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Read & Feed: Combine Paula Butturini's 'Keeping the Feast' with homemade pizza

BOOK: Paula Butturini met her future husband, John Tagliabue, in 1985 when they were both foreign correspondents. Two weeks before their wedding, she was severely beaten by police in Prague. Three weeks after that her husband-to-be was shot and nearly killed by a sniper in Romania, an injury that triggered his descent into chronic depression. On top of that, her mother, who had her own history of depression, took her own life, and her father was diagnosed with cancer. So Butturini's Keeping the Feast (Riverhead, 2010) may sound like a downer — the author herself has compared the afflictions that rained down upon her to those endured by Job. But in a strange way, food came to the rescue. After six years of turmoil Butturini and her husband settled in Rome, where her daily visits to the vibrant outdoor market in Campo dei Fiori, a piazza where the philosopher Giordano Bruno was executed in 1600, helped her discover the restorative power of good, fresh, simple Italian cuisine.

WHY READ? Most books about food focus on the taste of it — the flavors, textures and aromas. Keeping the Feast acknowledges another important dimension of food — the pleasure of sharing it with someone you love, even when that someone is struggling. Butturini recalls her Neopolitan grandmother using an Italian word — voglie (VOHL-yay) — which means wants, wishes, desires or whims. As a girl, Butturini and her siblings Americanized the word, pronouncing it "wool-EEE." "When a wool-eee erupted, they knew the stomach was speaking," Butturini says of her family. After Butturini moved to Rome, she decided that "Romans have voglie for all manner of edible things," some tied to days of the week (potato gnocchi on Thursdays), or hours of the day (white pizza after school), or seasons of the year (midwinter spinach drizzled with olive oil and lemon). "Each year my own wool-eees grow stronger, as if by being satisfied they are heightened instead of diminished," she says. And her enthusiasm, for food as well as for life, comes across powerfully in her writing.

MAKE IT: Every Easter Sunday a pizza appeared on Grandma's breakfast table, but "a totally different sort of pizza, one meant to break the long Lenten fast," Butturini writes. It had a double crust, like a true pie, and was filled with foods forbidden during the Lenten fast, such as sausage, cheese and maybe some cold cuts. Better known as Pizza Rustica, this feast is an improviser's delight — whatever sounds good to you will probably work well as a filling. Here's a simple version with sausage, ricotta, spinach and peppers, but feel free to take the recipe where ever your voglie wants to go.

TAKE IT: If you don't have time to make Pizza Rustica, buy a good quality frozen pizza and bake it yourself, or simply have pizza delivered. Though American pizza may seem far removed from the thin, crispy pies of Naples, the birthplace of pizza, Butturini recalls how her mother and grandmother savored the American version at the local pizzeria. Her mother routinely burned her mouth because she started eating as soon as it arrived, when the cheese had barely stopped bubbling. "How can I wait when it smells so good?" she would say — a very good question indeed.

Tom Valeo, special to the Times

Read & Feed is a monthly column in Taste that matches popular book club selections with food to serve at meetings. If you have suggestions or would like to share what your book club is cooking up, send e-mail to features@sptimes.com. Put BOOK FOOD in the subject line.

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Pizza Rustica

Crust:

4 cups unbleached all purpose flour

1 ½ sticks unsalted butter cut into small cubes

4 eggs

2 teaspoons sugar

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest

2 tablespoons heavy cream

Filling:

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided use

1 pound hot Italian sausage, removed from casings

1 cup diced cooked ham

4 large egg yolks and two whole eggs (Reserve egg whites for later)

2 pounds whole milk ricotta

1 cup grated mozzarella (fresh is best but dry works too)

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 (10-ounce) package of frozen spinach thawed and drained

2 peppers (red, yellow, green or a combination) cored, seeded and chopped

1 large onion, chopped

To make the crust: Combine flour and butter in the bowl of a food processor or mixer. Pulse or blend until the butter and flour combine to resemble a coarse meal. Add the eggs, sugar, pepper and lemon zest. Add 1 tablespoon of cream. Process or mix until the dough is smooth and soft but not sticky. If too dry and crumbly add a little more cream. If too sticky, add a dusting of flour.

Place dough on a lightly floured surface and form into a large, thick disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour.

To make the filling: Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a heavy frying pan over medium-high heat. Add sausage without casing and saute, breaking it into crumbles as it cooks. Add ham to warm it. Remove from pan onto paper towel. Drain grease.

Add oil to pan and saute peppers and onions.

In a large bowl mix eggs, ricotta, mozzarella and Parmesan, mixing well. Add meat, spinach, peppers and onion. Combine.

Place rack on lowest level and preheat oven to 350.

To assemble the pie: Cut off 1/3 of the dough and set aside. Roll out the larger piece of dough on a lightly floured surface until it's about 17 inches in diameter. Gently roll disc of dough onto the rolling pin and hold it over a 10-inch springform pan. Carefully unroll dough and press into pan. Trim until about 1 inch of dough overhangs lip of pan.

Spoon filling into dough-lined pan.

Roll out the remaining piece of dough into a 12-inch disc, and place over the filling. Pinch the edges together to seal, using a little of the reserved egg white as glue if necessary.

Brush egg white over the pastry top.

Bake on the bottom shelf until the crust is golden brown for 60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Let pie cool for at least 30 minutes. Release the springform ring and transfer the pie to a cutting board or plate. Cut into pie wedges and serve.

Serves 8.

Source: Karen Pryslopski, St. Petersburg Times

Read & Feed: Combine Paula Butturini's 'Keeping the Feast' with homemade pizza 03/30/10 [Last modified: Monday, March 29, 2010 6:19pm]
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