The Imperfectionists is about a quirky group of misfits that work at a middling English language paper in Rome. It is fair to say that none of the characters are really happy to be working at the paper and it has an strange, offbeat atmosphere that would probably work for a sitcom like The Office. Each chapter describes life at the paper from the perspective of a different journalist or staff member. One of the wittiest parts of the book are the titles of each chapter - which are actual headlines from the paper (e.g. "Kooks with Nukes," "The Sex Lives of Islamic Extremists"). The book starts with Lloyd Berko, a washed up Paris reporter, struggling to come up with a story that will garner him a paycheck so he can continue to pay his rent. I was a little worried during this chapter cause I didn't love it or find Berko that interesting, and I was looking forward to something set in Rome. But after Berko the book moves to the papers headquarters and it is here that I started to love the book. I particularly liked the chapters about Arthur Gopal, the Obituary writer ("World's Oldest Liar Dies at 126"), Hardy Benjamin, the business reporter, Winston Cheung, a college grad who wants to be the Cairo Stringer, and Abbey Pinnola, CFO. Each of these chapters is totally different in plot and tone. With Gopal, we get the first look at the paper and it is quiet a depressing one. Arthur is a sad sack that sits in an awful cubicle, has an idiotic boss, and has to travel to Switzerland on the whim of the Editor-in-Chief to interview a woman for her obit before she dies! The depiction of Arthur's relationship with his nerdy daughter, Pickle is touching. With Hardy, we get a kind of young single girl's perspective on the paper and Rome. Hardy makes bad romantic decisions that are both funny and painful to ready about. The chapter about Winston Cheung is hilarious. Winston is a totally clueless young grad trying to "audition" for a role as a Cairo reporter but he know nothing about journalism, about being a reporter or about Cairo. He is imposed upon by a veteran reporter that is also seeking the job, and he takes advantage of Winston in very funny ways. Finally, we get a little bit of a thriller with the Abbey Pinnola chapter, as she must sit next to a reporter she fired on a flight from Rome to Atlanta. The chapter starts thinking this hard working, put upon CFO of a failing paper may be having a When Harry Met Sally moment. But in the end, not so much. I enjoyed all the other chapters/characters too, but these were my favorites. What I didn't enjoy was the history of the paper told in between the papers. These portions of the book in my opinion were flat and hard to get through. But they were short so did not really detract from the success of this book.
CARCIOFI ALLA GUIDIA
Adapted from Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
salt and pepper
I will do my best to describe the artichoke trimming process. I would get small and young artichokes for this, the more tender the better. Prepare the artichokes by first removing all the harder green leaves so that all that is left are leaves which are mostly white with green tops.
Cut about an inch off the top of the artichoke. Also, take a pairing knife and trim the bottom of the artichoke so the parts of the hard green leaves that you started with are gone. Open the top of the artichoke and cut out the purple pointy leaves and the stringy choke. I did this in two steps, I used a pairing knife to cut around the purple inner leaves, going in a circle around the purple leaves and trying to remove them all at one. Then I took a small spoon and scrapped out the choke and the remaining leaves. This took a while and was a bit tedious, yes. Also, cut off most of the stem. The stem is actually very yummy when you are slow braising, but for frying get rid of it. Here is what it looks like after trimming and then an image of all the stuff I removed from 2 artichokes...
As you are trimming the artichokes, squeeze the lemon juice all over it, to stop it from browning. At this point, heat about 1 and half inches of oil in a pan of your choice over medium -low heat. Place the trimmed artichokes upside down (stem side up) on a work surface pushing down to flatten a bit. Careful not to push it down too hard so that it cracks. Leave it there for a minute or two, then salt and pepper the artichokes.
Put the artichokes cut side down in hot oil and let cook for about 5 minutes, then turn over. Cook for about 10 - 15 minutes, depending on how big/tender the artichokes are. You want the stem part to be fork tender.
Remove from the oil and put on some paper towels or a cooling rack. Push down again with a spatula to flatten some more. Raise the temp on the oil a little bit and put some cold water in a bowl. Put the artichokes back into the oil, stem side down and fry for about a minute. Now, a comfortable distance from the pan, drizzle some of the cold water over the artichokes. It will sizzle and splatter a lot. Marcella says this crisps them even more. Who knows? As you will see, mine are a bit too dark. My oil was too hot I think. Lesson learned for the next batch. Remove as soon as the sizzing calms down, drain on paper towel and serve.