the biscotti, the Chianti--Faith can't wait! She's also looking forward to seeing her former assistant Francesca, and take a class at her new cooking school in Florence.  But on their very first night, a travel writer Faith meets in their Roman hotel turns up dead. Then, in their cooking class in Florence, they find themselves surrounded by a number of suspiciously familiar faces they recognize from Rome. Someone is cooking up some unsavory business, including sabotaging Francesca's school. To save her anniversary vacation and protect her friend, Faith must follow a twisting trail of clues to unmask a killer--while learning to master a mean Spaghetti a la Foriana, too!"


Expect the Unexpected from Filipinx

You might call this a cookbook for the bold and adventurous, Filipinx, Heritage Recipes from the Diaspora, by Angela Dimayuga and Ligaya Mishan.  What do I say?  The book beats definition!  Not strictly cuisine from the Philippines, but a second generation update and amalgamation.  I want to try too many of those recipes in the library time remaining, with no renewal possible, so in a fit of let's go for it, another purchase!  Just couldn't resist.

I won't be adding pork blood to the fridge or attempting to make my own fermented shrimp paste, but still... I do want to try the Spicy Banana Ketchup, the green papaya table pickle and many other of her interesting concoctions, particularly the many enticingly unique (if you're not Asian) desserts, drinks, and condiments.

From the Publishers:
"In her debut cookbook, acclaimed chef Angela Dimayuga shares her passion for Filipino food with home cooks.

Filipinx offers 100 deeply personal recipes—many of them dishes that define home for Angela Dimayuga and the more than four million people of Filipino descent in the United States. The book tells the story of how Dimayuga grew up in an immigrant family in northern California, trained in restaurant kitchens in New York City—learning to make everything from bistro fare to Asian-American cuisine—then returned to her roots, discovering in her family’s home cooking the same intense attention to detail and technique she’d found in fine dining."


Molten Chocolate-Caramel Cakes and The Paris Library

 Though I certainly don't post reviews with recipes for all the books I read, sometimes the urge comes when a novel is particularly appealing.  For instance, The Paris Library, by Janet Skeslien Charles, another of the many WWII novels written since those war years, but with some differences.  Through her various characters, we see our own human tendency to judge others, to hold resentment, with often tragic repercussions, and the importance of forgiveness.  As it has been written, "Look after each other so that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many."

We see this very clearly in Odile, an intelligent, helpful and charming, though imperfect leading lady, during those war years in Paris, and later as an old woman in America, wiser and able to mentor Lily, a young woman making and about to make similar mistakes in her life.  They form a precious intergenerational friendship, which is encouraging and important to them both.

From the Publishers:               
"An instant New York Times, Washington Post, and USA TODAY bestseller—based on the true story of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris during World War II—The Paris Library is a moving and unforgettable “ode to the importance of libraries, books, and the human connections we find within both” (Kristin Harmel, New York Times bestselling author).

Paris, 1939: Young and ambitious Odile Souchet seems to have the perfect life with her handsome police officer beau and a dream job at the American Library in Paris. When the Nazis march into the city, Odile stands to lose everything she holds dear, including her beloved library. Together with her fellow librarians, Odile joins the Resistance with the best weapons she has: books. But when the war finally ends, instead of freedom, Odile tastes the bitter sting of unspeakable betrayal.

Montana, 1983: Lily is a lonely teenager looking for adventure in small-town Montana. Her interest is piqued by her solitary, elderly neighbor. As Lily uncovers more about her neighbor’s mysterious past, she finds that they share a love of language, the same longings, and the same intense jealousy, never suspecting that a dark secret from the past connects them."


Cooking From Midnight Chicken

 Our latest trip with Cook the Books Club is a Midnight Chicken journey, a memoir by Ella Risbridger.  With occasionally a little input from "the Tall Man" in her life. This round is hosted by Debra of Eliot's Eats.  The book contains a fabulous selection of delectable recipes, alongside entertaining life notes which are worth reading as well.  

From a few reviewers and the Publishers:

A book of recipes and reflections that reveal the life-changing happiness of cooking.

"Bridget Jones' self-effacing wittiness, Julia Child's companionable forgiveness and Sylvia Plath's poetic prose." --NPR
"A manual for living and a declaration of hope." --Nigella Lawson

There are lots of ways to start a story, but this one begins with a chicken.

There was a time when, for Ella Risbridger, the world had become overwhelming. Sounds were too loud, colors were too bright, everyone moved too fast. One night she found herself lying on her kitchen floor, wondering if she would ever get up--and it was the thought of a chicken, of roasting it, and of eating it, that got her to her feet and made her want to be alive.

Midnight Chicken is a cookbook. Or, at least, you’ll flick through these pages and find recipes so inviting that you will head straight for the kitchen: roast garlic and tomato soup, uplifting chili-lemon spaghetti, charred leek lasagna, squash skillet pie, spicy fish finger sandwiches and burnt-butter brownies. It’s the kind of cooking you can do a little bit drunk, that is probably better if you’ve got a bottle of wine open and a hunk of bread to mop up the sauce.

But if you settle down and read it with a cup of tea (or a glass of that wine), you’ll also discover that it’s an annotated list of things worth living for--a manifesto of momentsworth living for. This is a cookbook to make you fall in love with the world again."


Cinnamon and Gunpowder with African Yam

Cinnamon and Gunpowder, by Eli Brown, was a jolly good read for sure, and our Cook the Books Club selection for October/ November.  I am hosting this event, which is coming to a close on the 30th of November. What we do in this online group is read the current book selection, and then cook something inspired by our reading, post about it, then send your link to the host, or add in the comment line at the Cook the Books site.

I thoroughly enjoyed this very unique story, perhaps some might say an implausible one. But keep in mind the time, people and politics of the day, the places involved. There were pirates then. Life was very difficult for the poor, especially for women on their own. And, we do know from historical records that there were women pirates. Overall, what an amazing adventure!

From the Publishers:
"A gripping adventure, a seaborne romance, and a twist on the tale of Scheherazade—with the best food ever served aboard a pirate’s ship


Time to Eat with Nadiya Hussain

After reading a review of Time to Eat by Nadiya Hussain, which sounded quite intriguing, I promptly checked it out of the library, with the test before buying idea in mind.

I noticed right off that she generally prepares large amounts of a meal with the idea of freezing a portion.  She uses her freezer A LOT! I don't know about you, but no matter the larger freezer I now have, it is always full, with barely enough room to squeeze in more stuff.  I'm trying to avoid getting a separate freezer unit as it is hard enough getting the one we have in order and under control.  

According to her Publishers:

"Nadiya Hussain knows that feeding a family and juggling a full work load can be challenging. Time to Eat solves mealtime on weeknights and busy days with quick and easy recipes that the whole family will love. Nadiya shares all her tips and tricks for making meal prep as simple as possible, including ideas for repurposing leftovers and components of dishes into new recipes, creating second meals to keep in the freezer, and using shortcuts--like frozen foods--to cut your prep time significantly."

I'm also a great one for "repurposing leftovers" things that I shove in the fridge rather than freeze.  At the same time, she uses more prepared foods than I do, which actually I try to avoid, such as canned corned beef, fish pie mix, store bought crepe pancakes (I would use any extra I had from making crepes), precooked rice, etc., and difficult to locate items. Maybe I'll be able to find some canned, pressed cod roe one day, don't know.  I've checked several stores to no avail.  Guess it's Amazon for the truly serious.   All in all, fine for those with big time constraints.  If you discount the search for unusual ingredients.


Persimmons for Desert and Transient Desires


Don't you hate it when you've just read the last of a wonderfully written series.  Donna Leon's Transient Desires is such a one.  Now I've got to wait for her next novel, along with all the other fans.  

A depressing subject perhaps, yet written with compassion and objectivity, as Commissario Brunetti seeks to find the truth and see that justice is served. Why so many of us love mysteries.  We have that same hope. The aging policeman is going through a period of melancholy, brought on in part by the overwhelming number of tourists and huge ships wrecking havoc in his precious city, frustrated with many of his retired friends who are only interested in their grandchildren.  Then there is always the corruption in high places. But, he has the consolation of a wise and loving wife, challenging children and supportive colleagues, all set in the beauty that is Venice.. 

From the Publishers:

"In the landmark thirtieth installment of the bestselling series the New Yorker has called “an unusually potent cocktail of atmosphere and event,” Guido Brunetti is forced to confront an unimaginable crime.