In Wild Lemon Groves Cookbook: Secondi

In Italian restaurant, the main course is often divided in two. We covered Primi, the main pasta course, in my last cookbook post. Now we come to Secondi, better known as the meat course, i.e. the one a lot of people skip because they are already too full from the appetizers and pasta. But you really shouldn’t, since the simple but flavorful cooking techniques (baking, grilling) and the ripeness of the ingredients used on the Amalfi Coast is worth savoring.

Most of the big meals in my M/M contemporary romance, In Wild Lemon Groves, are inspired by dishes that I actually ate while in Amalfi, Italy. One such memorable evening is directly reproduced in the book. I’ll set the scene…

Two bottles of vino rosso and three sumptuous courses later, the laughter continued. Ceri had led them through a maze of back alleys to a picturesque square, with a small gated chapel at one end and a wood-faced trattoria at the other. Tables sprouted like toadstools in the center, corralled on three sides by ivy-woven trellises. Garlands of fairy lights competed with the glinting stars and the fat harvest moon above. Seb wouldn’t have been surprised if the waiter had twirled a wand and poofed their dinner into existence.

            He stifled a belch, scanned the detritus with a scavenger’s eye. The last spoonful of the lemon soufflé beckoned him like the arms of a new lover; even sated, he still craved more. From the luscious caprese salad to the fluffy paccheri stuffed with black truffles and burrata with seafood sauce to the grilled lamb with balsamic reduction, pillowy potatoes, and garlicky rapini, their orgy of food had ridden him hard and put him away wet.

Grilled Lamb with Balsamic Reduction

Roasted Lamb Chops on balsamic Sauce

Three marvelous ladies who I met on the trip brought me to the exact location described above, a hidden square behind a chapel with one amazing trattoria. We feasted on the most gorgeous lamb I’ve ever eaten, one of the three Secondi recipes I urge you to make for yourself to enjoy a taste of Italy. You can find a version of it here.

Baccala alla Napoletana

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I was familiar with baccala (cod) because my sister’s in-laws always serve it at Christmas. But their version is fried in a batter, calimari-style, which is the one I included in the book. Since writing In Wild Lemon Groves, I’ve discovered that the Amalfi version is a bit more like a seafood stew, and I think this enhances the fish beautifully. You can find an authentic recipe here.

Salt-Baked Fish

salt baked fish

One of the major feasts in In Wild Lemon Groves is when Andrea invites Seb and his three lady friends to his mother’s house for traditional Sunday night dinner. The showcase dish of that meal is a salt-crusted, baked sea bass–although you can use this application for many other kinds of fish. It’s quite the showstopper, and Andrea is rewarded with a romantic dance under the starlight and a tryst in the lemon groves. You can find a basic recipe here.

Next week, the final installment of the In Wild Lemon Groves Cookbook showcases Amalfi’s biggest food export, limoncello!

In Wild Lemon Groves is available in ebook and print formats:

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Tuscan White Bean Soup with Basil Pistou

There’s nothing in the world that hits straight to the heart like the smells and tastes of meals you associate with home. I’m only one-quarter Italian, but that cuisine and culture has dominated my life. Lasagna is my death row meal. I feel it’s a crime against nature that I will never again taste my grandmother’s tomato sauce the way only she could make it. Pancetta, basil, fresh pasta, tomatoes, parmesan cheese–these ingredients are the siren call that keeps me coming back to my favorite restaurants and experimenting in my own kitchen. Comfort food that never stops being exciting.

One item on my bucket list–I kid you not!–is to try Mario Batali’s hundred-layer lasagna at Del Posto. Sometime last fall, my mom turned me on to this recipe, which is now my go-to winter soup (and there’s a lot of winter here in Quebec!). The celeriac in particular has such a clean summer smell that you’ll actually enjoy chopping it. This recipe isn’t just a few of my favorite things in a pot, but, like those tunics made of curtains in The Sound of Music, something that reappropriates the best part of my childhood to today. I hope you’ll try it, and experience just a little bit of that nostalgia along with me.

Vegetarians/vegans, though it contains bacon, the pistou pack enough punch for you to omit it, and you can substitute chicken broth for vegetable. This recipe is by Molto Mario himself, with an assist by Carla Hall.

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Tuscan White Bean Soup with Basil Pistou

For the Pistou:
2 cups fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 garlic clove
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

For the Soup:
1/2 pound pancetta (medium dice)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion (chopped)
1 medium celery root (peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice)
4 garlic cloves (sliced)
3 thyme sprigs (leaves torn)
3 14-ounce cans cannellini beans (rinsed)
salt and pepper to taste
6 cups chicken stock

For the Soup: In a large dutch oven, cook the pancetta in olive oil over a low heat to render out the fat for about 5 minutes. Turn the heat to medium-high and cook until crispy.

Add the onion and celery root and saute over medium-high heat, seasoning with salt, for 2 to 3 minutes just to soften slightly. Add the garlic and thyme and cook just until fragrant, about 2 minutes more. Add the white beans and season with salt and pepper.

Add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 25 to 30 minutes or until the soup is thick and flavorful.

Remove from heat and carefully mash with a potato masher to blend the ingredients. [I used a hand-blender.] Serve with a garnish of fresh pistou and freshly grated Parmigiano.

For the Pistou: In a mortar and pestle or food processor, blend the basil, cheese, garlic and season with salt, pepper and chili flakes. Slowly add the olive oil and continue to blend.

Magnifico!

Selina