Cacio e pepe

The food: spaghetti with Pecorino Romano, pepper, tomatoes, olives and herbs

The story:

My friend Fern came back from a short trip to Rome rhapsodizing about the outstanding dishes of pasta she’d eaten, including a fabulous tonnarelli cacio e pepe. Consumed with envy, I looked up what the hell that was ( a spaghetti-like pasta made in a classic Roman preparation with pecorino cheese and pepper), slapped myself upside the head for not knowing (and I call myself a food-obsessive!) and resolved to make myself some, post-haste.

A quick internet search led me to a nifty adaptation of the classic recipe from Rachael Ray – one of several (!) variations on cacio e pepe that she’s published. I adapted it further and proceeded to happily stuff my face with the result. Until the next time I get to Rome (which could be a while, considering the last time I was there was in 1975), this dish will hold me over nicely when I’m craving something simple, sophisticated and easy to overeat.

Cacio e Pepe with Warm Tomatoes (adapted from Rachael Ray)


10-15 strawberry tomatoes, halved
1 cup mixture of fresh chopped basil, flat-leaf parsley and mint
6 Tbsp. best quality extra virgin olive oil you can get
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound spaghettini
1-2 cups grated Pecorino-Romano cheese
about 1/2 c. pitted black olives, not canned


1. Put large pot of water on to boil for pasta.
2. When boiling, add spaghettini to water.
3. Heat oil in saute pan over medium heat. Grind generous amount of pepper into oil to taste, 8-10 grinds of a mill.
4. When oil is shimmering, add tomatoes, cut side down and saute for a few minutes until slightly softened.
5. Remove saute pan from heat and stir in fresh herbs and olives.
6. When pasta is al dente, drain, reserving 1/2 c. pasta cooking water.
7. Toss pasta in saute pan with tomatoes, herbs, peppery oil, 3/4 cup of grated Pecorino-Romano cheese and some of the pasta water until saucy coating forms and all elements are combined. Serve in pasta dishes.
8. Finish with sea salt such as Flor de Sal D’es Trenc, Mediterranean blend.
9. Pass the extra cheese at the table.

Serves 4.

Of bikes, eggplant and bread

The food: Sicilian eggplant salad and Persian bread

The story:

My husband E has recently taken up road biking with his friend Rubin. Twice a week, they haul their road bikes to the outskirts of Toronto and go for rides of 40–60 kilometres on country-ish roads. After the last ride, they stopped in at a farmer’s vegetable stand in Richmond Hill, where E went a little wild, locavore-style. He came home with corn, field tomatoes, zucchini, green beans and a Sicilian eggplant.

Sicilian eggplant is pumpkin-shaped, purple, and about 4 times the size of a regular eggplant while containing fewer seeds and having a milder flavour. For one of the several meals it gave us, I roasted slices of it with olive oil, layered the slices with some sliced field tomatoes and bufala mozzarella, drizzled some extra virgin olive oil mixed with chopped basil over it and finished the salad (shown above) with some aromatic sea salt mixed with herbs, from Mallorca.

That salad can be eaten alone, or wrapped within the delicious fresh-baked Persian flatbread that E and Rubin often pick up after their bike rides at Super Khourak, a Persian bakery located at Finch and Yonge in North York.

Super Khourak bakes several varieties of Persian bread in-house – thick or thin, with sesame or poppy seeds or without. All come in one large size that’s about 2 feet long and 1 foot wide. My favourite type is the thin, roti-like, tangy wholewheat one. It can be eaten fresh (and warm from the bakery) or crisped up a little in a toaster oven or oven, and makes a good accompaniment for just about anything, including a mixture of homemade hummus, arugula or watercress, and sweet and spicy pecans.

Signature Dish Meets New Style Book Publicity

The food: sesame-crusted salmon on salad

The story:

About a month ago, a publicist from a company called BookSparksPR contacted me to ask if I would like to “take part in a blog tour” for a new novel to be published in early August – Georgia’s Kitchen by Jenny Nelson.

Once I figured out what a blog tour was, I agreed to review the book, partly so I could experience new style, social-networking-type book publicity first-hand, though I opted to observe and report on some aspects of the tour (giveaways! a virtual blog visit! facebook and twitter updates!) from a distance.

So here’s the nicely designed and tasteful (yeah, I did that) book cover of Georgia’s Kitchen:

And here’s my review:

Georgia’s Kitchen is a light-hearted work of commercial fiction about a 33-year-old chef who, after getting fired from her job in a high-end New York restaurant and dumped by her lawyer fiancé, miraculously scores a job cooking at an esteemed chef’s about-to-open trattoria in Tuscany. She jets off there for the summer to lick her wounds and refine her craft, only to be courted by the handsome owner of the vineyard next door.

A press release that came with the book calls it “reminiscent of Julie and Julia and Under the Tuscan Sun,” which is quite the stretch, since both of those books are non-fiction memoirs told in the distinctive 1st-person voices of their authors.

What this living-the-good-life women’s novel (told in the 3rd person) reminded me of was Sex and the City (TV or movie version), re: the sex, drug (cocaine) use, swilling of expensive wines, name-dropping of NYC bars and restaurants, and the handy gal pals (one a fashionista) who take Georgia to a spa to cheer her up.

The novel also made me recall Seeing Me Naked by Liza Palmer,

a novel with a similar fluffy and entertaining tone about a Pasadena pastry chef, who, like Georgia in this book, has parental issues to work through when she’s not cooking, brooding about her love life, and aspiring to chef-ish greatness.

Georgia cooks plenty of (mostly Italian) food in Georgia’s Kitchen. In what I thought was the novel’s most vivid and well-realized scene, she prepares a torta a strati alla primavera or savoury “spring layer cake” – a layered, moulded creation made of risotto, organic spring vegetables, pesto, and a chilled basil-mint sformato – that she hopes will be chosen as the Tuscan trattoria’s signature dish.

The talk in the novel of signature dishes started me pondering if I have one. Seeing as I’m no chef and never will be, I think the closest thing to a signature dish in my current repertoire is the sesame-crusted salmon on salad main dish (pictured at top) that I have often made for dinner à deux and for company.

The recipe for it comes from Bonnie Stern’s cookbook Simply Heartsmart Cooking. Her version of it can be found here For the summery edition I made today, I substituted nectarines for orange sections, yellow peppers for red, and toasted black and white sesame seeds for regular ones.

Until I come up with a new signature dish – maybe some of chef Georgia’s brilliance will rub off on me now that I’ve read the book! (or maybe I need to go to Tuscany to be inspired) – this lovely, colourful main course salad will do just fine.