Saturday, March 6, 2010

Under The Tuscan Sun - Pizza with Onion Confit, Grilled Sausage and Peppers

The Book Choice for February at "This Book Makes Me Cook" club was Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes.

The highlight of the book to me is, of course, some of Mayes' recipes, written casually with little fuss and highlighting the strength of the local produce of Tuscany. I chose to make the Pizza with Onion Confit and Grilled Sausage from her Summer Kitchen Notes collection. I'm not sure if there is something in the water in Tuscany, but this recipe resulted in the largest pizza base I have ever made. It rose spectacularly and was soft and bread-like in the same vein. Like pizza toppings on a giant dough pillow.

You know, Book Clubs are really good things, because they force you to read books that you would not have glanced at if you were left to your own devices. Sure I had heard of this book before. Who hasn't, it was re-made (and possibly butchered) into a romantic chick-flick (of the kind I thoroughly detest) starring Diane Lane.

So I was a tad prejudiced when I picked up the book. And these negative feelings continued to multiply.

So who can plunk down and buy a magnificent Tuscan Villa that they happened to see when strolling through Cortona? (View from author's house "Bramasole" . Image courtesy
How many of us have lifestyles that allow us to spend part of the year feeding intellectual minds as a professor in the not-so-shoddy-itself Bay Area, and then pack up without a whim and spend the rest of the year plucking apricots and restoring a villa that had water features dating back to Etruscan times.
But the most jarring piece for me was - who was feeding her cat in San Francisco when the author kept moving back and forth between Italy and the US!

OK, I jest not.
Those feelings of animosity slipped away as I started getting more engrossed in the book. Frances Mayes does have a wonderful way with words. Her prose and ability to detail the tiniest patterns of life in this charmed area are mesmerising, and I did get quite absorbed in her vivid recollections of the painstaking home remodeling project that she took on.

Her description of the food and lifestyle of the Tuscan region is breathtaking, and she has pretty much convinced me that I need to pay a visit to this area at some point. And in case you think none of the book is true, I stumbled across this blogger who got to see the actual house.
I kind of lost her towards the end of the book, when she takes on what I felt was an unnecessary religious tone, complete with macabre ancient Christian and Roman practices, interspersed with jolting memories from her charmed, but rather strange Southern childhood and experiences.

In addition, the author quotes a statement from legendary French cookbook authoress Simone Beck whom she took a cooking class with (remember Simca from "Julie and Julia"?) that rang so true to the type of calculating, non-risk taking cook that I am...
no technique, there is just the way to do it. Now, are we going to measure or are we going to cook?"

One spring when I studied cooking with Simone Beck at her house in Provence, she said some things I never forgot. Another student, a caterer and cooking teacher, kept asking Simca for the technique for everything. She had a notebook and furiously wrote down every word Simca said....When she asked one time too many, Simca said crisply, "There is

If you are interested in joining "this Books Make Me Cook" club, drop Simran a line at Bombay Foodie.

Onion Confit is the result of "melting" or cooking onions softly in a little bit of olive oil and Balsamic Vinegar. The resulting mix is a sweet and tart confluence of caramelized onions. I love the confit! Prejudices re-emerge, as Mayes softly chastises us to use Balsamic Vinegar that has been aged a minimum of 12 years. My brand was probably aged 12 minutes at the local H-E-B grocery store, no dimpled Tuscan maidens churning out the olives in this joint. Sorry Frances Ma'am.

And in case you are wondering why you can't really see much of the Confit in the pizza I made, that is because I deceptively hid them under the grilled peppers (my own addition) to prevent the inevitable outburst from my esteemed dining clientele at the din-din table.

"M-O-M-MMMMM - are those BROWN WORMS?!!!"
Pizza with Onion Confit and Sausage and Grilled Peppers (adapted from "Under The Tuscan Sun" by Frances Mayes)

Thinly slice 1 large onion and "melt" in a frying pan on low heat with i Tbsp olive oil and 3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar.
Onions should be caramel colored and limp. Season with marjoram, oregano, thyme, salt and pepper.
SausageI used 1 Polish kielbasa - grill or saute sausage and slice into thin rounds.
Bell peppers
Wash 1 red bell pepper. Lay on cook top (I have gas burners) and rotate on medium flame till the skin begins to char. Remove from heat, let cool, slice and deseed.

Pizza DoughDissolve 1 package of yeast (I used Fleischmanns rapid-rise) in 1/4 cup warm water for 10 minutes.
Mix the following: 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp sugar, 3 Tbsp olive oil, 1 cup of cool water and pour into a mound of 1-1/4 cups of flour.
Knead on a flat surface till elastic and smooth or pulse in food processor until dough forms a ball, then remove and knead by hand.
Place dough in an oiled and floured bowl and let rest for 30 minutes.
Roll into 1 large or 2 smaller circles and brush with herbed or chilli oil.
Scatter sausage, onions and peppers over the surface. Sprinkle 1 cup grated Parmesan or mozzarella cheese and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes.
Makes 8 generous pieces.


Simran said...

I agree...Mayes' writing is good enough and humorous enough to do away with all prejudices. Love your pizza.

Aparna said...

Like the sound of a soft "pillow-like" pizza. My daughter would love it, though I personally like thin crust ones.

FoodyGuru (Srimathi) said...

I am sorry that you did not like the movie, I liked it.Yes it was a chick-flick but I did not read the book before I saw the movie, so I lost the luxury of capturing my own vision of Tuscany instead the movie image and characters came with me through the book. I agree that the books are always better than the movies.The pizza looks good. I am sure it must of tasted good.

Sayantani said...

I like this idea of combining a book club with cooking...very creative.
dint get the book yet but have seen the movie and simply loved it simplicity. isnt it very enchanting for a lonely girl to see a house and immediately deciding to buy that...guess thats what the Tuscany sun does to you.

lovely pizza. nothing tastes better than a freshly baked Pizza.

Mimi said...

You are so brave to read a chick book! What we bloggers do!! (just teasing). Sounds like it was all worth it just to get the onion confit!!

YankeeSoaper said...

Hi--thanks for stopping by, and by all means feel free to link to my other blog, Thyme Goes By ;) I enjoyed both--book as well as movie, moreso the book as I really could appreciate the work that was involved restoring Bramasole.To hear the caretakers version, even more went unwritten. It's an absolutely beautiful building, but Frances's gardens simply marvelous. I took over a hundred shots that day and my husband, a watercolorist painted it for me. He too was inspired by the location, Cortona and gardens as well.
Your pizza looks scrumptious and making me very hungry right about now.;-)

aquadaze said...

Throughout the book, I kept thinking 'if only there were some pictures', so thanks for the link!

Your pizza is looking absolutely delicious!

Joanne said...

This post is just too funny. You had me in hysterics.

That movie was a bad, bad movie. I like some romantic comedies. But this was just horrendous. I'm glad to hear the book was better. I don't remember the cat from the movie. It was probably still starving in CA.

I am going to look into this book club! It sounds like a lot of fun.

And the pizza. Looks. Amazing. I need to try that dough!

Chef Aimee said...

I love the book and love how this recipe is inspired from it! What an amazing pizza!

Arlette said...

delicious pizza with delicious ingredients... The link to the villa has beautiful photos. The movie was not that great, but I liked the surrounding area . I will not mind spending the rest of my life in a place like that.

Arch at Rang said...

Oh I really hope you know I was completely besotted by Frances Mayes' 'Under the Tuscan Sun'...I have photographs dedicated to her book:-))

Thanks for dropping by at my blogs:-)

You have lovely blog here...will bookmark it.


Anupama said...

Hey Ann Thanks for dropping by. Love your Pizza.

tasteofbeirut said...

I used to love Peter Mayles books on Provence and for some reason was dead set against reading this one, feeling like "it has been doen before!"; I am changing my mind after reading your review!
The pizza looks and tastes incredible! Love onions esp prepared this way!
Tuscany is indeed beautiful; my cousin (lucky her) used to rent a house there and invite all the family for a month. Too bad I was buried in Texas at the time!

Adele @ WillworkforBiltong said...

I LOVE onion confit, first learnt about it from the lovely Nigel Slater. If there's a movie made from a book, I always try to see the movie first, as the book is always better. That way, I'm not disappointed about either. If I like the movie, I know the book will be even better.

Rachel said...

This is what is for dinner tonight!