Book clubs are a popular activity for many women, particularly in suburban communities. Some say it’s an excuse to meet with girlfriends for a glass of wine and some food. Others prefer to keep it simple and focus on the literacy genius of famous authors.
Attempting to spice up my turn as hostess of the book by Elena Ferrante,“My Brilliant Friend,” I decided to do a cooking demonstration for my group of book club ladies. The book takes place in Naples, Italy which is close to my heart, as my husband’s “roots” are from a small town outside of Naples, named Torre del Greco.
My menu was a few traditional and favorite Neopolitan recipes. I had a vegan girlfriend amongst the group, so I had to make consideration for her. As part of the experience, I served the meal in ceramic hand-painted Italian platters purchased in Vietri sul Mare, the region we were talking about. Bello piatto!
Mozzarella in carrozza
A small sandwich on Italian bread with mozzarella, dipped in egg and fried lightly. The sauce I made with extra virgin olive oil, lemon, butter, capers and ground pepper, fresh parsley and some locatelli cheese.
I demonstrated how to prepare this dish and we all then indulged in the delicious flavors complemented with a glass of wine.
Endive, arugula and radicchio salad
I lightly dressed it with extra virgin olive oil, lemon, dijon mustard and ground pepper. This is a classic Neopolitan salad.
Spaghetti a la vongole
Naples is known for seafood and sweet clams (vongole) straight from the Mediterranean Sea. The sauce is with few ingredients, including garlic, fresh parsley, red pepper flakes, olive oil, butter, clam juice and white wine. I had two main points to make when demonstrating this recipe.
Saute the garlic in olive oil till it is golden. Remove the slices of garlic, leaving the flavored olive oil. Add the other ingredients and the vongole, covering the pan so that the vongole would open and cook for just about 10 minutes.
Cook the spaghetti in salted boiling water and make sure the pasta is strained “al dente” and add a small amount of the pasta water to the pot with the clams and the other ingredients.
Zucchini spaghetti with a fresh marinara sauce
Served for the vegan and carb-conscious ladies in the group. Marinara sauce is so simple. The only ingredients are olive oil, garlic, basil, plum tomatoes, salt & pepper to taste and cooked for about 20 minutes or less. When it comes to ingredients, my motto is: less is more. Delizioso!
Chicken marsala with artichoke hearts and sundried tomatoes
I love using an electric skillet, preparing it in advance, and then heating it for 1 minute right before serving. I explained to the group that I use thin chicken medallions, lightly floured, browned in olive oil, shallots (you can replace/add garlic, scallions and/or leeks). Remove the chicken, add the quartered artichoke hearts and sundried tomatoes. After cooking for a few minutes, add the chicken back to the skillet, salt, pepper, butter, chicken broth and marsala wine and I let it sit. I typically don’t measure my ingredients; it’s just a feel that you develop in time and with practice.
Mangiare i miei amici, buon appetite. We talked about the book and the characters as we indulged in our classic Neopolitan meal. We chatted about the traditions in an Italian family and the very distinct culture in Naples, Italy. Brava Janetta!
Amy had just returned from a trip to the Amalfi Coast, which is a short distance from Naples. She had brought back a bottle of Limoncello, which is made from the colossal lemons that grow in that region and decorate the most beautiful coastline. L’Italia e bellissima, la costa e spettacolare. We ended the evening with a sip of this Italian liquor served in glasses from Capri, a beautiful island off the Bay of Sorrento. Limoncello is meant to help with digestion, but it certainly topped off a wonderful evening of good food, wine, travel and book discussion with friends.
Cibo, viaggi e relazioni si intrecciano.