Remember the first time I cooked my way through a cookbook? It was The Tucci Cookbook by Stanley Tucci. I got it for Christmas one year, along with a few others, and came up with this grand idea to cook my way through (almost) every recipe. It was a way for me to connect with my ethnic roots and improve my kitchen skills at the same time. It was also timely. I had recently left a corporate gig that led me into a low period in my life and I needed something to feed my creativity and restart a passion. Sound familiar? If you are one of the many people who read or saw Julie & Julia, I am only now learning that it’s a similar story.
Before you call me a copycat, hold on a second. People have been cooking their way through cookbooks for a long time. Second of all, while I had known about Julie & Julia when I started, all I knew was that it was a movie about a woman who cooked her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking while also sharing a look into Julia Child’s life. I still have not seen the movie, thanks to my stubbornness of wanting to read the book first. I am about 100 pages into the novel though and loving it. The beginning dives into Julie's life at the moment. She's disappointed in her job and where she's at versus where she thought she'd be. It was at that time she started to cook through MTAOFC. It gave me serious flashbacks to when I decided to cook through The Tucci Cookbook. There were a lot of parallels in our lives emotionally. I find it interesting now as I look back. Like MTAOFC and Julie, The Tucci Cookbook saw me through lots of challenges. Cooking mussels for the first time, angrily rolling gnocchi, re-rolling pasta dough about five times until finally getting it right, and much more. It was a journey that I needed at the time and one I’m glad I took.
A week ago, I shared the first of four original recipes in our “Around the World with Recipes” series. I mentioned it was only half of a two-part series we were doing this month celebrating foods from different cultures around the world. The second part which I haven't introduced yet is four different cookbook features. While I won’t be sharing any original Italian recipes, I did want one of the posts to embrace my roots. Who better to do that than Stanley Tucci?! I received his second cookbook for Christmas back in 2016, The Tucci Table, and I’ve been slowly cooking through it since (along with about 11 other cookbooks!). The dishes in today’s feature are classic dishes you’ll most likely recognize along with simple ones you can make in a flash.
Bistro & Green Salad with Simple Vinaigrette
For the most basic of salad recipes, this is it. Butter lettuce gets drizzled with a simple vinaigrette that lives up to its name. Most of the ingredients you’ll find in your pantry: shallot, white wine vinegar, salt, Dijon mustard, olive and vegetable oils. This is the kind of vinaigrette to whip up whenever company descends unexpectedly for dinner or you need a quick and easy vegetable side. It coats the lettuce well so that you get great flavor in every single bite.
Bolognese is one of those dishes I always find myself explaining to people. It’s not a red sauce with meat but it’s also not to be mistaken with carbonara which is egg, cheese, pepper and ham. Bolognese is a straight up meat sauce and by that I mean a lot of ground beef cooked with wine and cream or milk. It’s a heavy, hearty dish made for bone-chilling winter nights. It takes all day to whip up for maximum flavor and you feel about ten pounds heavier after eating it. Even so, it’s worth every single calorie. Bolognese is closer to a ragu than an actual sauce or gravy. You’re essentially eating fettuccine with meat and tomatoes. Amazing, right?
Another misconception about Bolognese is that it’s hard. Erase that thought immediately. Bolognese is simple. It just takes several hours to simmer. You are free to go about your day as it simmers though. I don’t get why it’s gotten such a bad rep. Because Bolognese is such a hearty dish, I recommend letting it stand on its own for a meal. The Bistro & Green Salad was the perfect complement providing a fresh, light accompaniment to a rather hearty dinner.
TIP: Don’t make the same rookie mistake that I did the first time I made this recipe. Stanley does not drain the meat in his recipe and it’s cooked after the celery, carrot, garlic and onion. He must have been using an extra lean ground beef. I used about 80/20 and the beef definitely needed to drain. Play it safe and follow my lead. Brown the beef first. If it doesn’t need to drain, remove to a plate until the veggies have softened. If it does need draining, do it carefully and then remove the cooked beef to a paper towel lined plate. The result if you have greasy beef? An oily, greasy Bolognese and no one likes that.
Strawberries in Prosecco
As if the Bolognese and salad weren’t enough, here comes dessert! Strawberries in Prosecco is exactly what it sounds like...strawberries in a glass of prosecco. Do you know bubbly wine is my favorite? It makes no sense because I don’t enjoy carbonated drinks but wine with bubbles does the trick. Here’s a fun tip to make this even better. Let the strawberries sit in the prosecco for at least an hour before serving. The prosecco gets infused with the strawberries, drawing out not only more flavor but the color. By the time you serve, it looks like you’re serving rose prosecco and it takes berrylicious!
So far, we’ve visited Mexico and now Italy. Come back tomorrow as we venture to a whole other continent courtesy of one of my favorite ladies, Chrissy Teigen. Stay tuned...