I just finished reading Marcella Hazan's recently released autobiography, "Amacord". We all know Marcella Hazan as the Queen of Italian cooking but when she and her husband, Victor, first moved to the United States, she wasn't much of a cook. As a newlywed in a foreign country, she poured her efforts into learning how to cook so that Victor, who came home for lunch every day from work, would be pleased. Needless to say, over the years she became quite a cook. She started giving small cooking classes out of her apartment and one day she received a call from a reporter at the New York Times. She didn't know who he was. He wanted to come over and interview her, but the times he suggested were always in the middle of the day when Victor came home for lunch, so she just invited the reporter over for lunch one day. The reporter was Craig Claiborne and the lunch Marcella served knocked his socks off. This was back in 1970 and her authentic Italian cooking was anything but the usual spaghetti and meatball fare everyone knew at that time as Italian cuisine. She served a lunch of Roman style artichokes, tortelloni stuffed with swiss chard, prosciutto and ricotta, veal rolls stuffed with parmesan and pancetta, fennel salad and a dessert of marinated orange slices. To this day, she said she doesn't think she could improve on that lunch. It was classic.
I made 225 biscotti yesterday for Christmas. Yes, it took a long time, but it was so very worth it. These Mosaic Biscotti are so beautiful and just look like Christmas to me. They contain hazelnuts, chocolate, pistachios and cranberries (my addition). These come from the Queen of Desserts, Gina DePalma, the pastry chef at Babbo. There is a reason Mario Batali hired Gina. She's brilliant. And if you aren't familiar with her, check out her book on desserts, Dolce Italiano. This book is such a must have if you like baking.
If you read this blog, you know that I love to stuff vegetables, as I did here and here and here. It's a way to get people to eat vegetables who otherwise wouldn't and it can also be a great way to make a special dish ahead of time. You assemble the vegetables, refrigerate the dish and then pop it into the oven right before you need it. I really love doing that because it frees me up to concentrate on the rest of the menu.