The Godfather by Mario Puzo

I’m a bore on the topic of books vs. films, as I’ve been told many times, and I’d have to agree. Don’t get me started on whether the film version is better than the book, because I will wax poetic for a good hour or two about the merits of the book and how the book is ALWAYS better than the film. However, I must come clean and shamefacedly admit that I have never in my life read Mario Puzo’s masterpiece The Godfather. Until now, that is.

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I’ve seen the film, of course. Like 30 times. Possibly more. I own the trilogy, for God’s sake. I can quote the movie nearly line-by-line (another reason not to watch movies with me because I will irritate the shit out of you by doing that) and I will gladly debate the merits of that much-maligned film The Godfather III, because I personally think it has many hidden gems within it. Just try to ignore Sofia Coppola’s performance and give her a break…..she was young and there are worse actresses in the world.

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Unless you live under a rock, you know the storyline. The Corleone family patriarch, Vito, runs a crime syndicate in 1950s New York. He has three sons, Santino (Sonny), Frederico (Fredo), and Michael, and a daughter, Constanza (Connie.) All are very different, and Sonny is expected to take over the family business, but when he is executed Mafia-style and when Vito Corleone has an attempt made on his life, Michael takes over, becomes the Don and is far more cold and ruthless than his father ever could be.

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I was surprised at how removed the narration of the book was, though. It’s told from the third-person, but even from that remove, it is a very cold and clinically written book of a passionate family. The dichotomy was odd, though it worked extremely well because when you read the scenes of violence, murder, etc., the emotional remove makes them much more powerful. I was also surprised at how Michael’s Sicilian wife, Apolonia, was portrayed. In the film, she has very much a personality, flirtatious and passionate and quite funny, actually. In the book, she really isn’t given much character at all, beyond being this gorgeous, sexual creature that Michael falls passionately in love with and must possess, until she is, of course, killed in the car explosion meant for him.’

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In terms of food, I had initially planned to recreate the scene where Clemenza teaches Michael to make  homemade ragú sauce when Michael is in hiding before killing Sollozzo and McCluskey, frying the garlic, etc. It’s a classic food scene and I love nothing more than making tomato sauces because it’s so relaxing. But I then I read the scene where a pregnant Connie cooks a meal of veal with peppers for her dickwad husband Carlo, and when he tells her to fuck off, she loses her temper, smashes the dishes on the table, and he proceeds to beat the living hell out of her.

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“I’m not hungry yet,” he said, still reading the racing form. “It’s on the table,” Connie said stubbornly. “Stick it up your ass,” Carlo said. He drank off the rest of the whiskey in the water glass, tilted the bottle to fill it again. He paid no more attention to her. Connie went into the kitchen, picked up the plates filled with food and smashed them……..the loud crashes brought Carlo in from the bedroom. He looked at the greasy veal and peppers splattered all over the kitchen walls and his finicky neatness was outraged. “You filthy guinea spoiled brat……clean that up right now or I’ll kick the shit out of you.” And he does, using a belt and his fists.

Pretty awful, both in the book and the film clip above, but it did start me thinking about veal. I had never made veal saltimbocca and this seemed like an excellent way to honor the Corleone family. This method comes from the legendary Anna del Conte’s book Gastronomy of Italy, which in my opinion, is like the Bible of contemporary Italian cooking. Her method does involve making the veal into little rolls, or involtini, so my friend Luca Marchiori says these should be called vitello involtino.

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INGREDIENTS
10 thin veal veal cutlets
10 slices prosciutto
10 fresh sage leaves
1/2 cup flour, for dusting the veal
Salt and pepper to taste
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup white wine

METHOD
Lay out the veal cutlets on a flat surface.

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Place a strip of prosciutto and one sage leave atop each piece of meat.

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Roll up each veal cutlet and secure  with a toothpick to hold its shape.

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Mix salt and pepper into the flour, and dredge each veal roll in the seasoned flour.

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In a heavy skillet, heat the olive oil and melt the butter in it, and when hot and bubbly, add in five of the veal rolls, browning on each side. I estimate it was roughly 5 minute per side. Don’t crowd the frying pan because they won’t brown and your lovely $25.00 veal cutlets will have gone to waste. I’m too cheap to want that.

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Let cool and fry the other five rolls.

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Remove the last rolls from the still-hot pan, and pour in the white wine, whisking and letting it bubble until it thickens into a lovely, syrupy reduction sauce, about 10 minutes. Pour over the veal rolls. The smell is amazing!

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Et voila! Veal saltimbocca, or as my friend Luca Marchiori suggested, vitelli involtini since they are rolled. Whatever. They are absolutely, mouth-wateringly delicious!

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Serve with some lovely, buttery polenta and roasted red bell peppers….hence, veal and peppers! Just don’t throw the food across the room a la Connie Corleone.

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La Cucina by Lily Prior

20160110_150728_resized(NOTE: Please do not repost this content, recipe or associated photos without my permission.)

I’m not much for bodice rippers. I find them overly dramatic, unrealistic, and the writing is often just bad. But enough about 50 Shades of Grey.

That being said, I just finished Lily Prior’s La Cucina – A Novel Of Rapture, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Essentially, it’s a book about food and sex. There is some murder thrown in for good measure, a dramatic Sicilian mother, conjoined twins, a villa by the sea, a parrot, a little black pug(!), and of course, food. And sex. And a library.

You read that right. Books. Food. Sex. The (Un)Holy Trinity, at least in my world.

It’s interesting, the connections between sex and food that are found in literature, and indeed, in life. After all, food nourishes us, and sex…….well, none of us would be here without it. Both are ways in which we often feel most connected to the physical – eating a wonderful meal or being with a wonderful lover. Both have the potential to be so comforting in the face of strife and trouble, as well as being marvelous celebrations of simply being alive.

This novel takes that connection between food and sex and runs with it in such a delightful way. The main character, Rosa, finds solace as a librarian after a tragedy and ends up finding love again, but her main passion, her vocation, her reason for being, is cooking.

See that there link between books and food? Ring a bell?  Anyway, I digress.

The book is filled with so many wonderful food dishes and references that I almost can’t choose which is my favorite. One of the best is when Rosa meets the man who will ultimately become her lover and cannot sleep for thinking about him. I mean, who hasn’t tossed and turned thinking about someone we have desired or loved who turned our heads and hearts inside out…….not to mention our stomachs? In her insomnia, she prepares something delectable-sounding called formaggio all’ Argentiera, which is caciocavallo cheese cooked slowly to melt and mixed with red wine vinegar, garlic and oregano, then piled onto rustic bread and eaten with great delight. Doesn’t that sound absolutely heavenly? I couldn’t find caciocavallo locally, but I may return to this recipe and book if ever I do. Be warned.

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Cooking up some Italian!

By far, my favorite scene in the book is when her lover invites her to his (of course!) villa overlooking the sea and cooks her the most sensual and amazing meal, and then proceeds to eat it off her body. Holy Mother of God! He starts with oysters, placing them at strategic areas on her body and eating them off. He tilts her wineglass so that wine pours into her mouth and throat, then kisses her.

Did I mention this book verges on pornographic? But in a good way.

He finishes by putting spaghetti and his own homemade tomato ragú sauce over her and eating it off, strand by luscious strand.  “He had produced a marvelous ragú with meat, tomatoes, and lots of garlic. As I watched, he mixed in the sauce with the spaghetti. After making sure it wasn’t too hot, he ladled it onto my body……..With his hands, he fed the spaghetti to me, trailing its tendrils between my parted lips. It was divine. Mmmmmmm. A truly wonderful sauce: lots of garlic, tender chunks of meat.” (pp. 173-174).

I defy you to not be enticed by that description, both of passion and of food. As such, I was inspired to try and recreate a tomato ragú that would entice a lover to pour it all over me and eat it off. I’ll report back.

This is the cooking method that worked for me.
Continue reading “La Cucina by Lily Prior”