Archive for July, 2013

After publishing Flavors of Friuli: A Culinary Journey through Northeastern Italy, I realized that writing a cookbook comes with its own set of editing considerations. The following are a few tips to keep in mind:

1. Be precise with measurements, cooking times, and instructions

zucchiniIn my recipe-developing process, I needed to translate many existing Italian recipes in order to come up with what I felt was the best version of a particular dish—in essence, a recipe that not only worked but worked well. My frustration was twofold: not only did I have to convert from metric to American measurements, but far too many authors listed ingredients such as “a handful of parsley”—or even worse, simply “parsley.” This may be how many chefs (and home cooks) would actually prepare a dish, but it doesn’t fly when writing a recipe. If you want your readers to end up with the same fantastic result as you, be as specific as possible.

Cooking times will obviously vary; this depends on many factors, such as the type of pan being used, as well as your individual oven. (This last point was made extra clear to me when our oven began leaking gas and needed to be replaced; the new stove burners were each different, so “medium heat” became less about the position on the dial and more a subjective estimation of the flame’s strength.) When possible, provide your cooking time in a narrow range, along with a visual cue. For example, “Bake until golden brown, about 20–25* minutes.”

* Note that an en dash, rather than a hyphen, denotes the word “to.”

2. Develop a style for your text—and stick with it

mushroomsThis is your voice, whether descriptive and flowery or concise and to the point. Some “experts” have disparaged the typical magazine style where, in order for recipes to occupy as little space as possible, editors take shortcuts in sentence structure, such as omitting extraneous words like “a” and “the” (for example, “place chicken in skillet” rather than the wordy “place the chicken in the skillet”). These critics feel that this style doesn’t allow the reader to get to know an author’s personality.

On the other hand, many readers (myself included) prefer to cut to the chase. I like numbers or bullet points for each step. I don’t want to have to spend a long time reading through pages of instructions before beginning to cook. When I’m in the middle of cooking and have a question, it’s important for me to be able to skim the text quickly to find my answer.

Both approaches are valid; it’s just a matter of your personal style and the experience you want your readers to have. Even if you choose a more succinct style, you can still rely on an introductory paragraph to insert history, anecdotes, and descriptive phrasing about the dish.

3. Be consistent with your formatting

borlottiThis point takes my first two tips just one step further. Not only should your ingredients and directions be specific, there should be consistent formatting from one recipe to the next. Whether you decide to say “powdered sugar” or “confectioners’ sugar,” use the same term throughout your cookbook. Choose whether you will write “1/2 cup butter,” “4 ounces butter,” or “1 stick butter”—or perhaps even a combination of these to enhance clarity, such as “1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter.” Each ingredient presents a similar choice; make sure you are consistent in your terminology.

Once you have developed a style for the text of your instructions, try to use the same words to convey the same steps that may appear often in your recipes. For example, “Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Working in batches, place the cjalsòns in the water; cook until they rise to the surface, about 1–2 minutes. Drain.” There are four recipes for cjalsòns in Flavors of Friuli, and I made sure that this particular phrasing was consistent in each; this way, any deviations (such as the one recipe for larger cjalsòns that take longer to cook) will stand out to the reader.

4. Spend the time to create a functional index

asparagusA final consideration, and one that many writers overlook, is the index. Many would say that this is the most tedious part of writing a cookbook. Depending on the length of the work and the number of recipes, creating an index can take anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks. The process involves creating a list of topics and subtopics, and then going through the manuscript page by page, tagging every keyword and linking it to the appropriate index topic. Programs such as Adobe’s InDesign simplify this for you and will generate a formatted index based on the words you tag.

Believe it or not, there are actually professionals out there who specialize in indexing, people who take pleasure in its tedium, and I was surprised to discover how much I enjoyed it myself. It takes a certain amount of “left brain” meticulousness and linear thinking, and for me it was an unexpectedly satisfying task.

Are you writing a cookbook? Would you like help editing your recipes? Are you intimidated by the mere thought of indexing? If so, I can help you. Please email me at info@FlavorsofFriuli.com for more information. Buon appetito!

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Flavors of FriuliIt was June 2004 when Mike and I returned to San Francisco. I had over a year to prepare for my next trip, which would take me once again throughout Friuli–Venezia Giulia. Since Udine made a convenient home base for me to explore the region, I planned two separate weeks there, bookending a three-week journey through Carnia. Two of my main objectives were to visit at least one malga and to attend several more food festivals, so I arranged to travel to Carnia’s major villages—Sauris, Arta Terme, Ravascletto, Forni di Sopra, and Forni Avoltri—all by bus. During my time in Udine, I would take day trips to now-familiar towns such as Cormòns, Cividale, and San Daniele, as well as new ones like Marano Lagunare, Bordano, and Maniago. I would tour three prosciutto factories, climb two mountains, and panic during one very frustrating train strike that stranded me in Venzone. Please join me in the weeks and months to come, as I continue chronicling my Friulian adventures.

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Milano Stazione CentraleOn the final day before our flight home, Mike and I took the train back to Milano. After changing in Mestre, we boarded an InterCity train, which was already packed with people leaving Venezia. The compartments were all full, so we joined the countless others sitting on fold-down seats and standing in the corridor. After the three-hour ride, we finally arrived at Milano Centrale and took the Metro to the Duomo stop. By now, this part of the city was quite familiar to me, as I had stayed numerous times in the same hotel.

Located on a narrow alley just off Piazza del Duomo, Hotel Speronari lacked the comforts of a multi-starred hotel, but it more than made up for its flaws with a friendly staff, reasonable rates, and a convenient location. Our room, on this particular stay, was the most unusual of any I’d seen so far. To be more precise, it was the bathroom that was so strange. Obviously added as an afterthought, in a recent effort to try to modernize the rooms, the bathroom was scarcely large enough to fit a toilet and a bidet (the function of which, I, as an American, still can’t fully comprehend). The sink was on a panel that slid back and forth along the wall, so that you could position it over either the toilet or bidet. The showerhead was on the far wall, with so little leg room that I had to take my shower with one foot atop the toilet seat. There was no shower curtain, so this meant all clothing and towels—and even the roll of toilet paper—must be kept outside the bathroom in order not to get wet. At least there was hot water!

Duomo di MilanoI loved that the hotel was so close to the Metro and just a 10-minute walk from the Linate airport shuttle—which I always needed to catch around 5:30am on the mornings of my return—but the best part of its location was its proximity to the Duomo. After settling into our room, Mike and I took a long walk, stopping first at the cathedral, where we drifted silently through the hushed interior. Shafts of sunlight streaming through stained glass and flickers of candlelight from the side altars illuminated its shadowy dimness. Muffled voices and footsteps echoed off marble walls, the dingy smell of centuries-old dust hanging in the chilly air.

Since we had plenty of time before dinner, we then took a meandering stroll past the Teatro alla Scala and along Via Brera to Via Solferino. There, I was hoping to find a dollhouse miniature shop that I had learned about while interviewing dollhouse-maker Salvatore Ciccorelli for an article two years prior. Unfortunately, the shop was closed. Mike and I retraced our steps to Piazza della Scala, where we lounged for over an hour, listening to a group of elderly men quarrel and watching fashionably dressed women saunter by in their trendy high heels.

For my solo dinners in Milano, I would most often grab an order of melanzane alla parmigiana from Rosticceria Fontana, located across the street from Hotel Speronari. This I would typically take back to my room to eat, after having selected a pastry from the next-door bakery for my early-morning breakfast at the airport. We did buy a couple pastries, but since Mike was with me this trip, I wanted to splurge on a nice dinner for a change.

Heading down Via Orefici toward Castello Sforzesco, we took a sharp left at Piazza Cairoli. Here, along Via Manfredo Camperio, we stumbled upon the romantic, art-filled Osteria Artidoro. As a special treat—and since this was obviously not the type of restaurant to serve house wine by carafe—we chose to order a different glass of wine to accompany each course. I began my meal with the involtini di melanzane, prosciutto e mozzarella and a glass of prosecco, while Mike enjoyed a platter of salumi di Parma, which included prosciutto, coppa, mortadella, and pancetta, with a glass of Gewürztraminer. Next, I had an amazingly flavorful lasagnetta di crespelle con fiori di zucca (crêpes layered with zucchini flowers) with a glass of Orvieto Classico, while Mike ordered the tortelli (half were served with a walnut sauce, the other half with mushroom sauce) and a glass of Shiraz. For our desserts, I indulged in a plate of sbrisolane con cioccolato fondente (chunky almond cookies with a dish of warm melted chocolate for dipping), while Mike had chunks of Parmigiano-Reggiano served with a syrupy balsamic reduction. This was one of the most memorable Italian meals I had ever had the pleasure to experience, and, once again, it set my culinary bar a notch higher.

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gubana Check out my article “A Culinary Journey through Friuli–Venezia Giulia” at GoNOMAD.com.

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Check out these two new websites for self-publishers and independent authors:

Self-Publisher’s Showcase

Indie Author Promotions

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Studena BassaAfter a restless night on an uncomfortably hard bed in an overheated room, breakfast at Hotel Valle Verde offered little comfort: just the average spread of rolls and croissants with an unusual, neon orange–colored juice that turned out to be a mixture of carrot, orange, and lemon. At least the rain clouds had finally moved on, leaving the spring skies a brilliant azure blue.

Our goal for the day was to attend the Sagra dei Cjalsòns, a festival celebrating my favorite Friulian dish. From Tarvisio, Mike and I drove the short distance to Pontebba, where we turned off the highway to follow a narrow gravel road to the hamlet of Studena Bassa. Having arrived 30 minutes before the event was scheduled to begin, we took a stroll along the shallow stream that ran through the village toward Pontebba. All around us towered tall, granite peaks, the only sound being the trickle of water over pebbles and the swoosh as it flowed over a small dam.

Back at the festival, we sat and waited, finally watching the clock tick 11:00am. Where were all the visitors? The makeshift parking lot was empty, as was the small tent filled with wooden picnic tables and bordered by a cement dance floor. I expected that many more people would show up around lunchtime; however, since we were anxious to get back on the road, we ordered two servings of cjalsòns and one frico con polenta to take with us in the car.

On the hour-long drive back to Udine, we nibbled first on the frico, a cheese and potato pancake, soft and cheesy on the inside with a crisp, golden crust. Then came the cjalsòns—the recipe seemed identical to the one given to me by cooking instructor Gianna Modotti, who had grown up in Pontebba. Often, cjalsòns combine both sweet and savory flavors, but this version was entirely sweet: sizeable pouches of dough were stuffed with dried fruit and fresh ricotta and served with melted butter, sugar, and cinnamon.

Upon arriving in Udine, we spent a full half hour searching, unsuccessfully, for a gas station. Being Sunday, I expected that most would be closed, but even the self-service stations were lacking a working bank-card machine. So we gave up and returned to Hotel Principe to check in for our final night. (The next morning, before our departure, Mike and I got up early to fill the tank and return the car. We were pleasantly amused to find the cutest little, old lady pumping gas at the nearby Shell station.)

Udine's Piazzale del CastelloAs this was our last day in Udine, we took one final wander through the city—past the Duomo, through Piazza della Libertà, up the hill to the castello. The mid-afternoon sun was sweltering, so we each indulged in a cup of gelato—I had yogurt, fragola, and limone; Mike had melone, ananas, and frutti di bosco—which we savored in the shade of Piazzale del Castello. There we sat for the rest of the afternoon, watching the world come and go—elderly signori out for a stroll, young couples sunbathing, children kicking around a ball.

Udine's Osteria Al Vecchio StalloFor dinner, we returned one last time to Osteria Al Vecchio Stallo. By now, the waiter recognized us and knew our drink order without having to ask—un mezzo rosso. I ordered my beloved frico con polenta (that’s twice in one day!) with a side of zucchini alla scapece (zucchini sautéed with vinegar, herbs, and spicy pepper). Mike also had the frico, along with a plate of his equally beloved prosciutto di San Daniele. The meal was simple but enormously satisfying. It was with a heavy heart that I left the restaurant that evening. Al Vecchio Stallo had become a great source of comfort to me in this corner of Italy. On all my solo trips up to this point, it was the only place where I had felt thoroughly at ease when dining alone. I was already looking forward to my next trip the following summer!

cjalsons di PontebbaHere is my recipe for cjalsòns di Pontebba, adapted from the one given to me by Gianna Modotti:

Pasta Dough:
1 cup semolina flour
1/4 cup boiling water, plus extra as needed
1 tablespoon olive oil

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, boiling water, and olive oil. Transfer the dough to a clean surface; knead until the flour is fully incorporated and the mixture becomes smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. (If the dough is too dry or crumbly, lightly moisten your fingers with water during kneading until you reach the desired texture.) Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.

8 dried figs
8 dried
1/4 cup golden
1 cup medium-bodied red
wine (such as Merlot)
1 cup fresh ricotta
1/4 teaspoon ground

1. Place the dried figs, plums, and raisins in a small saucepan; pour in the red wine. (The fruit should be mostly submerged; if it is not, slice any large figs and plums in half.) Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low; simmer until the liquid has evaporated and the fruit is soft, about 20–25 minutes. Remove from heat; cool to room temperature.

2. Purée the fruit in a food processor. Transfer to a medium bowl; stir in the ricotta and cinnamon. Refrigerate for 1 hour, or until ready to use.

To prepare:
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Working in batches, feed the dough through the rollers of a pasta machine until very thin (setting #7 on most machines). Cut out 3-1/2 inch circles from the dough. Place 1 tablespoon filling on each circle. Moisten the edges with water and fold in half to make a semi-circle, sealing the edges tightly. Place filled-side down, pressing slightly so it will stand on end like a purse. Pinch the seal to form a scalloped edge (like a fluted pie crust).

2. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Working in batches, place the cjalsòns in the water; cook until they rise to the surface, about 3–4 minutes. Drain.

3. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat; remove from heat. Stir in the sugar and cinnamon; add the cjalsòns and toss to coat with butter.

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tagliolini al prosciuttoFor my Recipe-of-the-Month, I have chosen Tagliolini al Prosciutto in honor of last weekend’s Aria di Festa prosciutto festival in San Daniele del Friuli. With a simple sauce of cream and poppy seeds, the dish couldn’t be easier to prepare. Visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com for the recipe.

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