Katherine Browne (the character), tomato stracciatella and ricotta gnocchi

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Well my reading year is off to a smashing start thanks to the truly delightful, “Brother of the More Famous Jack” written by Barbara Trapido (you can grab it here).  Also, I’ve ticked one off the reading challenge list….this one I chose almost solely on it’s cover (you can see it by clicking the link above), 1 down, 51 to go.

Katherine Browne is one of the best drawn female characters I’ve read in a very long time and spending time with her was a joy.  Katherine falls in love, loses love, loses herself, tries out different ways of being in the world, moves to Rome, falls in lust, loses everything and eventually she comes home to her kindred spirits by way of the Goldman family.  She falls in love again, this time it’s the real thing and she finds happiness.  It’s a coming of age story in a way – perhaps more of a coming in to herself story.  Jacob Goldman is Kath’s Professor and she is drawn in to his personal orbit where he and his wife Jane are a formidable duo. She is accepted as a member of their family almost instantly and it is clear these people are her tribe.  This family is so unlike her own…where beauty is appreciated, verbal sparring is the everyday and intelligence is respected above all else.  But there is kindness, respect and love here too. Roger Goldman, the oldest son, reminded me so of someone I used to know….and I winced with Katherine’s heartbreak and fawning as I saw echoes of my own past behaviour. The writing is light and clever and for me a highlight is the genuine friendship between Jane and Katherine. One borne of shared values, respect.  They are the type of friends who see each other for who they really are and don’t expect otherwise. A fun, beautiful, heartfelt book and one I wholeheartedly recommend.

Back when I hosted a Book Club at my house I tempted my pals over by cooking a meal for them too…always inspired by the book we read and so I thought I would do the same here.  And this book, like many I enjoy, talks food throughout but none more so than a tomato stracciatella which is referenced twice throughout the book.

The first time it’s made in the Goldman kitchen by John Millet when Katherine first visits them – an outtake from his life in Rome.  The second, by Michele, the fascist scoundrel lover who asks Katherine how stracciatella would be translated in English.

And this is a truly delicious soup!  At the outset let me say this is my kind of food – simple to cook, pretty quick, based on good ingredients and though it’s a soup, it tastes of summer to me. Can I also mention that this is a really cheap meal?  It would make a great cold soup too though I think it would be best without the semolina if you’re going to do that.  It would be almost gazpacho like.  I think it’s fancy enough to serve to friends for a light lunch and as a starter too.

I made the soup itself in the morning, knowing we were having a busy day and then made the egg mixture and added that to the reheated soup at dinner time.  It’s great midweek fare and I will actually freeze small portions of the soup and do a quarter of the egg mixture to it as we reheat it for an after work meal.  Sadly, my kiddos don’t like soup much so it’s a meal for the grown people only.

I based my soup on this recipe in the New York Times but of course I couldn’t leave well enough alone so did it with a Cat twist and served it up with some ricotta gnocchi which is one of my favourite things to eat.

 Tomato Stracciatella (via NY Times)

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  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 can tomatoes, + 1 grated tomato – if I had more fresh tomatoes I would have used those but I didn’t and the canned ones, if you buy the good ones, are super good I think
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 basil sprig
  • 1.5 litres vegetable or chicken stock – we had homemade chicken stock on hand so that’s what I used
  • a little grate of nutmeg
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup semolina
  • 4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
  • A good handful of fresh herbs – I used a combination of parsley, chives and basil freshly picked from the garden…chop them up pretty finely but don’t worry too much about it, truly

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large, solid bottom saucepan. Add minced/chopped (whatever you like to do in your preparation) garlic, cooking for around 30 seconds. Don’t let the garlic burn – keep the heat lower rather than higher. Add the tomatoes and basil sprig. Cook, stirring, until the tomatoes have cooked down – the original recipe said 10 minutes but mine was done much more quickly. Add the stock. Bring to a simmer, cover with lid and simmer 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.  The soup is essentially done.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the eggs, semolina, Parmesan, herbs and a dash of nutmeg. Beat until frothy.

Bring the soup to a boil, and slowly drizzle in a thin stream of the egg mixture, stirring constantly.  This slow pour is actually what gives it a lovely swirly cloud situation. Then reduce heat and simmer five minutes.

Ricotta Gnocchi002

I do my gnocchi mostly by feel rather than recipe now as it’s not at all tricky so please go with the instructions rather than the quantities of the flour lovely people.

  • 250 grams ricotta cheese (please don’t by the stuff from the supermarket labelled smooth – it’s just not right!)
  • 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
  • just under a cup of plain flour
  • a dash of salt

Drain the ricotta in a sieve until most of the liquid has dripped out. Meanwhile, put a large pot of water on to boil. By the time it’s boiling your gnocchi will be ready.

Gently mix ricotta, salt and parmesan in a large bowl and add only as much flour as you need to bring the dough together. The best way to do this is to do it by hand – it should be sticky but not so much it sticks to your hands.  Try not to overmix it as that makes the gnocchi tough.

Invert on to a lightly floured board and make sausage like shapes out of the dough – around the 2cm diameter is best. Then cut them in around 2cm intervals.

Drop the gnocchi carefully in the boiling water – this is tricky cos you have to be gentle and don’t want to splash yourself with boiling water!  The gnocchi cook in a few minutes maximum but when they’re ready they float to the top which is indeed very kind of them. Fish them out with a slotted spoon, I prefer to put them in to a colander to drain the last of the water off.

You can cook them in advance and rewarm them or even pan-fry them to give a nice crunch to the outside of it and they do freeze well.  Tor freeze, lay them flat and put baking paper between the layers to make sure they don’t stick together.

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