Easy Dinner, Great Conversation: Meals Take a Page from Book Club Selections
Several years ago, after hearing the fun that everyone was having, I joined a book club. I love the diverse group of women in the group and the interesting books that we read. My book club doesn’t do dinner, although I love the idea. (I did host my book club for dinner once, but I was testing a recipe for a HOME article, and I used them as guinea pigs!) If I did it again, or we started serving dinner, it would be fun and interesting to have the meal relate to the book in some way.
With the thought of food and literature in mind, I marched myself straight to the source. Who knows more about books and book clubs than those who work in a bookstore? I had a great conversation with Angie Fleming at Givens Books this week about food and literature. We decided there are generally four categories of things to serve at book club that add context to the discussion in some way. The first would be food that is actually mentioned in the book (unless you’re reading about zombies!). Of course there are obvious choices like chocolate pie to accompany a discussion of The Help by Kathryn Stockett (please, no secret ingredients!) or Chocolat by Joanne Harris—that menu would be delicious! I recently read Things I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, which would lend itself to serving Hamburger Helper, TV dinners, (better, gourmet versions, of course!) or one of the other meals that the author describes eating in the book. A second way that a dish could relate to a book is through the time in which it takes place. For example, say the book is set in the Golden Age of Hollywood like All the Stars in the Heavens by Adriana Trigiani. I can picture martinis and shrimp cocktail and other foods that were considered so glamorous in that era. The third connection between a book and food may be place: A book set in Italy like My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante would lend itself to a simple Italian meal of flatbread or crostini with a salad. Lastly, the if there isn’t an obvious way to tie food into the book you’re going to discuss, just serve something simple that your friends will enjoy!
Here, I have included three recipes: the first is my favorite pizza dough, which can be used in the flatbread recipes that follow. Flatbread is like pizza, but the crust is a little stiffer and the toppings are decidedly un-pizza-like. You could use my recipe to make your own dough, buy a ball of dough at your favorite pizza joint, or in a pinch, use packaged naan which is available in the bakery section of the grocery store. Both flatbread recipes could be served in wedges with a salad for a light meal, or cut into smaller pieces for an appetizer portion. Flatbread would also be a good choice for a lap-based meal if your book club is large and cannot fit at a table. Happy cooking (and reading!)
Bread flour is made from hard wheat, and has a higher protein content, which makes a chewy, crispy crust. Of course, if you don’t have bread flour on hand, all-purpose flour is a good substitute.
3½ to 4 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 envelope instant yeast
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1½ cups warm water
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook, put 3½ cups flour, sugar, yeast and salt. Mix to combine. Add the oil and water and beat on medium speed until it forms a smooth ball. If the dough is too sticky, add flour a little at a time until smooth.
Dump out on a floured counter and knead until smooth. Grease a mixing bowl with olive oil, and place the dough in the bowl. Cover with a clean towel, place in a warm area and let rise about an hour. After an hour, dump the dough back out on a floured counter and cut into two balls.
Dough can be kept in the fridge for up to three days, or freezer for up to a month. Let come to room temperature before cooking.
Use this dough in the flatbread recipes that follow, or as a “regular” pizza, topping with your favorite vegetables, meat and cheese, and baking for about 10 minutes at 500 degrees, until the crust is brown, and cheese is bubbly and golden.
One half recipe pizza dough
1 large sweet onion
½ bunch fresh asparagus
8 ounces burrata
½ cup frozen peas, thawed
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven with a pizza stone (if you have one!) to 500 degrees. Slice the onion in ½ inch slices. Saute until browned and limp, about 10 minutes. While the onion is cooking, cut the woody ends from the asparagus, and slice the remaining spears into 1-inch pieces. When the onions are almost finished, add the asparagus to the pan and saute for another 4 minutes. Set aside.
Pat and stretch the pizza dough into a large circle. If you’re using a pizza stone: Place dough on a rimless cookie sheet or pizza peel that has been dusted with cornmeal. Slide onto the stone in the preheated oven and cook for 4 minutes. If you don’t have a pizza stone, put the dough on a cookie sheet that has been dusted with flour or cornmeal, and place in the oven and cook for 4 minutes. Remove from the oven and top with asparagus and onions. Drain the burrata and tear or cut into 1-inch pieces. Scatter over vegetables, and season with salt and pepper. Return the flatbread to the oven and cook until heated through and crust is beginning to brown, about 6 minutes. Sprinkle with peas, drizzle with olive oil and cut into wedges.
I love flatbread and pizzas topped with salad, and this one would be a good candidate for that, topped with baby arugula tossed in a lemony vinaigrette.
8 ounces red seedless grapes
4 ounces good-quality blue cheese, like Roquefort or Stilton
1 large sweet onion
Salt and pepper
Slice the onion into ½-inch slices. Rinse grapes and pat dry, then cut grapes in half. In a large saute pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the onions and grapes and cook, until the onions are brown and the grape juices are thickened, about 10 minutes.
Pat and stretch the pizza dough into a large circle. Place on a rimless cookie sheet that has been dusted with cornmeal. Slide into the preheated oven and cook for 4 minutes. Remove from the oven and top with the grapes and onions. Sprinkle the blue cheese over the top. Sprinkle with black pepper. Return the pizza to the oven and cook until heated through and crust is beginning to brown, about 6 minutes. Drizzle with olive oil and cut into wedges.