Miz Chef

Cooking Up a Healthy Life


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Zuppa di Santa Lucia

Campania

This is the next entry in my Regions of Italy project, based on the book La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy by Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine). Today we’re in Campania.

When I was going through the recipes from Campania, trying to decide which ones to do, as soon as I spotted one called “St. Lucy’s Soup,” I knew it would be on my list. St. Lucy, or Santa Lucia as she is known in Italian, has always been a part of my life.

Although her year of birth is recorded as 283 A.D. in Syracuse, Italy, not much is known about St. Lucy or the actual details of her death. Legend has it that she devoted herself to God and vowed chastity. Her mother had betrothed her to a young man, who, after being rejected, turned her in to the governor, Paschasius (Christianity was outlawed at this time, and paganism was the accepted religion).

As punishment, Paschasius sentenced her to work in a brothel, but guards couldn’t physically move her, even after tying her to a team of oxen. The guards then tried to create a pyre around her, but the wood wouldn’t burn. They finally succeeded in killing her with their swords.

One cloudy aspect of her story—and this is important part—was what happened with her eyes. There are conflicting stories about that. Some said that just before she died, she warned Paschasius that he would be punished for his actions, and for that, he had her eyes gouged out. Others said that Lucy plucked her own eyes out to discourage a suitor who admired them greatly. (That sounds a bit drastic to me.) Word of her faith and piety spread and she was venerated as a saint. When her body was being prepared for burial, they discovered her eyes had been miraculously restored.

What’s interesting is that “Lucia” is related to the Latin word lux, which means light. So, who knows where reality ended and legend exploded. She is the patron saint of vision and is often depicted holding a plate with eyes on them.

Tributes to St. Lucy in my childhood room.

When I was about 6 years old, I almost lost my sight. I was in the hospital for 9 days, during which time, doctors hovered around me, put me through countless tests, and poked and prodded me. The only information I have about that event is that I had a rare virus in my cornea. My parents didn’t speak much English, so the actual medical language was lost on them.

Knowing the kind of person my mother is, and my father was, the prospect of their child going blind must have been an unbearable torment for them. Especially for my mother. She prayed to Santa Lucia to restore my vision.

Whether it was St. Lucy’s intervention, medical knowledge, or natural self-healing, my vision was indeed restored, if a little shaky. But my mother, an Old World Italian woman who believes in the saints and in prayer, believed that she had Santa Lucia to thank, and from that time on, my room always had statues of St. Lucy, placed there by my mother. Kind of creepy as a child to look a statue of a woman holding a plate of eyeballs. But whatever.

And here’s something else. You probably don’t even know it, but one of the most popular Italian tunes that can be heard throughout the decades in the movies or TV shows is “Santa Lucia.” See if you recognize it. (Here’s Elvis performing it!)

Anyway, on to the actual recipe. Continue reading

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Purgatorio alla Calabrese

Calabria

This is the latest entry in my Regions of Italy project, based on the book La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy by Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine) as my guide. Today we are still in Calabria, which, as I said in my last entry, makes up the “instep” and toe of the boot of Italy.

The last Calabrian recipe featured eggplant as its main ingredient, so I had wanted to avoid additional eggplant recipes. But the name of this one intrigued me: Purgatory Sandwich. The book doesn’t explain why this is called Purgatory Sandwich, and I couldn’t find any information on it (I will say that my research was minimal). My theory is that whoever named this decided that if they had to stop in Purgatory on their way to Heaven and needed a snack, this would be it.

Anyway, let’s get to the recipe. This one had a couple of ingredients that were vague. Here are the items (as they are called for in the book) that I had issues with (the text in red are my comments):

2 eggplants (What size? Small? Medium? Or what weight? One pound? Two pounds?), cut into sections (What does that mean?) and soaked in salted water about 30 minutes (this should have been put at the top of the list and the first step in the instructions). I started with two small Italian eggplants and cubed them, but found that to be too much. So, in the end, I recommend 1 medium eggplant.

4 peppers, coarsely chopped (What kind of peppers? Bell? Italian? What color? I went with 1 large red and 2 smallish green bell peppers)

As for the tomatoes, I felt that it could have used one more. Also, the recipes calls for 4 young potatoes, quartered–I think they are referring to new potatoes here.

This is a very rustic, quintessential Italian recipe. The fact that it contains eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes just makes it scream Mediterranean. Continue reading


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Release of World Party!!

World Party Front CoverAt long last, I can finally announce the release of my latest cookbook, World Party: Vegetarian Appetizers, Hors d’oeuvres and Party Plates.

Thai Peanut Dumplings

Thai Peanut Dumplings

This is both an excitement and a relief because this book has been on a long and arduous trip. I first got the idea for it, and began researching recipes and cuisines for it, in 2002. I spent many years testing and developing recipes to duplicate the dishes I’d read about and sampled, but in such a way that they would stay true to the originals as much as possible while making them meatless.

M'Baazi

M’Baazi

I started with a list, and that list grew and grew. Over the years, I added recipes, deleted recipes, changed recipes, and in a few cases I was so determined to make a particular recipe work that I just kept testing and testing until I came up with the right result. Sometimes a recipe simply didn’t work and I tossed it. Occasionally I would discover that I’d confused one dish for another, and sometimes I had a recipe that I couldn’t find the proper name for in its originating culture. In those cases, I researched high and low on the internet and in books and magazines, asked friends and coworkers if they knew, asked friends to ask their friends and coworkers if they knew, posted questions in special interest groups on Facebook, etc. I found out the answers to some, and found out that I had others all wrong.

An Indian Feast

An Indian Feast

As I met and talked to more and more people from different cultures, my list expanded but, oddly, also shrank. So many cultures have more common threads than we imagine, and as I started to examine my recipes, I began to realize that there were more similarities than differences. It was a fascinating and educational journey I went on.

Pot Stickers

Pot Stickers

The one thing I’ve learned from this project, if nothing else, is that no matter what clothing people wear, what religion they practice, what rituals they perform, what kinds of jobs they hold, or how much money they have, we are more similar than we are different. You can see this in the very similar dishes that are shared between nations, with maybe just a spice or two, or a cooking method, differentiating them.

Arepitas with Black Bean-Corn Salsa

Arepitas with Black Bean-Corn Salsa

Eating is the one thing that every single human being on earth must do to survive, so it’s no wonder that food is the common bond across the planet. No matter where you go in the world, a signal that you are welcome is the offer of food. When you are a guest at someone’s home, it always gives your hosts tremendous pleasure to feed to. It is the global sign of hospitality, and many customs and rituals were created around food. In some places, to refuse food is an insult, or to not finish it all is a sign of poor manners. Some cultures expect you to belch loudly when you’re done to show that you are satisfied.

Food always brings brings people of the world together.

Australian "Roo" Burgers

Australian “Roo” Burgers

It’s my hope that through food, we can find common ground and sit at the table together to share a meal.

So take a trip around the world. If you can’t do it physically, do it in your kitchen and at your table. Try new recipes and explore new flavors, and invite your friends and loved ones to share in the journey. Most of all, enjoy it. Peace.

A Spanish Feast

A Spanish Feast

 

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