Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Family Meal at Fiorello's: An Exclusive Excerpt & a Recipe

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Although Dinner at Fiorello’s doesn’t contain actual recipes, it does contain a lot of food. Below is an excerpt that shows you our main character, Henry Appleby, on his very first—and very nervous—visit to the restaurant where he hopes to go against his family’s wishes and apply for a job working in the kitchen. 

Read the excerpt, and if you’re intrigued by what Rosalie serves Henry, read on for the recipe. You should note that the Tripe Stew is a dish my Sicilian mom would make—and that I would always turn my nose up at. Now that Mom’s in Heaven, I’m sorry I never gave it a try. It always smelled delicious.

EXCERPT—“Tripe Stew and A Case of the Nerves”

Rosalie, as this must be, seemed like she’d come straight from central casting where the request was for someone who looked like an Italian mother. Rosalie had an upsweep of salt-and-pepper hair and wore a black dress and what Henry mother would call sensible shoes. Her nose was big, her features careworn, but there was something about her eyes, a greenish-brown in color, that exuded warmth and maybe, if he looked really hard, mischief. She didn’t smile. “Did Carmela get your drink order?” she asked.
“Yeah, she’s bringing me some water. And bread.”
“Good. Take a look at the menu and see what you want. The fish today is good. Snapper with olives, garlic, and tomatoes. It’s fresh.”
She hurried away, and Henry opened the menu and began to scan it. He wanted to let out a little sigh. For him, this collection of food was like porn was to some of his peers. Right away, he could see the offerings leaned toward what Henry imagined was southern Italian comfort food—baked manicotti, ricotta pie, braccioli, greens and beans in tomato sauce, a pepper and egg sandwich on “Mom’s homemade bread,” were just a few of the things that set Henry’s mouth to watering.
The menu was like the family photos on the wall. It made him feel like he was visiting someone’s home, sitting in their kitchen, and being welcome. No pretense. Just a suggestion of “we’re so glad you’re here.”
When Rosalie returned, Henry ordered a cappicola sandwich with mozzarella and arugula, also on homemade bread.
“Anything else?” Rosalie asked. Henry noticed she hadn’t written anything down.
“Does it come with anything?”
“Like?”
“Fries?”
The question finally got Rosalie to crack a smile. “We don’t have fries. I can have the cook make you a nice salad, or we got roasted red potatoes with olive oil, rosemary, and garlic. Very tasty.”
“Sounds like it. I’ll have the potatoes.”
“Good choice. You could stand to gain a few pounds.” Rosalie looked him up and down.
Henry was surprised to hear her assessment. His mom was always getting on him about watching his calories and carbs.
Without another word, Rosalie turned and walked away. She disappeared into the kitchen. She came back out moments later and set down a small cup full of what looked like some sort of stew.
“What’s this?” Henry asked, inhaling the rich aroma of tomatoes and garlic. “I didn’t order it.”
“On the house. Just something to tide you over until Vito makes your sandwich. It’s what we had at our family meal today.”
“What is it?”
“Tripe with tomatoes and potatoes. It’s good. Mangia!”
Henry wanted to ask, “Isn’t that cow stomach?” but Rosalie had already taken off to wait on another table. He picked up his spoon and moved it around in the cup with more than a little doubt. Hey, if you’re thinking you’re some kind of foodie and today could be the start of a new direction for you, you can’t be a candy ass about trying new things. Just take a bite.
He did. The tripe was a little chewy but had a wonderful meaty richness to it that was complemented by the sauce, which was redolent of tomatoes and garlic. Henry could also taste carrots, onions, and herbs like oregano. He was surprised that it was actually quite delicious, and in no time he had finished the small bowl and found himself wishing for more.
The rest of Henry’s lunch did not disappoint him and continued on its theme of Italian comfort food. Everything he ate was filling, richly flavored, and bore all the signs of being prepared fresh right here on the premises. The bread was a revelation—light, airy, with a golden crust that stood up to the bite. The crust was hard, but in a delightful way.
He pushed his plate away and wondered about dessert. Rosalie, after all, had said he needed to put on some weight. But he was so stuffed—that sandwich was huge—that he was afraid he’d burst if he ate so much as another morsel.
Now came the moment of truth. Of course he’d pay the check; that was a given. But did he have the nerve to do what he’d really come here to do?
Baby steps. He told himself he’d be a fool and a coward if he didn’t at least fill out the application. He could always refuse the job if he decided he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps, as the universe expected him to do. That way he could turn it down if they called him, which even Henry knew was unlikely.
Working here would be fun, Henry thought, even if he wouldn’t fit in with his flaxen hair and blue eyes. So what? He could be from northern Italy. They had blonds there, didn’t they?
Rosalie brought him his check. “Take your time,” she said. Henry pulled out the cash he had brought along—no way was he using a credit card for this—and put down enough to cover the bill and a generous tip for the “warm and welcoming” Rosalie.
And then he sat back. Everything he had eaten began to churn. I can’t do it. It’s more than just filling out an application and waiting to see what happens. It’s defying your family. You know they’ll be unhappy, especially Dad. Unhappy? He’d be furious, ashamed, and questioning my sanity.
If I do this, and they just so happen to offer me the job, I will want it. No doubt. And this is not a summer job. It’s not fair to take it under the pretense that I can just leave when school starts in the fall.
So at least you understand yourself now and what’s at stake. No illusions.
He picked up a piece of cappicola that had fallen out of his sandwich and gnawed on it, its rich spices and heat bursting on his tongue. He slowed his breathing to listen to the bustle in the kitchen. Someone shouted, “Throw it away! It smells rotten.” Henry grinned.
He took in all the other diners. They seemed happy, content, their bellies full. Wouldn’t it be something to feed people as his life’s work? Wouldn’t that mean more than managing stuff like portfolios, hedge funds, and other things his dad talked about over the dinner table? Henry was pretty much clueless about what his father did, and worse, he was sure he had no interest in finding out.
Do it.
RECIPE—TRIPE & POTATO STEW

To serve 4, you’ll need:
2 lbs. pre-boiled tripe, cut into bite-sized strips (you need to pre-boil it for about an hour, just to tenderize it)
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 stalk of celery, diced
Olive oil
A couple tablespoons white wine
8 oz. can of whole tomatoes, crushed up with your hands
4-6 small potatoes, peeled and diced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Bay leaf
1 teaspoon each: dried basil, dried thyme
Parmesan for serving

Directions
1. In a large, heavy pot, sauté onion, carrot and celery in olive oil until soft, making sure not let any of them brown. Season with salt and pepper as you go.
2. Add the tripe strips and stir well. Simmer for a few minutes to allow it to take on the flavor of the aromatics. Then add white wine, raise the heat, and let the wine cook off.
3. Add tomatoes, crushing them with your hands as you add them to the pot, together with the bay leaf and herbs. Mix everything well and cover the pot. Turn down the heat to low and let it simmer for 30-45 minutes, until the tripe is tender and the sauce reduced. About halfway through the simmering, add the potatoes, mix them in, re-cover the pot and continue simmering. When the tripe is tender, if you find the dish too liquid, uncover the pot and raise the heat to reduce for a few minutes, until you have the consistency you like. Taste and adjust for seasoning.
4. Eat with grated parmesan cheese and a drizzle of olive oil on top.

BLURB
Henry Appleby has an appetite for life. As a recent high school graduate and the son of a wealthy family in one of Chicago’s affluent North Shore suburbs, his life is laid out for him. Unfortunately, though, he’s being forced to follow in the footsteps of his successful attorney father instead of living his dream of being a chef. When an opportunity comes his way to work in a real kitchen the summer after graduation, at a little Italian joint called Fiorello’s, Henry jumps at the chance, putting his future in jeopardy.
Years ago, life was a plentiful buffet for Vito Carelli. But a tragic turn of events now keeps the young chef at Fiorello’s quiet and secretive, preferring to let his amazing Italian peasant cuisine do his talking. When the two cooks meet over an open flame, sparks fly. Both need a taste of something more—something real, something true—to separate the good from the bad and find the love—and the hope—that just might be their salvation.

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1 comment:

  1. Tripe can be an.....acquired.....taste. I'm familiar with it a bit as it is part of Polish cuisine as well.

    Never did acquire a taste for the tripe itself, but - in a recipe such as the one above - I did manage to come to the point where I will eat everything but the tripe itself.

    ReplyDelete