TLC Book Tour: Paula Butturini, author of Keeping The Feast, Guest Post

Many thanks to TLC Book Tours for inviting me to tour Paula Butturini’s new memoir: Keeping the Feast (read my review). I love books that center around food in foreign countries, and Butturini’s story of illness and recovery in Italy reminds us how the ritual of food is a symbol of survival.

About Paula Butturini:

Paula Butturini has worked in overseas bureaus in London, Madrid, Rome, and Warsaw for United Press International and the Chicago Tribune. She is now a writer based in Paris. To learn more about Buttuirini and her work, visit the author’s website. Listen to the author’s podcasts here. Read Buttuini’s Keeping the Feast blog.

About Keeping The Feast:

Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover
Publication Date: 2/18/2010
Pages: 272

A remarkable story, gorgeously told. We reflect, relish, grieve, and heal our way with Paula Butturini, who is wise about so many things – family and place; depression, religion, and love; the disastrous long-term fallout of a single bullet fired at a loved one; and the immediate restorative pleasures of an Italian meal. This book evokes life at its most serious and dire, and at its most mysterious and delectable. Read it, and be deepened and refreshed. – Krista Tippett, host of the public radio program Speaking of Faith –

I was really happy when Paula agreed to write a guest post for me. What follows is one of Paula’s childhood memories of her Hungarian neighbor and the amazing garden which produced the homegrown ingredients for stuffed peppers. Enjoy!

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Until I was nine, my family rented the sunny, ground-floor flat of a two-family house in a neighborhood of Fairfield, Connecticut, that had lots of Hungarian immigrants. Our Hungarian-born landlady, Grace Madaras, lived upstairs from us until she and her husband had a little house built next door at the front of their enormous vegetable garden.

I loved their garden in every season but winter, and when I was really young, I liked hiding among the plants where I wasn’t supposed to be playing in the first place. The garden produced all sorts of herbs and vegetables — like fresh, feathery dill and rows of red and white cranberry beans, whose foliage was big and lush enough to hide me if I crouched down low — that my own grandparents never grew in their Italian-style gardens. Every once in a while, greed would get the better of me and I would split open one of those enormous red and white cranberry pods while hiding among its leaves. I wasn’t interested in eating the beans; l just liked to look at them, in all their perfection, lined up cozily inside their pod. For some reason, they made me feel safe.

When our landlords moved next door into their new little house, it meant we no longer got to smell the wonderful aromas — so different from my mother’s Italian cooking — that would waft down the stairs when Grace was preparing the dishes her family used to cook back in Hungary. At some point though, Grace gave my mother her recipe for Hungarian stuffed peppers, sweet, green bell peppers from her garden that were filled with meat, rice, and onion, then simmered in a mild, glorious sauce made from tomato juice enriched with sour cream and fresh dill, straight from the garden.

To this day, I can still smell and taste this dish, and writing about it now, nearly fifty years later, makes my mouth start to water at the thought of it. I think the dill plant I have in a corner of my herb garden today stands there more in memory of Grace and my childhood than it does to flavor any of the dishes I use it for today. I wrote Grace’s recipe down on a file card when I set up my own household, and though I rarely make it, just seeing it in my recipe box makes me feel safe, like seeing those beans in their pod so long ago.

Grace Madaras’s Hungarian Stuffed Peppers

  • 8-12 green bell peppers, depending on size
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 1 cup uncooked rice, cooked as package directs
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced and sauteed until soft in 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 eggs
  • Salt, pepper
  • Tomato juice
  • Fresh dill
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup sour cream

Wash peppers and place them standing up in a deep kettle. Pour enough boiling water into the kettle to thoroughly cover the peppers, then let stand, covered and off flame, for 40 minutes. Drain pot, then using a sharp knife, cut a circle out of the very top of the pepper to remove the stem and a circle of pepper flesh surrounding it. Scoop out seeds, and drain well.

In a large mixing bowl, combine beef, pork, cooked rice, sauteed onion, eggs, two teaspoons salt, and freshly ground pepper to taste. Mix well, then stuff drained peppers with meat mixture. Placed the stuffed peppers upright in a deep pot. Pour enough tomato juice into pot to come 3/4 of the way up the stuffed peppers. Add a handful of fresh dill. Bring to a simmer and cook, simmering, for one hour. Toward the end of the cooking remove 1/2 cup of tomato juice and let cool. Thicken this cooled tomato juice by whisking in the flour and sour cream. Pour this mixture back into pot and mix well. Heat through but do not let it boil.

We always ate this dish — real comfort food — with mashed potatoes; I don’t know how it was served in Grace’s kitchen.

Contributed by Paula Butturini, whose book Keeping the Feast will be published by Riverhead/Penguin on Feb. 18.

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To see all the blog tours of Butturini and her book, visit TLC Book Tours for links.

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9 comments

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    • Kathy on February 4, 2010 at 06:05

    What beautiful memories! The recipe is a little different from my stuffed pepper recipe, so I’ll have to give it a try.

    • Lisamm on February 4, 2010 at 10:05

    I loved reading this!! Thanks so much. My children would think I was trying to kill them if I fed them stuffed peppers, but my parents love them so I will pass this on. Sounds good.

    • Andi on February 4, 2010 at 10:35

    Cool! Thanks for sharing this as I adored the book, and I’m happy to have a recipe!

    • Susan on February 5, 2010 at 10:40

    Stuffed peppers are one of my favorite dishes. Prepared this way, they sound especially appealing.
    I enjoyed reading Keeping the Feast, and this guest post. 🙂

  1. Lovely guest post. I’m so anxious to read this book! And, believe it or not, I have never made (or eaten) stuffed peppers. This recipe sounds delicious and I wonder if I can use red or orange peppers in lieu of green. I prefer the sweeter flavor of those (and I’m assuming one eats the pepper along with the stuffing). Mmmm!

    • Wendy on February 6, 2010 at 11:57
      Author

    Kathy: I agree – it was a fun post wasn’t it? My stuffed pepper recipe is also different from this one…I’m looking forward to checking this one out!

    Lisa: LOL!

    Andi: You’re welcome!

    Susan: I agree – this recipe sounds yummy! Glad you also enjoyed the book!

    Les: I would think you could definitely use other than green peppers. I’ve made stuffed peppers with red peppers and they were delicious. And YES, definitely eat the pepper too 🙂

  2. This book and the fun guest post have my attention! Two of my favorite things – a personal memoir and a yummy recipe.

    I used to make a Greek-style stuffer pepper with feta cheese and mint. I think my kids would rather go to bed without dinner … They’re palates are still developing 🙂

    • Liz on February 10, 2010 at 07:37

    Interestingly, our local paper just had a recipe this morning for stuffed green peppers! I like the sounds of the Greek version.

    I just finished a mystery (“206 Bones” by Kathy Reichs — very good, especially if you’re into that series), and have yet to start a new one. (I did finish about 9:45 last night!) Got a couple non-fiction reads going, including one that’s about food. This one is The MindBody FX Lifestyle and is about mastering that mind-body connection for losing weight permanently. This is an area of struggle for me — lost 30 pounds about 4 years ago, but have put about half back on and am struggling to get it back off before my birthday in May. And I exercise a lot! So this has got a lot of positives for me to absorb, including reprogramming your mind, the power of positive thinking and overcoming the beliefs that limit us. Yes, you still have to expend more calories than you take in. But I already knew that! This is more ammunition in the ongoing struggle.

    • Wendy on February 15, 2010 at 10:57
      Author

    Dawn: I loved stuffed peppers as a kid, but my mother made them with lots of hamburger and ketchup which I think was the selling point!

    Liz: I really like Reichs…will need to check out the one you mentioned.

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