If you think about it, the end-of-year holidays resemble a typical oddball American family.
There’s pious, big-hearted Thanksgiving; quiet, bookish Hanukkah; rollicking Big Daddy Christmas; renegade Kwanzaa; and the tacky uncle, New Year’s Eve. En masse, they’re overwhelming and demanding. But, one on one, they’re delightful when you get to know them…full of stories, quirky tics, and honest-to-goodness meaning.
They’re also full of food.
From late November through early January, we face mountains of comestibles: cheese platters at afternoon gatherings, fancy appetizers at evening soirees, roasts the size of carry-on bags at dinner parties. There’s pie at Thanksgiving, rugelach at Hanukkah and Christmas cookies at…really, at anything, regardless of the hour. And there’s candy: in bowls and gift boxes, stuck to cards, tumbling from desks at work.
It’s an embarrassment of riches (or maybe just embarrassing).
Unable to resist this seasonal tug of the kitchen, I cooked a lot over the holidays, even as we scrambled to unpack and settle in to our completed—yes, finally, completed—new/old house. Tacos, soups, gougères (delicious cheesy puffs), chilis, salads…much feasting ensued.
Early in December, as the weather started to cool and my thoughts turned to soup, I grabbed a cookbook I’ve had for years: Patricia Wells’ Trattoria (Morrow; 1993). Wells, a Midwesterner, is a former New York Times food writer and restaurant critic for the International Herald Tribune and, per the cookbook’s biographical sketch, “the first woman and only foreigner to have served as restaurant critic for the French newsweekly L’Express.” She’s also written a pile of award-winning cookbooks, and currently splits her time between Paris and that other not-too-shabby corner of the galaxy, Provence, teaching cooking classes, blogging and generally living the très bonne life.
I received Trattoria from my parents the Christmas after graduating from college. Early on, I made a few of its tasty pasta dishes, as well as its incredibly delicious, summertime dessert: Baked Peaches with Almond Macaroons. Since then, I’ve pulled out the cookbook every few years to try a new recipe, but mostly, it’s just lingered on the shelf. I wondered if it would live up to its excellent first impressions, particularly during the food-focused holidays.