Voracious: Author Cara Nicoletti's recipes inspired by famous literature
Author turns a love of reading and food into a literary feast.
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A butcher, a baker, a Yummy Books blog maker — Cara Nicoletti is all that, and the author of Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way Through Great Books (Little, Brown and Company, $34, Aug. 18).
A collection of recipes inspired by literature, Voracious grew out of Nicoletti’s blog that in turn was an extension of a book club turned supper club whose popularity outgrew her modest Brooklyn apartment.
Although Nicoletti as a kid wanted to write fiction and moved from her hometown of Boston to study literature at NYU in 2004, she never imagined she would write a book about food.
“To be really honest, I thought my blog would only be read by my family and my closest friends,” Nicoletti says. “I never thought it would turn into a book.”
Food is important in her family. “My mom’s side is Jewish and my dad’s side is Italian and both cultures are food obsessed and really love to gather and eat together.”
But it wasn’t until Nicoletti started working in New York restaurants to support herself as a student that her appetite for making food became as voracious as her hunger for books.
“It’s very physical work that was a nice counterpoint to working with my brain all day. I really looked forward to working with my hands … to see the product of my work in a physical way,” says Nicoletti. “I really enjoyed doing the two things at once. I still do.”
When asked about food’s influence on her life, Nicoletti laughs. “It’s everything. All day long, it’s on my brain.”
“I spent a lot of years wringing my hands over the fact that food is my greatest comfort. Food and books are both my greatest comfort. I’ll never be one of those women who gets really worked up and forgets to eat. The older I get the more I realize that this is not only my biggest comfort but the way I understand and experience the world,” she says. “I never feel more like myself than when I’m cooking or eating a meal with people that I love.”
Nicoletti’s joy at being in her element makes Voracious a feast for body and soul. The book unfolds as a chronological memoir: Nicoletti recalls stories from Hansel and Gretel (Gingerbread Cake with Blood Orange Syrup) to Pride and Prejudice (White Garlic Soup) to Gone Girl (Brown Butter Crepes). But it’s her ability to recreate her intimate experience of reading books and their role as her muse that makes Voracious a collection to be savoured.
Though some readers might find a couple of the book’s recipes a bit unsavoury — Lord of the Flies / Porchetta di Testa (made from a pig’s head) and The Silence of the Lambs / Crostini with Fava Bean and Chicken Liver Mousses — Nicoletti has no regrets about including them.
“Some of the most powerful food themes in literature aren’t necessarily the most appealing. That doesn’t make them any less powerful. Those two recipes are the ones I hope readers will push themselves to try,” Nicoletti says. “As a butcher that works with whole animals, I would love for people to challenge themselves to eat things on an animal that they wouldn’t normally eat.”
“Goodbye to All That” Grilled Peaches with Homemade Ricotta
Makes 6 filled peach halves
• 3 1/2 cups whole milk
• 1/2 cup heavy cream
• 3/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt
• 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
• 3 ripe peaches, cut in half and pitted
• 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
• 2 teaspoons sugar
• Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon), for serving
• Coarsely ground black pepper, for serving
Pour the milk, cream and salt into a large, heavy-bottomed pot and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the temperature reaches 190°F on a candy thermometer. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Allow the mixture to sit for 5 to 7 minutes before straining it through a sieve lined with three layers of cheesecloth. Let the cheese drain into a bowl for 1 to 2 hours.
Preheat a grill to medium.
Brush the peaches with the olive oil and dust them lightly with the sugar. Place the peaches, flesh-side down, on the grill and cook until char marks appear, about 2 minutes. Transfer the peach halves to bowls and spoon the fresh ricotta over them.
Drizzle the ricotta with olive oil and sprinkle with flaky sea salt and coarse black pepper. Serve immediately.
Excerpted from the book Voracious by Cara Nicoletti. Copyright © 2015 by Cara Nicoletti. Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.