Family, Food, Regional Cooking, and Identity

I was particularly attracted to a small poster I saw recently on Facebook:

1-Marcella quote Regional Cooking

It purports to be a quote from Marcella, but I can’t verify that, although it is consistent with her observations throughout her cookbooks.  Not long after seeing this, the idea was strongly reinforced when we had a chance to participate in a Progressive Dinner event among members of our congregation.  The dinners were planned to be made featuring the cookbook Jerusalem, by Ottolenghi and Tamimi.  Each of the hosts were joined by three other couples, and they prepared dishes from a set of recipes in the book.  After the meal, everyone gathered at the home of one of our member families for dessert and coffee.

2-Jerusalem cover 2

Being mostly vegan, we decided that the best way to participate was to host our own vegetarian/vegan dinner in the spirit (if not the letter) of that cookbook, and to share it with those members who preferred to be meat/fish/dairy free.

As I read through their book, I found that Marcella’s quote was alive and well at the core of Jerusalem’s authors’ philosophy, too.  I attach a few selections below from the Introduction to give you a feel for their points of view, as well as a few excerpts from another of my favorites, Claudia Roden.

3-Jerusalem Intro


Now we needed to construct our menu.  As I explained to our guests,

We are also using the opportunity to integrate the philosophies of Ottolenghi, Marcella Hazan, and Claudia Roden, and the food traditions of Jerusalem, Italy, and Spain, because they marry so well and speak to the history of the Jewish people and food, especially with Sephardic history and instincts.

Here is what we came up with for the menu:

CBE Progressive Vegan Dinner

Eggplant Red Pepper Salad recipe

eggplant-pepper salad

Roden baked rice and chickpeas

stuffed dates

The story should end triumphantly right here.  But unfortunately, that’s not how life works.  As I finished the final moments of baking the Rice and Chickpeas dish (after soaking the Italian dried chickpeas overnight, then simmering them to succulent perfection before incorporating them with the rice and currants in the cazuela), we were just moments away from the arrival of our guests.  As I confidently removed the cazuela from the hot oven, I accidentally banged it against the edge of the granite countertop.  It immediately cracked in many pieces, spilling rice, chickpeas, currants, garlic, and pottery shards inside the oven and on the kitchen floor.  Much of the debris fell into the crack between the open oven door and the oven frame.

It was a total loss.  And a horrible mess.  While I was yelling, “Oh, my God, OMG” over and over, Barbara came in, swept up most of the mess, and immediately began cooking another batch, using canned chickpeas, and a METAL sauteuse.  I spent my time trying to remove chickpeas from the crack under the oven door.

2014-01-26 12.19.06 HDR

People arrived, pitched in to help, the substitute dish came out fine (not quite as good, but marvelous under the circumstances), and the evening was a success.  Sometimes it’s good to he humbled, but happy.  Buon appetito.

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