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Cook by the Book: Adventures of an Italian Food Lover

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Adventures of an Italian Food Lover
There are some days you just want to escape. My favored escapes are a beach in Hawaii, a walk along the Seine in Paris, or a little day trip somewhere, anywhere in Italy. I had the pleasure of living in Italy for six months and it was truly a pleasure. I spent a couple months studying the language, at a leisurely pace mind you, and the rest of the time was spent working and traveling. But whether studying or working, every spare moment was spent exploring--museums, ruins, shops, cathedrals, markets, you-name-it and meeting various characters along the way.

Adventures of an Italian Food Lover definitely takes me back to the days I was living in Italy. It is a cookbook that features recipes from all regions of Italy, mostly fairly uncomplicated ones. More importantly it is a book of stories about all the characters that author and Italian food expert Faith Heller Willinger has met and gotten to know. The watercolor illustrations done by Willinger's sister Suzanne Heller put faces to the names and stories behind each of the 254 friends profiled in the book.

In my experience Italians can sometimes be cagey about sharing recipes, but Willinger has managed to get the best out of almost everyone she meets. After reading this book, I wish for just one day, I could trade places with her, and so will you.

Leek and Sausage Orzotto
Serves 4-6
1 cup pearl barley
4 leeks
Sea salt
6 - 8 ounces fresh sausage, casing removed
1/4 cup unsalted butter (or extra virgin olive oil, if you're like me)
2 tablespoons dry white wine
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 teaspoons minced fresh parsley
Freshly ground black pepper

In a bowl, cover the barley with about 4 cups of cold water and soak for 3 to 6 hours. Drain in a colander. Clean the leeks, saving the tough ends and outer leaves for the vegetable stock. Chop the tender parts of the leeks. Combine the leek trimmings with 8 cups water and 2 tablespoons sea salt, and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes.


Saute the sausage in a nonstick skillet, breaking it up, until it loses its pink color and renders its fat. Drain the fat and reserve the sausage.

In a 5-quart saucepan, saute the chopped leeks with 2 tablespoons butter or oil over low heat until wilted. Add the white wine, raise the heat to evaporate the wine, then add the barley and 2 cups simmering broth. Cook over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until thickened and most broth has been absorbed. Add more simmering broth, 1 cup at a time, until the broth is absorbed.

When barley is almost done, in around 10 minutes, add the drained sausage and begin adding broth 1/2 cup at a time. Cook until the barley is tender, probably an additional 10 minutes. You may not need all the broth. Stir in the Parmigiano-Reggiano, the remaining 2 tablespoons butter (or oil), the parsley, and pepper until well mixed, and remove from heat.

Barley should be slightly soupy, a consistency that will slip across a plate. Let the orzotto stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Recipe reprinted from Adventures of an Italian Food Lover copyright 2007 by Faith Heller Willinger

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