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Delicious! Parmigiano Reggiano-Blanketed Carabaccia #FoodieReads

I picked up this book because I have long been a Ruth Reichl fan. And she always inspires me into the kitchen. I made Butternut Squash Soup a la Bonneville after reading Comfort Me With Apples. I served Aushak (Afghani Scallion Dumplings) after reading Garlic and Sapphires. And I even went to hear her speak one evening with Nancy Silverton and Evan Kleiman.

So, it's no surprise that Delicious! A Novel* finally made off my bookshelf. What is a surprise: I neglected to see the 'a novel' designation and was about a dozen pages in when I realized that this, unlike all of her other books, was not autobiographical.

On the Page

Once I realized that this was a novel, the thought that crossed my mind: Can Ruth Reichl, food editor extraordinaire, renowned restaurant critic, and accomplished memoir writer pull off a novel? 

Well, yes and no.

Like Reichl, protagonist Billie Breslin transplants herself from the streets of California to the hustle and bustle of New York where she is hired by a Gourmet lookalike magazine titled Delicious. An enigma, Billie has an incredible palate but doesn't cook and, in fact, has anxiety attacks when she enters a kitchen. 

About Billie's palate: "'Curry leaf?' Sal tasted again. 'There isn't one person in a thousand who's even heart of it.' ...'Yeah. Curry leaf doesn't take like anything else. It's alike there's an echo of cinnamon right behind the lemon'" (pg. 22).

We get the backstory of why Billie doesn't cook as the novel progresses. And it's clear that Reichl is writing what she knows - food, food, and more food.

There are some interesting side stories that are reminiscent of The Devil Wears Prada (think of a kindly, older gay gentleman who takes the ingenue under his protective wing); there's history about food in the World War II era, a tie in to the Underground Railroad, a historical architecture expert, a epistolary scavenger hunt. Oh, there's also a love story and an ugly duckling thing going on. So, yes, lots to keep track of.

This ended up being a light diversion for a day, but one that tried things up a little too nicely for my tastes. So, while I will continue to read Reichl, I think I'll stick to her non-fiction works. But I am going to try Billie's gingerbread recipe.

In the Bowl

But, as with all of the other Reichl books I've read, I was inspired into the kitchen. In this case, inspiration struck through Billie's sidejob at Sal's cheese shop,  Fontanari's. Billie is the first non-relative that Sal has ever hired, but she quickly becomes family.

"By this time I would have followed him anywhere. He showed me how each wheel was stampled with the month and year, and then he carched the first one open to reveal its pale cream-colored interior. He chipped off a hefty shard and handed it to me. I took a bite, and my mouth filled with the hopeful taste of fresh green grass and young field flowers welcoming the sun. ...'Yes!' Sal was openly delighted. 'I knew you were going to be able to taste how different the cheese is! Most Americans don't even notice, but that cheese is so different that, back in the old days, it was sold under a different name. The Parmesan made from December to March, when the cows were in the barn, was called 'invernego' - winter cheese - because the flavor is so distinct'" (pp. 29-30).

So, I have never noticed any cheese shop making a distinction between Spring and Winter parmesan cheese. But I picked up a chunk of parmigiano reggiano and used it for this recipe: Delicious! Parmigiano Reggiano-Blanketed Carabaccia.

The 'delicious' is in reference to the book, but it is also delicious! This is the Tuscan version of an onion soup. Its first mention was in a 16th century cookbook; it's called carabaccia. I love that it's simply, flavorful, and so filling. I make it about once a week during the winter. But, oddly, this is the first time I've posted the recipe.

Ingredients serves 4 with leftovers

  • 2 pounds organic red onions, peeled and sliced thinly (I use my mandolin slicer)
  • 1 T butter
  • 2 T olive oil + more for serving
  • 4 to 5 fresh organic sage leaves, thinly sliced
  • 2 t fresh organic thyme leaves
  • 4 to 6 C stock (you can use whatever kind you have, I used a beef stock I'd been simmering for days)
  • freshly ground salt, to taste
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 4 eggs
  • 1-1/2 C grated cheese, divided  + more for serving
  • 4 slices bread, lightly toasted


In a large pot (I use my Dutch oven), melt butter in 1 T olive oil. Stir in the sage and thyme. Add in the onions and 1 T more olive oil. Gently sweat the onions on lowest heat. Let them cook very gently without letting them brown for approximately 30 minutes. If they begin to get dry or stick just add a splash of stock.

Pour in the stock to cover the onions. Turn the heat up to medium. Bring it to a simmer and cook for another 30 minutes. Check for seasoning and add salt or pepper as needed. If you prefer a thicker, stew-like consistency, just turn up the heat and let the liquid reduce to your liking.

Remove the cover on the pot and sprinkle 1/2 C shredded cheese over the top of the soup. Crack the eggs into the simmering soup and sprinkle another 1/2 C shredded cheese over the eggs. Replace the pot cover and cook without stirring. The whites of the eggs should be cooked and the yolks runny—approximately 5 minutes.

While the eggs poach, toast the bread and you can melt some additional cheese on top of them, if you like. I used the remaining 1/2 C cheese on my toasts for a salty, cheese blanket.

To serve, ladle the soup into individual serving bowls and float a Parmigiano Reggiano-Blanketed toast in the bowl.

Spoon an egg over the top of the bread.

Let diners grate even more cheese over the bowl, if they like, and drizzle some olive oil over the soup. Serve hot.

Jake and I poured a Lechthaler Pinot Noir to go with the soup. To the eye, it was a pale garnet red. On the nose, there were notes of red fruit and a yeasty bread that is more typical of white wines. On the palate, the wine was velvety smooth but with delicate tannins. It was a great match for the soup!

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Click to see what everyone else read in January 2020: here.


  1. Soup looks wonderful Cam. I like Riechle too but I think I'll pass on this one.

  2. Wowee that soup looks and sounds delicious!!!! Is it kind of like a French Onion soup, but kicked up several notches??? I love French Onion soup but don't actually know what seasonings go into it. Please hold while I Google...Sounds like the French version calls for white or yellow onions and wine and/or cognac (Julia Child) and doesn't have sage.

    Your Tuscan Carabaccia sounds deeeeeeelicious with the sage and that poached egg on top of the cheesy toasted bread!!!! Yum, yum!

    And I like that I don't have to drive three hours to Little Rock to try to find a decent liquor store to find a good bottle of wine. It will be challenging enough to find parmigiano reggiano in this tiny, two-story town. Siiiiigh. The minute I find a wedge I'm making that soup!


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