In Leon’s latest Brunetti installment, Guido takes on an investigation for his father-in-law, Count Falier, once again walking a fine line between family interests and pursuit of crime someone is murdered. As in all Commisario Brunetti books, the reader watches as Guido attempts to serve justice in an astoundingly corrupt environment. We may not always agree with his tactics, but have to concede that his motivation is pure, ethical and just, if not always legal, or “by the books.” In this volume, Brunetti is rereading “The Trojan Women” by Euripedes. Thinking about the spoils of war that created the plight of the Trojan women, he sees a contemporary parallel in the thousands of women from eastern Europe flooding into the west: living spoils of war, forced into prostitution. Reflecting on the motivations for war in modern times, Guido contrasts the ancients. The Trojans and Achaeans were seeking glory, fame, and honor for their name in perpetuity, unlike today’s wars, motivated by greed in the form of land and spoils. Whatever the motivation, there is one clear group in both ancient and modern times that suffers, powerless to control their own destiny.
I marvel at how Leon has crafted the relationship between Guido and his wife, Paola. They are equals, best friends, and really know and understand one another. The children, Chiara and Raffi, older now and more involved with their friends, do not play as large a role as they have in past books, except at mealtimes. Everyone comes home for mama’s cooking. Although, with Chiara declaring vegetarianism, now Paola has had to provide meat-free options for her daughter alongside Guido’s penchant for vitello. Reading a Leon book is like spending an evening with old friends, taking comfort in the constancy of their character that provides a respite of the familiar in an often hostile world.
Henry James, Paola’s beloved author, wrote his novella, The Aspern Papers while visiting friends in Venice. The action in the novel was modeled on the Palazzo Soranzo Capello and Gardens on Rio Marin.
The photo is from a website called Pictures from Italy (Est. 2001) by David Lown
When Guido misses a meal, you know there’s a compelling reason. His motivation for getting through his days at the Questura is sometimes as simple as looking forward to whatever Paola is preparing for lunch or the evening meal, and the pleasure of her and the children’s company during it. On the day that Brunettie discovered who killed Berta, best friend of Count Falier’s best friend, Gonzalo, Paola was serving peperonata with polenta. In a timely coincidence, my husband and I had just watched an episode on the Food Channel, where Lidia Bastianich prepared peperonata with her granddaughter, serving it on crostini. This is her recipe, except for the polenta.
Peperonata (Stewed Savory Peppers) with Creamy Polenta
¼ C extra-virgin olive oil
4 anchovy fillets, chopped
2 medium onions, sliced to 1/2 inch thick
6 small (or 4 large) bell peppers (red, yellow, and orange), cut into 1-inch strips
1 tsp kosher salt
½ C pitted oil-cured black olives
¼ C drained capers in brine
¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
One 28-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand
Heat the olive oil in a large straight-sided skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the anchovies. Cook and stir until they dissolve into the oil, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the onions, and cook until they begin to wilt, about 4 minutes. Add the peppers, and season with the salt. Add the olives, capers, and red pepper flakes, and get everything sizzling; then add the tomatoes, slosh out the can with 1 cup water, and add that to the pan. Cover, and cook until the peppers begin to droop, about 10 minutes.
Uncover, and cook until the peppers and onions are tender and sauce is thick and flavorful, about 10 to 15 minutes more.
1 C cornmeal ½ C Parm or ricotta, or both (opt.)
1 to 2 T butter
4 C water
1 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
Salt and pepper
Bring 4 cups water to boil in a medium sauce pan. When the water boils, whisk in the 1 cup corn meal in a slow steady stream, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Continue whisking until the polenta begins to thicken (around 1 to 2 minutes). Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt.
Reduce the heat so that the polenta bubbles slowly. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes until the cornmeal loses its raw flavor (taste every so often to check).
When the polenta is complete, turn off the heat and add 1 to 2 tablespoons butter, and more kosher salt and pepper to taste. You can cover it to keep it warm before serving. If the polenta becomes too thick, you can stir in a bit of milk or water to loosen it up.
For even more flavor, you can stir in some cheese with the butter in Step 3.
A delicious dish, but for a meat-eating audience, include a protein