If you’ve ever wished you could step inside your favorite book â€” to smell and taste the same things the characters do â€” Cara Nicoletti’s new literary guide is for you.
Nicoletti is a butcher by trade and an avid reader since childhood. She weaves together her passions for food and literature in “Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way Through Great Books.” With “Voracious” in hand, you can whip up a “Moby-Dick” inspired clam chowder or the soft-boiled eggs from Jane Austen’s “Emma.”
As a child, Nicoletti writes, “I connected deeply to the characters in my books, and cooking the foods that they were eating seemed to me a natural way to be closer to them, to make them as real as they felt to me.”
Nicoletti joined MPR News’ Kerri Miller to discuss “Voracious” and how writers use descriptions of food to say a lot about characters.
“One of the only things that we all have in common as humans, really, is that we eat,” Nicoletti said. “It’s a very natural way for authors to talk about characters and make them feel more earthly. The scenes where people are eating are usually very telling.”
Take Mark Twain’s Huck Finn as an example. Huck preparing and eating food alongside Jim, a runaway slave, shows that the two are equals â€” a revolutionary idea at the time.
Or, Nicoletti said, consider Daphne duMaurier’s novel, “Rebecca,” where Maxim de Winter picks a fly out of his marmalade while proposing to the narrator, and then keeps eating.
“It clinched the fact that this proposal is not at all romantic,” Nicoletti said. In “Voracious,” she has a recipe for that “Rebecca” marmalade, using blood oranges. “I think there’s a creepiness factor to a blood orange that works well with a Gothic novel like this.”
The recipes are arranged chronologically, following Nicolleti’s development as a reader. It begins with favorite foods from kids books such as “In the Night Kitchen” or “Anne of Green Gables.” Then it’s on to high school and college reads, like crab-stuffed avocados from “The Bell Jar” or white garlic soup from “Pride and Prejudice.”
Last come the books and recipes Nicoletti has devoured as an adult: Concord grape sorbet from “The Bluest Eye” or even brown butter crepes from the bestseller “Gone Girl.”
One of the “Voracious” recipes that’s sure to raise eyebrows comes from Thomas Harris’ “The Silence of the Lambs.” Yes, it’s the recipe you’re thinking of â€” Dr. Hannibal Lecter’s special: liver with fava beans (a nice Chianti is optional).
In this case, it’s chicken liver mousse. For the curious culinary readers out there, here’s the recipe.
“The Silence of the Lambs”: Crostini with Fava Bean and Chicken Liver Mousses”
Makes 16 to 20 crostini
â€¢ 1 baguette
â€¢ Fava Bean Mousse (recipe follows)
â€¢ Chicken Liver Mousse (recipe follows)
â€¢ Olive oil and/or port, for drizzling (optional)
Slice the baguette about 1 inch thick and toast the slices in a toaster oven or under a broiler. Top the crostini with dollops of fava bean mousse and/or cooled chicken liver mousse. Drizzle with olive oil or port if desired.
Fava Bean Mousse
Makes about 1 Â½ cups
â€¢ 1 Â½ pounds fresh fava beans
â€¢ Â½ cup olive oil
â€¢ â…“ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
â€¢ Juice of Â½ a lemon
â€¢ 1 tablespoon grated fresh lemon zest
â€¢ 1 garlic clove, minced
â€¢ Â½ teaspoon kosher salt
Shell the fava beans from the pods and set them aside; you should have about 1 cup.
Bring a medium pot of water to a boil over high heat and prepare an ice bath (a large bowl of ice cubes and cold water). Boil the favas until they are tender, and the outer skins begin to shed, 5 to 7 minutes.
Drain and immediately place them in the ice bath (this stops them from continuing to cook and preserves their beautiful color).
Peel the outer membranes off the fava beans and discard them. Place the blanched and peeled favas and the rest of the ingredients in a blender and blend until very smooth.
Chicken Liver Mousse
Makes about 3 cups
â€¢ 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
â€¢ 2 tablespoons rendered chicken fat (or more unsalted butter)
â€¢ 2 small yellow onions, sliced
â€¢ 2 thyme sprigs
â€¢ 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
â€¢ 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
â€¢ 1 piece star anise
â€¢ Â½ bay leaf
â€¢ 1 pound chicken livers
â€¢ â…› teaspoon pink curing salt (optional)
â€¢ â…“ cup ruby port
â€¢ 1 cup cream cheese, at room temperature
â€¢ 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
â€¢ 1 tablespoon sugar
â€¢ Kosher salt
Heat 1 tablespoon of the butter and 1 tablespoon of the chicken fat in a heavy-
Bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onions and thyme and cook until the onions are golden brown.
Combine the peppercorns, cinnamon, star anise, and bay leaf in a spice grinder and pulse until finely ground (the cinnamon should already be ground, but adding it to the grinder helps the ingredients move around and get ground up). Add the spices to the onions and continue to cook until the onions are soft and caramelized.
Meanwhile, clean the chicken livers of any white or greenish fibers. (These fibers are safe to eat, but removing them will improve the texture of the finished mousse.)
Once the onions have cooked down, add the remaining tablespoon each of butter and chicken fat and raise the heat to medium-high. Add the livers and pink salt (if using — it will keep the livers from turning gray) and cook, stirring and tossing constantly, until they are firm to the touch but still rosy, 5 to 7 minutes. The internal temperature should be 165Â°F. (Generally, overcooking liver leads to an unappealing grainy texture, but the cream cheese and the blending/passing
through a sieve will help hide all manner of overcooking sins, which makes this process much less stressful.)
Discard the thyme sprigs and transfer the cooked livers and onions to a bowl. Deglaze the pan with the port and allow it to cook down for about 1 minute. Pour the reduced port over the livers and add the cream cheese. In batches, blend the livers and cream cheese in a high-powered
blender until very smooth. Pass the pureed liver mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Add the sherry vinegar, sugar, and salt to taste. Keep in mind that the flavor will change as the mousse cools, so add a little more salt than you think tastes right. Also feel free to add
more sherry vinegar, sugar, and/or pepper.
Divide the mousse among three 8â€‘ounce jars and top with a thin layer of rendered chicken fat (or olive oil) before placing the lids on. (This helps keep the liver fresh.) The mousse will keep for up to 10 days in the refrigerator.
Â© Excerpted from the book “Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way through Great Books.” Copyright Â© 2015 by Cara Nicoletti. Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown and Company. All rights reserved.