The first novel cum recipes I remember was Heartburn. When the Nora Ephron character threw a key lime pie at the Carl Bernstein character, the recipe appeared at the end of the chapter. There were twelve recipes, among them mashed potatoes (to treat lovesick blues), bacon hash, cheesecake, brisket. Homely dishes befitting the breakup-of-a- home story. But I wasn’t, and still am not, particularly tempted to make any of them, except perhaps for the brisket, for which one cannot have too many preparations.
Heartburn was brought to mind by reading Jason Matthew’s superior thriller Red Sparrow, recently recommended here. The author, a thirty year CIA operative, no doubt ate and cooked widely through Europe, especially the eastern reaches. it seems espionage cannot occur without delicious food, and each chapter of the book ends with a sketch of a recipe.
Early in the book, there is a terrific recipe for patè, of which I am inordinately fond, especially if homemade. James Beard had a simple and rich chicken liver patè that could be knocked off in thirty or forty minutes, involving little more than shallots, livers, brandy and cold butter. I’ve lost the recipe and haven’t made it in a decade. I will make up for that by putting together “Ustinov’s Rustic Patè,” served by a Russian oligarch to cinch the seduction of the beautiful Red Sparrow of the title. It works, but a fate worse than indigestion awaits Gaspadin Ustinov. Here is the recipe in its entirety:
Caramelize chicken livers, pancetta, and garlic, then deglaze pan with brandy. Hand-chop mixture with parsley, capers, shallots, lemon zest, and olive oil into a coarse texture. Add additional olive oil. Serve on toast.
A sketch rather than a recipe proper, but easy enough to guess quantites. Perhaps a pound or more of chicken livers, two or three ounces pancetta, two or three cloves garlic, a quarter cup brandy, two tablespoons each parsley, capers and shallots, the zest and juice of one lemon, and just enough olive oil. That’s about what I’ll try once patè season gets started. You could skip the pancetta and bring it to Yom Kippur break fast. Let us know.
Mr. Matthew’s writing is evocative and subtle. The food never calls attention to itself in the narrative, and the recipes very effectively (they don’t get get caught up in details) call up the events and setting. There are twenty or thirty of them, including: Sparrow School Tokmach (Noodle) Soup; Jean-Jacques Beef Stew Dijonnaise; Kaddo Bowrani – Afghan Pumpkin; Shchi – Russian Cabbage Soup; Pasta con le Sarde; Golov’s Egg Lemon Lamb Stew; Grybnoy Sup – Mushroom Soup; Taverna Xinos Papoutsakia (Stuffed Eggplant); Estonian Beet Salad – Rosolji.