Fresh This Week in Food & Fiction (Part 1)

by Cara Nicoletti on October 4, 2013

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I realized the other day that feeling I get while browsing the “new releases” table at the bookstore is exactly the same feeling I get on my weekly farmers market trips when I spot produce that has just come in to season. There is an undeniable similarity between the joy and comfort that comes from seeing the the familiar name of a beloved author who has written something new, and the excitement of spotting concord grapes and squat, wart-covered gourds at the market come Fall. In the same way, there’s nothing more inspiring and motivating than discovering an author you’ve never read before, or happening upon a bin of alien-looking produce that you have no idea how to cook. Here are a few things that I’m excited about seeing on bookshelves and in the markets this October.

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First up: romanesco cauliflower (also called romanesco broccoli or cavolo/broccolo romanesco). Romanesco is a hybrid of broccoli and cauliflower that has been around since the sixteenth century. It starts showing up in the markets in New York in late summer and lasts only until the first frost in early fall. Made up entirely of neon green seashell-like spirals, it is one of the most strikingly beautiful vegetables I have ever seen. Also (most importantly) it’s really, really delicious. It’s nutty and slightly sweet—exactly how you would imagine a cross between broccoli and cauliflower would taste. Lots of people like to blanch their romanesco before roasting it, but I have never found this step to be necessary, simply toss it in oil, season it and throw it in the oven. It’s great roasted and tossed in fresh pasta with good parmesan, but this is how I like to prepare it at home, it’s simple and quick and I could eat it every single night (I have been).

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Simple Roasted Romanesco Cauliflower
makes 1 serving
Ingredients:
1 1 pound head of romanesco, cored and cut into florets
2 Tablespoons sesame oil (you can use olive oil if you prefer it, I like the sesame oil because it brings out the romanesco’s nuttiness)
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
Juice of 1/2 a lemon

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400F. Core cauliflower and cut into florets, set aside. Whisk sesame oil and red pepper together
in a bowl. Add cauliflower and toss until coated. Season with salt and pepper and toss again. Roast at 400 for 25 minutes, or until nicely browned. Squeeze half a lemon over cauliflower and enjoy!

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Next up! Two books coming out toward the end of the month that are already getting a lot of buzz: Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and Wally Lamb’s We Are Water. I discovered Donna Tartt much later than the rest of the world. To the horror of many of my friends, I only just read The Secret History last March. Even though I know I would have been obsessed with her in high school, I’m glad I was late to the Donna Tartt fan-club. I only had to wait seven months for her to write a new book after plowing through her first two, unlike all of my friends who had to wait nine years in between The Secret History and The Little Friend, and ten years between The Little Friend and The Goldfinch. The Goldfinch tells the story of Theo Decker, who at the novel’s opening is thirteen-years-old and has just survived the accident that kills his mother. He is taken in by his friend’s wealthy parents and grows up on Park Avenue with only a tiny, mesmerizing painting to remember his mother by. This painting leads him, as an adult, into “the underworld of art,” where he “is alienated and in love-and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.” Donna does love those narrowing, dangerous circles. The Goldfinch will be released October 22.

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I admit that I haven’t read any Wally Lamb since I stole my mom’s copy of She’s Come Undone the summer I was thirteen, and read it cover-to-cover in three days. I remember writing a letter to a friend that summer after finishing it and telling her that Wally Lamb “writes from a woman’s perspective so well that it’s easy to forget he’s a man.” I thought that it was the smartest thing I had ever said, until I heard Oprah say something very similar during “Oprah’s Book Club” and realized that I had subconsciously plagiarized her. Oprah, if you’re reading this, I’m really sorry. Also, Oprah, if you’re reading this that’s a really huge deal.

In We Are Water, outsider artist, Anna Oh falls in love with her art dealer, Viveca and they decide to get married in Anna’s hometown of Three Rivers Connecticut. The only problem is that Anna has been married for twenty-seven years, has three children with her husband, and currently lives with him in Three Rivers. Anna and Viveca’s wedding “provokes some very mixed reactions and opens a Pandora’s Box of toxic secrets—dark and painful truths that have festered below the surface of the Ohs’ lives.” We Are Water is out October 22.

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Lastly, for dessert we’ve got husk cherries (also called “ground cherries,” “cape gooseberries,” or “physalis”), which usually appear in the markets in the beginning of September and disappear by the end of October. Despite looking like tiny tomatillos, husk cherries have a mellow sweetness, and taste (to me) like pineapples and almond and dirt (in a good way). They are naturally high in pectin, so they make great jellies and chutneys, and also go well in salsas, on top of pizza, or alongside cured meats and salty cheeses. I put this batch into an olive oil cake along with some late-season raspberries and ate it for breakfast with some ricotta and sea salt, and for dessert with a lot of wine.

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Husk Cherry Olive Oil Cake
Makes 1 9-inch Cake
Ingredients:
butter for greasing pan
2 lemons
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup buttermilk (you can also use plain yogurt)
3 large eggs
2/3 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
1 3/4 cups cake flour (all purpose will be fine, too)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pint husk cherries, husked
1/2 pint raspberries
powdered sugar for dusting

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Directions:
Preheat your oven to 350F and butter a 9-inch cake-pan lined with parchment paper. Scoop sugar into the bowl of your mixer. Zest lemons into the sugar and rub zest and sugar together with your fingers until sugar is moistened and smells lemony. Fit the mixer with a whisk and with the mixer running, juice the zested lemons into the sugar. Add buttermilk, eggs and olive oil and whisk until incorporated. In a separate bowl, whisk or sift together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Turn the mixer back on, add your dry ingredients slowly and mix until smooth. Fold husk cherries and raspberries into the batter with a spatula and scoop batter into greased cake pan. Bake for 1 hour, or until top is golden and tester comes out clean. Transfer to wire rack to cool, top with powdered sugar.

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Leave a Comment

Elizabeth Aquino October 4, 2013 at 1:45 am

Great post, as always! Do you know that I have NEVER read Donna Tartt’s book — that first one? Shameful, right, especially given that we’re contemporaries. I think it’s too late to read, though, so I’ll settle for this new one.

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Susan Corson October 4, 2013 at 7:55 am

What a perfect cake for a brunch…hint hint!
Can’t wait for both of those books. So excited
Thanks for the wonderful post

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Brettski October 4, 2013 at 9:06 am

Yum!!!

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Gemma October 4, 2013 at 10:53 am

I always get SO excited when I see a new Yummy Books post and I’m never ever disappointed.
Ps. My mouth is watering help

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Noodle October 4, 2013 at 11:44 am

they look like little Japanese lanterns…

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Cara Nicoletti October 7, 2013 at 3:54 pm

There’s another type of physalis that’s called a “chinese lantern,” it has a beautiful bright red husk and berry

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Eboni Booth October 7, 2013 at 8:32 pm

Cara, yes! I totally forgot about Donna Tartt’s new book! For shame. And you’re inspiring me to read “The Little Friend.” I started and put it down too early. I need to give it another shot. That cake sounds amazing! And I’m reading “Brewster” by Mark Slouka, can’t recommend enough. xoxo

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Cara Nicoletti October 7, 2013 at 8:55 pm

Going to buy it now! Currently reading “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” which I had never read before, and liking it so far. Want to read the new Donna Tartt together when it comes out?

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Eboni Booth October 13, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Um, love “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” It was one of those books I read in one long sitting. And yes to co-reading Donna Tartt! Can’t frigging wait.

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