Monday night was book club night. The five lovely ladies of the club converged at Cindy’s house for dinner, wine, and incidentally, a discussion of the book, What Is The What, by Dave Eggers.
My book club is a marvel of longevity, having started eight or nine years ago when we all worked together, and continuing through the office closure and subsequent diaspora.
We started out as a lunch-time discussion group, which progressed to after-work potlucks with each member taking her turn as hostess. Somewhere along the way we decided to modify the potluck format. And while we did darned good potluck, in my opinion the quality of our book club dinners really took off when each hostess started composing her own menu for the evening.
We rode out the Oprah-fueled book club boom and the subsequent bust while book clubs imploded all around us (it seems like everyone I know has had at least one story of a fiery book club break-up), and supported each other through a wedding, retirement, death, divorce, graduation, engagements–all with unflagging good humor, ribald dinner conversation, and lots of good food. Suffice it to say, my book club rocks.
So Monday night, I was running a significant sleep deficit from the night before, and had worked nearly eleven hours that day. I was tired by the time I picked up Mechele for the ride to book club. But when we got there, as always, I got my second wind.
Sitting in splendor on the counter was a deep dish pie with a golden flaky crust and fragrant steam leaking from the vents cut in the top. Cindy identified this thing of beauty as a Pizza Rustica, from her 1972 Vegetarian Epicure cookbook.
We moved into the living room to sit down, and as we started on the bottle of Chardonnay, Cindy brought out some yummy crackers and dip, while Leah updated us on the preparations for her pending wedding.
Before long, we were seated around the table tucking into Cindy’s amazing Pizza Rustica, with a bottle of chilled Orvieto wine and a really fresh, delightful salad. Cindy is the unrivaled queen of salads. But back to this Pizza Rustica: Cut into generous wedges, it oozed gently over the boundaries of its crust triangles onto our plates. Perfect proportions of vegetables, sauce, and melted cheese melded seamlessly together. With this delight in my mouth, I guess I did manage to make some contribution to the book discussion, but mostly my brain was saying, “Mmmmm-mmm!”
After sorbet and chocolates, we returned to the living room to decide on our next book. Mechele pitched a book called Undress me in the Temple of Heaven, to which Diana, in true Diana fashion, responded, “Oh, not another Temple of Heaven!” Mechele disregarded this outburst and continued to explain that this was a travel memoir about two young women who… “Oh, not another memoir!” Diana exclaimed. “Do they go up a mountain? Do they drink three cups of tea?” After a few more such charmingly inconsequential observations the book was passed from hand to hand, and a consensus was reached. Coats and purses were gathered, hugs all around, and another book club meeting concluded most satisfactorily.
And by the time the next book club rolls around our sweet Leah will be a bride–a blessing on her head, mazeltov.
(From The Vegetarian Epicure, by Anna Thomas)
2 c. flour
1/2 t. sugar
1/2 t. salt
3/4 c. cold butter, cut in pieces
few drops lemon juice
1-3 T. ice water
1 lb. ricotta
1 c. shredded Parmesan
1 T. dried parsley
2 T. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 T. finely chopped onion
1/2 t. marjoram leaves
1/2 t. oregano
10 oz. tomato sauce
4 oz. tomato paste
2/3 c. sliced black olives
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 lb. mozzarella, thinly sliced
1 green pepper, julienned
Process flour, sugar and salt to mix. Cut butter into flour until mixture resembles small crumbs. Sprinkle a few drops of lemon juice over all. Blend in ice water, a little at a time, until mixture forms a ball – only add what is needed. Sometimes you need 2 T. and sometimes 3. Form into two disks, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 30-45 minutes. Heat olive oil in sauce pan, and saute garlic and onion until translucent. Add herbs and heat. Blend in tomato sauce, tomato paste, olives and salt and pepper to taste. Roll out bottom crust and fit into 10″ pie plate. Pour 1/2 of ricotta mixture in crust. Layer 1/2 mozzarella over ricotta. Spread 1/2 tomato mixture over mozzarella. Sprinkle 1/2 green pepper slices over tomato mixture. Repeat. Roll out top crust and cover pie. Seal and flute edges, and make 3 long parallel slashed in top crust with sharp knife. Bake at 425 for 35-45 minutes (took 50 for me) until golden brown. Allow to rest for 30 minutes before serving.