It is time for another round of Cook the Books, the fun foodie book club that I and three of my best blogger buddies take turns hosting. This time we read the first Inspector Montalbano mystery by author Andrea Camilleri, "The Shape of Water". Montalbano is a policeman with a lot of wisdom, heart, common sense, a wry sense of humor, and a love of food. Perfetto!
In our featured book, Montalbano looks for the truth behind the suspicious death of a local politico found in a car in a seedy and desolate part of the Sicilian town of Vigata. His Commissioner wants the details of the death hushed up and tells him that it is "wonderful..that someone in this fine province of our ours should decide to die a natural death and thereby set a good example. Don't you think? Another two or three deaths like Luparello's and we'll start catching up with the rest of Italy."
Montalbano doesn't buy it, and he unravels the rest of the mystery and helps out a few innocents along the way. The dialogue is great and the humorous asides cracked me up ("Ingrid apparently belonged to that category of woman who cannot resist the sight of a bathtub.") (Yes!) The lover of all things literary and foodie will also find literary snacks strewn between the pages, from paper cones of calia e simenza (roasted chickpeas and pumpkin seeds) to expertly prepared boiled shrimp. Montalbano's housekeeper, Adelina, is the mother of some repeat offenders that our hero has apprehended himself, and leaves him homey dishes in the refrigerator.
I perused my cookbook collection and found a simple recipe for a Sicilian country dish called Pollo e Pomodori in Carol Field's mouthwatering cookbook "In Nonna's Kitchen" (NY: HarperCollins, 1997), which I highly recommend if you're one of those category of women who cannot resist a good cookbook that also contains a lot of stories and folklore. I added a few ingredients and subbed out some others, and this turned out to be a quite "blogworthy" dish, in the words of my dear husband. I served it up with a side of roasted potatoes with rosemary and garlic and I think Inspector Montalbano would have tucked into this too.
Pollo e Pomodori (Chicken with Spiced Tomato Sauce)
3 boneless chicken breast halves, cut into four smaller portions
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 red onion, peeled and diced
1 (14 oz.) can diced tomatoes
1 apple, peeled and diced
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp. allspice
Heat olive oil in heavy frying pan. Add onions and saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Add chicken and brown, turning often, about 15 minutes. Add tomatoes, apple, salt and pepper and allspice. Stir, cover pan, and cook over low flame another 20 minutes, or until chicken is done.
The flavors really come together in a spicy tomato gravy that seemed very exotic, though this was an easy dish to make.
The deadline for this round of Cook the Books ends tomorrow. Please visit the Cook the Books blog to see what others have thought about our featured book and what they have cooked. I will present a roundup in a few days after the deadline.
Our next Cook the Books selection is the novel "The Color of Tea" by Hannah Tunnicliffe. Feel free to grab a copy of the book and blog up your thoughts (and cook up something inspired from its pages). Anyone can join in the fun.