Swedish author Steig Larsson's so called Millennium trilogy has become a phenomenon of the publishing world, much like Dan Brown’s books or Harry Potter. The three books, first published in Sweden (in Swedish) were major best sellers in Europe before being translated into English and becoming hits in the U.S. Part of the hype surrounding the books is caused by the fact that the author, Larsson, a Swedish journalist, died suddenly of a heart attack at age 50, before the books were released in the United States. But the books are also deserving of the hype because they are dramatically plotted, tightly wound thrillers – the type of book you don’t want to put down. I found this to be the case with the second book in the series, The Girl Who Played with Fire, in particular. While reading the book I actually looked forward to going to the dentist and being kept waiting for 20 minutes or so before my appointment (which is the typical waiting period my dentist puts me through) so I get in some more reading time! I have read the first two books in the series, the third, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest, is being released this week, and according to Michiko Kakitani of the New York Times, it is even better than the first two. As for what recipe to make, it was tough to come up with something, because (1) the books are pretty twisted and dark and do not make you think of food and (2) the characters, especially the heroine, Lisbeth Salander, seem to subsist on lots of coffee and lots of fast food In particular, there was a lot of mention in the second book of something called "Billy's Pan Pizza", which I discovered via google is a popular frozen pizza in Sweden. So I decided to combine the pizza idea with something Swedish, and settled on gravlax, a cured salmon kind of like smoked salmon, but less smokey. The gravlax was super easy as was the pizza dough, enjoy.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the Girl Who Played With Fire
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first in Steig Larsson's Millenium series, tells the story of Mikael Blomqvist, a journalist in Sweden who works for the liberal magazine Millenium. Blomqvist is thought to be the alter ego of Larsson, also a liberal Swedish journalist. Although Blomqvist is unmarried, women seem to fall into bed with him on a regular basis, and on a most regular basis, he falls into bed with the Editor in Chief of Milennium, Erika Berger (who is married but whose husband has consented to her Blomqvist affair). An aside here, one impression these books certainly leave is Swedes have very active and open sex lives! Good for them. OK, back to the book. At the beginning of the first book, Blomqvist has just been convicted of liable, based on an article he wrote attacking the credibility of a major Swedish businessman. Disgraced and forced on a leave of absence from Millenium, Blomqvist takes on an unconventional assigment for Henrik Vanger, a Swedish industrialist. Vanger hires Blomqvist to investigate the disappearence of his niece Harriet 20 years ago on the Vanger family island. As a cover, Vanger also asks Blomqvist to write is biography. The other main character of the book is Lisbeth Salander (the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), and she is what makes the books so popular - a truly unique and fascinating heroine. Salander is tiny - ninety pounds - and a punk, with many tattoos and piercings. Her attitude is also quiete punk - she mistrusts people and spends little time on social niceties. This is for good reason, Salander was thrust into the social welfare system at thirteen - living in foster care, being institutionalized, and as an adult being declared incompetent. She has clearly been wronged in violent in awful ways in her past, and the reader slowly learns about this incidents throughout the first and second book. Salander is also an expert researcher and hacker, and that is how she makes her living, as a researcher for a security firm. She is hired to help Blomqvist with his investigation and an interesting partnership begins (and yes of course, because that is the way the book goes, she and Blomqvist also jump in the sack together). The first book focuses on the mystery of the disappearance of Harriet Vanger and ends in a dramatic fashion. There is lots of violence in this first book and lots of graphic depictions of violence against woman. A little too much in my opinion, which is why I enjoyed the second book more, which, although violent, isn't quite as bad. The second book focuses more on Salander, as she becomes caught as a suspect in three murders. As she remains in hiding and fights for her life, Blomqvist takes it on himself to prove her innocence. This second book was hard to put down. The murders Salander is charged with are linked to her past and wind up being part of a big secret government related conspiracy. The extent of this conspiracy is what I think is at issue in the third book, which has been compared to a Le Carre spy novel. Again, before I read the second book, I would have given a lukewarm recommendation for the first, but I loved the second, and you need to read the first to read the second, so there you go. These books are juicy thrillers perfect for summer reading. It is a shame that Larsson suffered such an untimely death, as these characters could have remained interesting for many books to come. For an interesting article on Larsson and his legacy, check out this past week's New York Times Magazine http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/23/magazine/23Larsson-t.html?scp=1&sq=Larsson&st=cse.
My Swedish Pizza
So the characters real diet in the book is fast food, coffee and cigarettes. But that was no fun, so I improvised this pizza. I used an epicurious recipe for gravlax and combined it with Wolfgang Puck's famous smoked salmon pizza recipe.
Adapted from Epicurious.com
1 teaspoon whole white peppercorns
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
2 tablespoons sea salt (I used Kosher)
2 teaspoons sugar (I used tablespoons by mistake, it was fine)
1 1-Pound salmon fillet, skin on
1 cup chopped fresh dill
Pizza Dough Ingredients
Adapted from Spago's Smoked Salmon Pizza
1 pkg. active dry yeast
1 tsp. honey
1 C. Warm Water, 105 to 115 degrees
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1/2 a small onion, thinly sliced
Dill Cream Ingredients
about 1/2 cup creme fraiche or sour cream (I used a bit more)
1 tbs. minced shallot
2-3 tbs minced dill
1/2 tbs lemon juice
pinch white pepper
Note about the Salmon: Use only fresh salmon, not salmon that has been previously frozen.
To prepare Gravlax, first toast peppercorns and coriander in a medium hot skillet for 2 minutes. Using a mortar and pestle or other method (smashing the spices with a mallet or pan), crush the spices and mix with the sugar and salt.
Preheat over to 500. Stick in a pizza stone if you have one. On a lightly floured surface, stretch or roll dough into a small circle , about 8 inches (I rolled). Brush the inner circle with olive oil and put some sliced onions on top. Bake until the crust is golden brown, six to seven minutes.