Tuesday, November 13, 2018

A new Type M for Murder project proposal!

by Rick Blechta

I really enjoyed Aline’s post yesterday. Being a musician by training, of course I worked in the restaurant trade along the way when musical work was scarce. Instead of front of the house — the place you find most aspiring between-gigs musicians — I was in the kitchen. Why? Because I like to cook and I’m good at it, if I do say so myself.

Anyway, when Aline mentioned food in books, I immediately thought of Nero Wolfe. Food is a huge sidebar in those novels and Rex Stout was very adept in its use to amplify the character of Wolfe and to allow Archie to make comments and observations about his boss. Fritz Brenner, Wolfe’s resident chef, also became a source of “colour” as the series went on. The whole food fixation in these stories helped to give the lives of the characters more shape and background and made them seem more real.

But that’s not what I’m talking about today.

Aline’s post gave me An Idea, and I hope it’s a good one. I’m sure most of the authors here have used food in their novels at one point or another. How about we share recipes for one dish that we used in a story?

First, we give a bit of background, and then the recipe. Who’s game?

I’m going to kick it off with this:

Spaghetti alla Carbonara
(makes two servings)

200 gr dry spaghetti
2 eggs, beaten
1-2 Tbs olive oil
4 oz guanciale* or pancetta, diced
2 Tbs dry white wine (I prefer Orvieto)
4 Tbs grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 Tbs grated Pecorino Romano
1 tsp black pepper

*Wondering what the heck guanciale is? It’s dry-cured hog jowl and it is a lovely thing — but it can be hard to find. Find a very good Italian grocer and inquire about it. In a pinch, you can use pancetta which is more widely available, but it’s merely a substitute. For heaven’s sake, don’t use bacon! Garden variety bacon won’t work because it’s cured with lots of sugar.

  1. Heat a medium-size skillet over a low flame and put a pot of water on to boil. (Never put anything in a cold skillet. Heat it first!)
  2. When the skillet is hot, add the olive oil and when that’s warm, add the guanciale. If you’re substituting pancetta, you might want to use the larger amount of olive oil. (Guanciale is fatty, so you don’t need the extra olive oil.) Cook slowly while the pasta water comes to a boil.
  3. Meanwhile mix the beaten eggs, two cheeses and black pepper together. Set aside.
  4. Salt the now-boiling water well, and cook the spaghetti to your preferred level of doneness. While that’s cooking, add the white wine to the guanciale and simmer slowly.
  5. Scoop out a half-cup of pasta water when the spaghetti is half-cooked. Add it to the skillet with the meat and wine and turn up the heat to medium high. Stir well as it boils.
  6. This next thing is important! Before you drain the cooked pasta, grab another half-cup of pasta water. You might well need it.
  7. Drain the spaghetti when it’s done, but don’t shake it. You want it to be a bit wet. Add it to the skillet where your other ingredients are cooking. Turn down the heat to low.
  8. Working quickly, toss the spaghetti in your “sauce” to coat it, then add the egg/cheese mixture and continue tossing. You want it to make a creamy sauce as the eggs cook and the cheese melts. If it’s beginning to thicken too much, add more reserved pasta water. How much to add can be a bit tricky the first time or two you make it. It’s a feel thing. You don’t want this dish to turn into spaghetti with scrambled eggs!
  9. Plate the dish and add a bit more grated parmigiano on top along with more black pepper. The term “carbonara” refers to black pepper — which works very well with the cheese/egg sauce. Use pepper generously with this dish. The Romans add a ton!
Spaghetti alla Carbonara appears in my novel, The Fallen One,  at the point where the two main characters share a home cooked meal for the first time and their friendship begins to blossom into romance. I supplied one of my family’s favourite Italian meals to help spur on the growing attraction!

Buon appetito!


Vicki Delany said...

Food is a major feature of many cozy mysteries. I've given several recipes over the years on Type M, but am always up to do more! here's one link from my Christmas post of last year: http://typem4murder.blogspot.com/2017/12/a-bookish-tradition-with-cookies.html

Sybil Johnson said...

What a fun idea. Will have to ponder this.

Thomas Kies said...

I like talking about food in my books! I do all the cooking at our house because I enjoy it...plus, I only cook what I like to eat. In the past two books, I've tried a recipe and then put the meal into the book. Write what ya' know.

Rick Blechta said...

Vicki, I thought I remembered a recipe here on Type M! And this particular recipe looks excellent. I'll have to try it!

Sybil, I'm sure there's a meal or dish mentioned in one of your books. You gotta share it with us -- and the story about why it's in the book (an important feature of my little project).

And Tom, like you I do pretty well all the cooking for us. For one thing, I enjoy it. For another thing, I generally don't get rattled when several dishes come together at the same time. Large jobs also don't bother me. My wedding gift to my sister and her husband was to cook the meal for the wedding reception (60 people), 4 courses, which was a multi-day endeavor. I was exhausted at the end of that one!

So please, let's share some recipes and stories with everyone! It'll be fun. Vicki's in. I'm in. Who's next?

Aline Templeton said...

I'm in - how could I resist! I love it when people ask for the recipe for something I've made for them.