I have a theory: You can tell a great book by the first sentence. I'll give you a couple of examples: "I wish Giovanni would kiss me", Eat Pray Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert. "When you are just the right age, as Mma Ramotswe was, and when you have seen a bit of life, as Mma Ramotswe certainly had, then there are certain things that you just know." Blue Shoes and Happiness, Alexander McCall Smith. "You gonna eat that?" Garlic and Sapphires, by Ruth Reichl.
Garlic and Sapphires was This Book Makes Me Cook July book choice. I can't remember if I voted for this book or not, but if I did, it was a random, but very lucky choice. Ruth is the new food critic for the New York Times, moving from Los Angeles. Except, being as serious as New Yorkers are about their food and restaurants, everybody knows what she looks like long before she arrives. Reportedly her photo is up in every kitchen in Manhattan and beyond, and Ruth is forced to don several different disguises to make sure her visits to the restaurants remain unnoticed.
Not surprisingly the book is filled with wonderful stories about delicious food and a variety of restaurants - some better than others. I learnt about soba noodles: " They are made of buckwheat, which has no gluten. That means that getting them to hold together is an act of will. They say it takes a year to learn to mix the dough, another year to learn to roll it, a third to learn the correct cut. In Japan they like soba because they taste good. But they like them even more because they are difficult to make." Ms Reichl also tells us about a sushi restaurant she discovers by accident when she follows a stylish Japanese lady dressed in Manolo Blahnik and Hermes. She talks about tuna that melts in the mouth like whipped cream, and some abalone which was "more like some exotic mushroom than something from the ocean with a slightly musky flavor that made me think of ferns", and sea urchin:" ...this is the sexiest thing I've ever eaten. Let's stop now."
What did catch me by surprise, though, was the effect her disguises had on not only the people around her, but on Ruth herself. Dressed as the vivacious Brenda she felt alive and full of fun. Chloe was expensive and glamorous. Dressed as her mother, Mirian, she became critical and made a scene about every dish put in front of her, exactly like the real Miriam used to do. Another of her disguises were of a little old lady called Betty. Not only did she feel unnoticed, ignored and unloved, but was treated exactly like that by waiters and other people on the street. This had an even more profound effect on me than the wonderful stories about the sushi. Isn't it sad how we treat people by the way they look? Who are we to judge somebody based solely on an impression formed in the first few split seconds after having met them? I promised myself that I will at least try to treat everybody I meet with respect. I can always change my mind later. It also reminded me that the way we look has a huge effect on the way we feel, so next time I'm feeling tired and frumpy, I'll put on some make-up and a blonde wig. (You're right, that's over the top. Forget the make-up).
The book has several very delicious-looking recipes, one of spaghetti carbonara which is what I wanted to make initially. However, after having visited the Gourmet website with new eyes (Ruth Reichl left the New York Times to become the editor of Gourmet) I stumbled upon a wonderful recipe for pumpkin fondue. What you do is this: you hollow out a pumpkin, fill it with layers of cheese, bread and cream, and bake it in the oven until it all becomes one gooey delicious mess. Emphasis on the delicious. Honestly, do I need to say more than cheese, bread and cream? Isn't that enough to make you drool all over the keyboard?
Dear people, if you haven't yet read this book, please consider doing so. Not only will it make you laugh, and look at noodles with different eyes, it might even make you consider wearing an outrageous wig, just to see how you feel in it. But most of all it will make you want to eat something delicious as soon as possible, like this pumpkin fondue. Give in, dear readers. No use resisting good food.
Roast Pumpkin with Cheese Fondue
Original recipe at Gourmet
1 piece of baguette, cut into 1 cm slices (200g total)
3kg orange pumpkin
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 1/2 cups coarsely grated Gruyère
2 1/2 cups coarsely grated Emmental
1 tablespoon olive oil
Preheat oven to 220°C with rack in lower third.
Toast baguette slices in 1 layer on a baking sheet in oven until tops are crisp (bread will still be pale), about 7 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool.
Remove top of pumpkin by cutting a circle (about 8cm in diameter) around stem with a small sharp knife. Scrape out seeds and any loose fibers from inside pumpkin with a spoon (including top of pumpkin; reserve seeds for another use if desired). Season inside of pumpkin with 1/2 tsp salt.
Whisk together cream, broth, nutmeg, 1 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper in a bowl. Mix together cheeses in another bowl.
Put a layer of toasted bread in bottom of pumpkin, then cover with about 1 cup cheese and about 1/2 cup cream mixture. Continue layering bread, cheese, and cream mixture until pumpkin is filled to about 2cm from top, using all of cream mixture. (You may have some bread and cheese left over.)
Cover pumpkin with top and put in an oiled small roasting pan. Brush outside of pumpkin all over with olive oil. Bake until pumpkin is tender and filling is puffed, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours.
Pumpkin can be filled 2 hours before baking and chilled.