Testing New Recipes During The Holiday Season
Unfortunately, it is now the time of year when we as Chicago residents must battle our two ferocious enemies: tourists and the brutal weather. Like clockwork, they both take over downtown and become pretty annoying.
However, the arrival of these two groups also signifies the beginning of the most flavor time of the year. With Thanksgiving only hours away, I know the next month and a half are going to be delicious! From holiday parties and eggnog to the cookies left in the office kitchen, food is going to wreak havoc on my finely tuned “beach body” and I’m totally okay with that.
In addition to being a tasty time of year, I love the Christmas season because the tourists and craziness of downtown are a perfect excuse to host a dinner party. Recently, I had a chance to eat lunch prepared by Chiara Lima, the daughter of legendary Italian chef Mamma Agata, and I found the cookbook I’m going to use for my next dinner party.
I met Chiara at the Macy's Culinary Studio, down the hall from Walnut Room, when she was in Chicago promoting her new cookbook “Mamma Agata.” Within the first few moments of watching her cook, she impressed the group with her culinary knowledge and captivated us with stories about the celebrities who have cooked with her and her mom (e.g. Pierce Brosnan, Elizabeth Taylor, Jacqueline Kennedy and Humphrey Bogart). The stories were funny and lighthearted but the food was the highlight of our time together.
Assisted by her husband Gennaro Penni, Chiara and Gennaro cooked eggplant parmigiana, a veggie filled spaghetti (recipe below), and the best lemon cake I’ve ever had. One of the reasons I’m an advocate for these three amazing dishes, and Mamma Agata’s cookbook, is that didn’t put me a “food coma” like many Italian dishes in the past.
I’ll probably host one or two dinner parties before the end of the year and I’m excited to test a couple recipes from Mamma Agata's cookbook because I think I can tackle these recipes in my studio. One of my pitfalls in the kitchen is a lack of space and equipment but when I drool over the Sausage and Red Pepper Pasta recipe, I’m impressed that it is one of the many recipes that don’t require a Top Chef style kitchen. Whether you’re the next Rick Bayless or a casual cook, this cookbook offers slam dunk dishes for newbies and more challenging recipes for experienced chefs.
(Cent Anni is an Italian toast Chiara taught the group and it’s used as if to say "may we have 100 years of life, love, health and happiness.")