This month of February, I’ve spent a lot of time in the kitchen. Most of that time has been spent exploring a new cookbook – Carpathia: Food From the Heart of Romania by Irina Georgescu. This book was selected as the February challenge for the Rainydaybites Cookbook Club hosted by Deborah Balint. To be entirely honest, I resisted at first. Did I have space for another cookbook? Not really. Have I actually spent the amount of time I wanted with my newest cookbooks? Not even close. Did I have time? Well, yes. Was the book club fun? Of course. But still, I was thinking of taking a short break from the club. Then something happened… Deborah published the first challenge. It was anything from the “Breads and street-food bakes” chapter. She posted pictures of some of the choices, and that was it. I was putty in her hands. I was seduced, and it was so easy for her. Bread week was my weakness, and she had exploited that weakness. So, I quickly got on Amazon and ordered the book. Nearly a month later, I’m so glad I did.
The very next day I received the book which is absolutely beautiful. It is full of beautiful pictures of not only the food, but of Romania itself. The author grew up in communist Romania and shares her story and her love of her culture with the rest of us. Not only do we get wonderful recipes, but we also get a glimpse into the heritage of Romanian cuisine.
A few days later, Deborah hosted a live stream with author Irina. She demonstrated how to shape a Colac, which is a braided celebratory bread worthy of winning any episode of The Great British Baking Show. Irene talked about her life growing up in Romania, and Romanian traditions. She was warm and enthusiastic, which only served to enhance my enthusiasm for the challenge.
The first thing I made from the book was a cheesy polenta with sour cream and runny fried egg – a full Romanian breakfast. It was absolutely delicious. It reminded me of a breakfast bowl I’ve eaten many times at a trendy local restaurant serving southern cuisine which features goat cheese grits, but in this case I was at home, still in my pajamas, which made it all the more wonderful.
When bread week came, I couldn’t choose only one thing for the challenge. I settled for three. I made Covrigi, which is a little bread that lies somewhere between a pretzel and a bagel. These little beauties were fun to shape, and Tom suggested that we use everything bagel seasoning on some of them instead of the traditional poppy seed, which was a good call. I also made “Salties” which are cheesy breadsticks topped with salt and caraway seeds and are the perfect marriage to a nice cold beer. Lastly, I made Scovergi, which is a yogurt and cheese flatbread that Irena calls “Romanian popcorn”. This is by far the best damned “popcorn” I’ve ever eaten! I caution you though, these are downright addictive.
So far, I’ve made two of the main courses in the book. Ostropel de Oltenia is chicken in garlic tomato sauce with polenta dumplings. What struck me about this dish was just how much flavor it packed considering its limited amount of ingredients. A couple of nights ago I made an oven-baked pearl barley pilaf with chicken and mushrooms, which was so good it prompted me to go ahead and write this post now even though I have many, many things I still want to make from this book.
One piece of advice I would give when cooking from the book is to pay attention to what type of polenta you are using. There are several recipes featuring polenta as it is used a great deal in Romanian cooking. I used a coarse longer cooking polenta, but with at least one of the recipes, I think I would have been more successful using a quick cooking polenta.
All in all I would highly recommend this book to anyone. It is the ultimate in comfort cooking. Don’t resist like I did. Just get it.