My cooking is variously inspired by seasonal produce, memories of people or places, cravings for specific ingredients or dishes, and reading. Yes, you read that last one right.
For the past 11 years on my blog Briciole, I have been hosting a literary/culinary event called Novel Food. And for the past 10 years I have been a member, then co-host, of Cook the Books Club, a bimonthly book club/blog event that focuses on food-rich books. Though the two events have slightly different rules for participating, they are both about reading and the cooking it inspires.
Inspiration can take different routes. In recent years memoirs that include recipes have become popular (a favorite of mine is Stir by Jessica Fechtor). But for Novel Food and the Cook the Books Club, a book needs only mention an ingredient or a dish — from there one can research the details and prepare the dish. Or a book can generate the idea for a dish. For example, earlier this year I read Among the Lesser Gods by Margo Catts, a novel about a young woman named Elena who takes care of two young children whose mother has died. Elena often has to be creative with whatever food is in the refrigerator, which inspired a recipe for my Empty the Crisper side dish.
The shared aspect of a blog event means that participants read each other's book reviews — one of the pleasures of a book club — as well as the recipes. On one hand, in-person book clubs often include "actual" food sharing. On the other hand, a virtual book club expands the circle of participants to anywhere on earth, providing an additional dimension of variety.
Some of our club members are eBook readers, others are audio book listeners. I am a printed page holdout: I relish the book as a physical object, the smell of paper and ink, the feel of the page under my fingertips, the weight of the book in my hands.
Another great thing about book clubs is that they nudge you into reading beyond your usual boundaries. The selection may be a pleasant surprise, possibly a disappointment or anything in between: Whatever the case, you will probably learn something about the world and about yourself. When submerged by a negative tide, take refuge in a book or cooking. Trust me, it works.
The recipe here is my take on a recipe from Please to the Table: The Russian Cookbook by Anya von Bremzen and John Welchman, an amazing compilation of recipes from the 15 former Soviet republics. Von Bremzen's Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food & Longing was one of last year's selections of the Cook the Books Club. I enjoyed the book, which I recommend, in particular if you like history mixed in with personal stories.
Mushroom and Egg Salad
Serves 2, more if served as an appetizer.
2 ½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
8 ounces white button or cremini mushrooms or a mix of the two, cleaned and sliced (King Trumpet mushrooms are also good)
½ cup fresh red onion, minced
3 tablespoons fresh dill or chervil, finely chopped
2 hard-boiled eggs, roughly diced
¼ cup mayonnaise, preferably homemade
2 teaspoons yellow or Dijon mustard
½ tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 ounce baby spinach
1 ounce arugula
In a skillet over medium-high flame, heat 1½ tablespoons of the olive oil and add the mushrooms. Stirring often, cook the mushrooms until browned, about 15 minutes. Transfer the mushrooms to a bowl and set aside.
Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in the skillet and add the minced onion. Cook on gentle heat, stirring regularly until the onions are soft and slightly caramelized, about 12 minutes. Transfer them to the bowl with the mushrooms. Add the dill (or chervil) and the hard-boiled eggs.
In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, mustard and lemon juice. Add this to the mushroom and egg mixture and toss until evenly distributed. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Line a serving bowl with the baby spinach and arugula. Spoon the mushroom and egg salad on the bed of greens. Toss to mix in the greens and serve.
Simona Carini also writes about her adventures in the kitchen on her blog www.pulcetta.com, http://www.pulcetta.com/the-novel-food-collection.html and https://cookthebooksclub.blogspot.com