Our current Cook the Books Club selection is the memoir Taste by actor Stanley Tucci1. The book included a couple of interesting sections, one pertaining the history of the highly enjoyable movie Big Night (1996),2 in which Tucci played the younger brother, Secondo. I didn't know that he had written the screenplay. If you haven't seen it, I recommend it.
The other section I enjoyed was where Felicity (now Tucci's wife) prepared roasted potatoes in a way that first surprised then alarmed the author, but that in the end won the family's approval. Although the last part of the book focuses on the cancer diagnosis Tucci received, the intense treatment he underwent and his recovery, overall the book is pretty light. I wish—and this is on the publisher, not the author—that it had been proofread by an Italian.
Reading the book in the run-up to the 16th anniversary of my little blog, made me think of all the recipes I have created for it. I decided to select a recipe from the early years and update it based on my current eating habits. The recipe I chose comes from a July 2008 post3 and features seasonal ingredients quite representative of Italian cuisine. The salad also happens to include the colors of the Italian flag (called tricolore): white, red and green (bianco, rosso e verde).
When I first moved to California, 28 years ago, it was hard to find fava beans and fennel, two foods that had been part of my life since childhood. In time, the situation changed and now I can easily purchase them where I live, when in season.
Fava beans make me think of my father, who loved them eaten fresh from the pods, with just a bit of salt. Fennel reminds me of my godfather, who ate some at the end of every meal (wiped clean with a cloth, not washed, an instruction I follow).
Even after so many years in California, our long strawberry season still thrills me. As a child, the weeks during which strawberries were available always seemed to pass too quickly. Now I know that I have time to enjoy a favorite fruit for several months.
For this update, I added a radish to the ingredients, a small peppery note to balance the sweetness of berries. (I had the idea after taking the photo above, so the radish is absent from it). Finally, a beautiful head of iceberg lettuce (lattuga iceberg) inspired me to make small boats for serving. To eat, close the leaf into a wrapper and enjoy the combination.
- 7 ounces / 200 grams strawberries, possibly organic
- 1 teaspoon / 5 ml balsamic vinegar
- 1 pound / 450 grams fresh fava beans
- 1 small fennel bulb
- 1 radish
- 2 tablespoons / 30 ml extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon / 15 ml balsamic vinegar
- 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt, or to taste
- A pinch of freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon stone-ground mustard
- 4-5 leaves of fresh basil, chiffonade
- 1 teaspoon minced fennel frond
Wash, hull and slice the strawberries, then season them with the balsamic vinegar. Toss and set aside to marinate.
Shell the fava beans and blanch them for 30 seconds, then drain them and plunge them into a bowl of ice-cold water to stop the cooking. Slit the skin with your thumbnail then pinch or twist to slip the bright green core out of its coat and into a small bowl. Set aside.
Trim and clean the fennel bulb, leaving an inch or so of the green stalk to hold it when slicing. Quarter, cut off the core, and slice thinly using a mandoline. Set aside.
Grate the radish using the extra-coarse side of a hand grater.
Bring the ingredients together in a serving bowl.
Pour the olive oil and balsamic vinegar into a small glass jar. Add sat, pepper and mustard. Put the lid on and shake vigorously. Pour the vinaigrette over the vegetables and toss.Taste and adjust seasoning, as needed.
Sprinkle basil and fennel frond.
Toss again and serve as a side dish (contorno) or appetizer (antipasto). Alternatively, spoon some salad on iceberg lettuce leaves and serve.
Serves 3 (4 if served on iceberg lettuce).
For future reference (i.e., when it will be my turn to host Cook the Books. Tucci describes a meal he shared with legendary Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni4:
After dinner Marcello ordered a digestivo. This consisted of a half a shot of amaro and a half a shot of Fernet-Branca.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post
or launch the insalata di fragole, fave, finocchio e ravanello 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.]
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.