My dear friend Mark Leslie has written a book called Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family. In my world, it's one of the most perfect books ever because it does exactly what I strive to do here each week with my Comfort Food Saturday posts: tell a story and share a recipe. The book chronicles the time he spent in Italy with a family, learning about the culture, the language and, naturally, the cuisine. Most of us dream of adventures like this, but Mark made it a reality. He actually got to spend months in the kitchen with a real Italian "Nonna," completely immersed in this incredible culture and surrounded by some of the best food in the world. I am so excited to be able to share an excerpt from Mark's blog and one of the fantastic recipes he learned from Nonna with you all today. Please be sure to visit his site. The top navigation bar has lots to offer, including where you can BUY THE BOOK. (Because believe me, you want to BUY THE BOOK!) Maybe if you're really, really nice, Mark will even autograph it for you.
Here's a wonderful excerpt from the blog, giving you a great idea of Mark's fun writing style and the funny, warm, charming stories he has to share in the book. I'm so proud to be able to share this with all of you and I hope you'll remember to BUY THE BOOK! (The holidays are coming, people.)
You never have to go into the sun to turn red~
With the dog days of summer quickly approaching, the heat has me thinking about the beach and, with it being high travel season in Italy, I am sure Italy’s beaches are packed with the touring throngs.
I spent five days in the small coastal town of Amalfi once and the view from the hotel room over the bay could not have been more stunning.
Before I take any trip, I spend months surfing the web for the most idyllic places to stay and visit…and part of their beauty always involved price—a bargain price. There are bargains out there, if you search long enough.
Once such bargain was the Hotel Aurora. It took me countless e-mails back and forth with the hotel’s booking agent, Andrea, to reserve the rooms I wanted. I would write to her in my elementary Italian and she would respond in a very proper British English—with all of the gracious overtones of exceedingly polite conversation. There was nothing Standard American about her English.
For months we corresponded back on forth trying to insure that the rooms I booked would have terraces overlooking the bay and that they would be right next to each other, since Richard and I were traveling with friends, adjoining terraces were a must. I thanked her for her continued vigilance about contacting me first, before anyone else on the waiting list, should a vacancy open up. We joked about the unending throngs of tourists and I tried to be as charming as I could with my Italian—making sure to use all of the correct feminine word endings. I wanted to be as polite and formal with her as she was in her writing to me. After weeks of touching base and daily emails, by the end, I felt that Andrea and I had developed a relationship…a friendship…as basic as it was. I was excited to meet her and she responded in kind. It is in moments like these that I am quite proud of the fact that I can speak some Italian. And sometimes I catch myself gloating to Richard about how I have charmed another Italian with my fundamental knowledge of their native tongue. He congratulates me, but I can see that, in his mind, he is rolling his eyes at me.
We arrived at the Hotel Aurora hot, tired, and exhausted from the harrowing journey by private car from Salerno to Amalfi. If you have ever heard of traffic on the Amalfi Coast being terrifying—it is no joke. The narrow, cliff-side roads twist with breakneck angles, while being packed with motorized vehicles of all sizes—cars, motorcycles, small Italian three-wheeled utility trucks (envision an enclosed motorized wheelbarrow), and enormous tour buses. At times, traffic stops so people can pull their side-view mirrors in against the sides of the car or bus—there is that little clearance. There are literally only inches, and sometimes less than inches, between the passing lanes of traffic.
We approached the hotel counter, pleased to have survived the drive, and I very proudly said to the balding, middle-aged man behind the counter, “Buona sera, il mio nome è Mark Leslie e ho una prenotazione. Anche, è Andrea qui? Lei vorrei conoscere.” (“Good evening, my name is Mark Leslie and I have a reservation. Also, is Andrea here? I would like to meet her.”)
The man behind the desk looked oddly at me. I thought, “OK, my Italian isn’t perfect but he should be able to get the gist of what I said. I mean I know I am close.” Here my arrogance, much like my gloating to Richard, started to take over.
“È possibile? È Andrea qui?” I asked.
Again the man looked at me plainly before smiling and saying, “Sono Andrea.” (“I am Andrea.”)
Ugh! Andrea was a man! I am such a fool. For months I had been charming, practically flirting, with the woman “Andrea.” I knew my attempted Italian would endear her to me—and get me the rooms I wanted. That is what gloating and arrogance gets me—every time—my foot in my mouth! I completely forgot that in Italian the feminine name is “Andria” (“Ahn-dree-ah”) and the masculine name is “Andrea” (“ahn-dray-ah”). I was looking at his Italian name the whole time and thinking it was the feminine “Andrea” for the masculine “Andre.”
I turned three shades of red. For months I had been calling the man behind the counter “her”—I knew our rooms were going to be the broom closets in the basement.
Luckily, Andrea is accustomed to silly American tourists slaughtering his name and language and took pity on me. We were given the terraced rooms with adjoining balconies as promised—with the most wonderful views of the bay.
Our five days there were glorious and Andrea was the most gracious concierge the entire time. One morning on our way to breakfast on the bougainvillea-covered loge, I stopped and apologized to Andrea for the entire feminine/masculine mistake. He was forgiving, though despite my attempts at making him laugh it off, he never did crack a smile.
I hope to return to the Hotel Amalfi again and, this time, Andrea will know that I remember “him.”
Ciao e a presto~
And now, a delicious recipe! This particular recipe is featured in Mark's "Italian Pantry" section on the blog. The Italian Pantry is great because it not only provides you with fantastic, authentic Italian recipes, but also with a shopping list for each recipe in the book. That's service, I tell you!
Frittata con Zucchine e Cipolla
Zucchini, like most squash, has a high water content. When shopping for this dish, choose small- to medium-sized ones rather than large zucchini, because the larger they grow, the more water and less flavor they have.
- 2 tablespoons sunflower oil (extra virgin olive oil may be substituted)
- 1 small-medium onion, finely minced
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced
- 3/4 cup water, divided
- 3 medium zucchini (about 3/4 pound), sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 6 eggs, beaten
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Heat the oil in a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion and garlic. Cook for one minute, stirring constantly. Add 1/4 cup of the water and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until the water has almost evaporated. Add another 1/4 cup water and cook an additional 2 to 3 minutes until the water has, once again, almost evaporated. Stir in the zucchini rounds, salt, pepper and remaining 1/4 cup water. Lower the heat, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini is soft, 10 to 12 minutes.
Meanwhile, beat the eggs in a medium bowl and stir in the Parmigiano-Reggiano.
When the zucchini is soft but still retains its shape, remove the cover, return the heat to medium and cook until the excess moisture has evaporated, 4 to 6 minutes. Stir in the beaten egg mixture, making sure the zucchini and onions are evenly distributed. Cook until the bottom of the frittata starts to lightly brown and the top begins to set up, 4 to 6 minutes.
With a spatula, loosen the edges of the frittata from the sides of the pan and with a quick firm shake, flip the frittata over in one whole piece.* Cook the second side 2 to 3 minutes until the bottom is lightly browned.
Invert the finished frittata (or if inverting seems scary, you can slide the frittata) onto a serving plate, cut into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature. Serves 8 as an appetizer, or 4 as an entree.
*Note: If flipping the frittata seems daunting, place a dinner plate over the frittata and turn the pan over, inverting the frittata onto the plate. Slide the frittata back into the pan and finish cooking the second side. A third way to finish the second side of the frittata is to place it under a broiler. Preheat the broiler and when the bottom of the frittata is lightly browned and the top is still loose, place the pan under the broiler until the top is set and browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Nonna flipped hers effortlessly. I still tend to put mine under a broiler.
Copyright 2010 by Mark Leslie
From Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family by Mark Leslie
Published by Gemelli Press, LLC