The Twenty-Seventh Letter of the Alphabet by Kim Adrian1 is the most engrossing memoir I have ever read and one I heartily recommend. The writing is delicate and evocative. The author tells her difficult, often deeply painful, story through vignettes organized in glossary format. The vignettes work like pieces of a puzzle: as the book proceeds, the reader reconstructs the lives of the main characters—the author, her parents and her sister. Adrian's husband and children also play an important role, one of hope, as we see that she has been able to create a completely different experience for her family.
Ultimately, the glossary’s imposed order serves less to organize emotional chaos than to expose difficult but necessary truths, such as the fact that some problems simply can’t be solved, and that loving someone doesn’t necessarily mean saving them.
In the book we see the author developing a relationship with her father when she is an adult and he's become sober. Her mother's mental illness however, prevents the establishing of an even keel and in the end, long distance is what allows a kind of truce to take hold.
The book has some references to food, but the part that inspired me is the mother's skill as a gardener, which never fails to surprise the author and the reader, appearing as it does against a background of mental illness.
My mother was not a gardener, though she always had a pot of basil (basilico) in the summer, a tradition which I have tried to maintain. Last year I was particularly successful and my basil plant lasted until last month, when I planted a new one. The other ingredients in the photo above come from the farmers' market, though I should say that for the last couple of months I have also been eating lettuce (lattuga) from my garden and have been supplying my husband with a variety of leafy greens (chard, kale and tatsoi) in small quantities.
Zucchini always make me think of my mother: she cooked them in various ways when in season, but as children, neither my brother nor I liked the vegetable. In time, my taste changed (while my brother's didn't), so at least I gave my mother satisfaction when she brought a zucchini dish to the table.
- 3 ounces / 85 g carrot
- 3 tablespoons / 45 ml extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 ounces / 56 g spring onion2, red or white, diced small
- 1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon Harissa spice mix (depending on brand and personal preference)
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 8-9 ounces /225-255 g zucchini (I particularly like the Costata Romanesco variety)
- 5 ounces cherry plum or grape tomatoes
- 3-4 basil leaves, chiffonade
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, or to taste
- 3/4 ounce / 20 g freshly grated cheese of choice, optional: if you omit it, the dish is vegan
Scrub carrot(s) well and scrape surface to remove a thin layer of skin, then grate using the extra-coarse side of a hand grater.
Warm up the olive oil in 10-inch/25-cm skillet.
Add the onion, lower the heat and stir, then after 1 minute, add the grated carrot and stir. After 2 minutes, sprinkle the harissa spice mix, stir well and cover. Cook on low heat for 6 minutes, until the onion is soft.
In the meantime, trim the zucchini, then grate using the extra-coarse side of a hand grater.
Uncover the skillet, add the garlic, stir and cook for 1 minute. Add the zucchini, turn up the heat to medium, stir well and cook for 1 minute. Cover, lower the heat and cook for 3 minutes.
In the meantime, quarter the tomatoes.
Uncover the skillet, add the tomatoes and stir. Cover and cook for 4-5 minutes, until the zucchini are tender. Sprinkle the basil and the sea salt, stir well. Turn off the heat, sprinkle the cheese on the vegetables and cover.
I have made this dish many times (most recently last night) and a couple of times I have substituted a chopped peeled peach for the tomatoes. Either way, this dish is delicious.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the contorno estivo: zucchine, carote e pomodorini audio file [mp3].
[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application. Please, contact me if you encounter any problems.]
This is my second contribution to the 39th edition of Novel Food, the literary/culinary event that Lisa of Champaign Taste and I started 13 years ago and that I continue to host.
FTC disclosure: I have received the table linen free of charge from the manufacturer (la FABBRICA del LINO). I have not and will not receive any monetary compensation for presenting it on my blog. The experience shared and the opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own.