I attempted to start a book club once. It was a great idea in theory, but, practically speaking, it just didn’t work out that well. I think we had one meeting, and if I recall correctly, none of us enjoyed the book. Needless to say, I don’t think there was a second get together, and if there was I have no idea what we read, which implies it was probably another dud.
But! I’m in a new book club now, and after the first ‘meeting’ I can confidently say that I think this monthly gathering is certain to stick around. For starters, my little group is made up of Mardi and Jenn – hello, even if we read the phone book it would be fun – and instead of tearing our way through the pages of bestselling fictional novels or self-help tomes, we’re reading cookbooks… and cooking from them for the gathering. Tell me that doesn’t sound like a good time!
Here’s how it works: because there are three of us, we each take a course - appetizer, main, and dessert. The person hosting is in charge of the primary dish because it’s easiest that way. The other two people bring the beginning and end of the meal, and we sit around chatting and eating and learning a little about the book we cooked from and/or the chef we studied.
For October, we cooked from Marcella Hazan’s recipes. The doyenne of Italian cooking passed away at the end of last month, and Mardi suggested we cook from her book and participate in #dinnerwithmarcella – a global celebration for the woman who made authentic Italian cuisine a possibility for home cooks. The event was the brilliant brainchild of Cathy, who just happens to be a friend of Mardi’s, and because the celebratory dinner coincided with our planned monthly meeting, we eagerly participated and combined the two events for a late night full of belly laughs and first-rate food.
So, what did we eat? I was in charge of appetizers, and because I knew that Mardi was making pasta, and Jenn was in charge of dessert, which was likely to be a cake or something similar, I opted for items that were less bready. I also had to rule out anything with too much tomato (we know how I feel about those), which left me with too few options to choose from in the book I was using. I went with Marcella’s Baked Stuffed Mushroom Caps and Hard-Boiled Eggs with Green Sauce. I followed the recipes explicitly and didn’t deviate from either, which was both a challenge and a genuine learning experience. The end result was okay, but to be honest, neither dish excited me. They were both pungent and salty, and full of colliding bold flavours like anchovies, garlic, capers, Dijon, and marjoram (does anyone use marjoram anymore?). Mardi made a classic Bolognese, which was fabulous, and my personal favourite of the night was Jenn’s Chocolate Amaretti Cake, a rustic dessert topped with hand-whipped unsweetened cream.
Next month, I’m assuming hosting duties and we’re cooking Nigella’s recipes. She’s one of my favourite food writers, and spending time with her books is no tough task. I’ll be in charge of the main course and beverages, and I’m looking forward to another gathering of like-minded friends who love to cook, chat, and eat just as much as I do.
PS - I knew my boys would enjoy the pasta as much as us girls did last weekend, so I made a pot of the sauce for them last night. They polished off the entire thing, with a little leftover for the lunchbox today.
PPS - All photos, except for the top image, from Mardi's Instagram account.