First there was “Julie & Julia”…

Penne with Prosciutto & Peas as featured in Mark’s book “Beyond the Pasta”

And now there is “Mark and Marcella” …well, almost… 

While the book is being laid out and designed in West Virginia, I have been gathering endorsements ~”blurbs”~ for the back cover. As I have written in the past, Biba Caggiano has written a blurb and several others are still in process. [Update on the incomparable Biba Caggiano.]

Recently, I was encouraged by a friend to approach Marcella Hazan—she is to Italian cooking in America as Julia Child is to French cooking.  Of course, I made the immediate alliteration comparison of “Julie & Julia” to “Mark & Marcella”…but, alas, it was not to be. Mannaggia! ~ I was hoping that George Clooney would play me in the movie—HA!

I did receive a very nice and encouraging note from Signora Hazan, and though she does not give publication quotes on any material, there was a sentence in her correspondence that gave me a little “food for thought,” as it were:

“Food – and life –  taste better in Italy than anywhere else, or so they sometimes seem.”

She is absolutely right. The bread, cheese, wine, and fresh fruit all taste better in Italy. Even the coffee, or caffè, as the Italians call a single shot of espresso, tastes better than anything we can find here in the States. I chalk it up to the air, the soil, the people, the sights, all the surrounding beauty—and the fact that if you are tasting food in Italy you are undoubtedly having an amazing time — BECAUSE YOU ARE IN ITALY!

Last week a friend of mine, who has her own gourmet-to-go business, mentioned that she was on her way home to prepare Marcella Hazan’s recipe for Penne Pasta with Prosciutto and Peas. I mentioned that I also have a recipe, in my forthcoming book, for the same dish. I was encouraged by her phone call several days later telling me how wonderfully simple and delicious my recipe was—and how she preferred it over Marcella’s. Trust me, I do not think that my recipe (the version that Nonna taught me) is in any way better than Signora Hazan’s, but it was good to hear that someone prepared and enjoyed one of the recipes from my book. She is the only person I have given a recipe to cook from the pre-published book, well, besides my publisher who has spent the past week vacationing in Palm Springs and also cooking the book’s recipes. I hope she enjoyed them as much as my friend enjoyed her test run of the penne recipe.

Last Thursday I made a Zucchini and Onion Frittata and a Potato, Pancetta, and Onion Frittata for a potluck dinner. The zucchini recipe is in the book, so soon you’ll get to try that recipe, too. I made up the potato and pancetta recipe on the fly. I was really pleased with the results, BUT I was mortified when, later at the dinner, I approached the buffet table only to witness a woman spill a drink all over the end of the table—all over my frittatas at that end of the table. She did not even see that half of her drink went into my serving dish. I squelched my knee-jerk reaction of screaming out loud from across the dining room by biting my tongue—but inside my head, I let it all out: “HEY BETTY FORD, WHAT ARE YOU DOING??!!”

“Well, at least it was just water,” I said, grabbing a napkin and helping the woman clean up her mess by absorbing all of the liquid out of the bottom of my dish. “It was just water, right?”

“Oh yes, it was. Thank you for helping out,” she said, as she continued quietly muttering her apologies and wiping off the table. She didn’t even flinch as I poured the excess liquid out of my dish onto the table for her to continue wiping up.

 “Oh my, the water just keeps coming, doesn’t it? Like Noah and the ark,” she said.

Three napkins later, I got all the liquid out of my dish—and they smelled of chardonnay. Now I know why Episcopalians jokingly refer to each other as “whiskey-palians.” Hmmm, water indeed. I’m sure in her telling of the story, Noah enjoyed a glass or two of white wine as he floated along. His probably came out of a box—prevents breakage in the below-deck barn. That pair of asses could get rowdy down there.

When I returned from throwing my chardonnay-soaked napkins away, I saw someone take the last slice of frittata from the plate. I can only imagine how awful those final eight wine-drenched slices tasted. Disastro! 

Yesterday, I made farfalle pasta (bowtie) with lemon zest and onions. I followed that with quickly sautéed chicken cutlets seasoned with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. I have included a photo of it and a photo of the penne, prosciutto, and pea recipe at the top of this entry. About the penne photo: I was trying out some mock up shots for the book’s cover about a month ago and used the penne recipe in a still life that I assembled for the cover. I think it looks a little too much like a shot for the cover of Southern Living to be a cover idea for a book.

In a couple of days we are having a dinner party for 20 and the Superintendent of the Montgomery School District—the guest of honor. I have been wrestling around with some ideas of what to make. It has to be something that I can quickly serve to 20 people and something that requires only a fork to eat it, since people will be sitting all over the house while eating. I have been thinking along the lines of spinach and chicken lasagna, maybe baked ziti, or even homemade ravioli. I’ll go to the store and see what looks wonderfully fresh and seasonal and let that be my inspiration—it would be what Nonna would do. I think Signora Hazan would agree, too.

Ciao, ciao, ciao e buon appetito~   


Mark & Biba in her Sacramento restaurant “Biba” in 2012, with her autographed copy of “Beyond the Pasta.”