I sat, now like then, in the same spot in the same room, next to the same fireplace. And it was Christmas, like now. Just a long, long time ago. It was winter and our big country home was cold; I was wearing a hand-knitted brown sweater, with the collar turned up like a shirt. The cut for a teenager.
I was reading a book, or rather a tome, with a rough yellow cardboard cover, and couldn't put it down. And couldn't keep my mouth from watering due to the combination of the aromas wafting in from the kitchen and the superb dishes described in the book.
And thus, every now and then I'd take a break and look through the pictures on the cards in a pocket in the dust jacket: Recipes, with photos of elaborate (or so they seemed to me) French dishes. They looked mouthwatering. Refined. Elaborate. Glistening. The same dishes that appeared in the book, of course. Cooked by Fritz Brenner and devoured, obviously, by Nero Wolfe.
The book marked the beginning of my unending devotion to the character invented by Rex Stout. A character who had already captured my imagination a few years previously thanks to the extraordinary performances of Tino Buazzelli and Paolo Ferrari, i.e. Archie Goodwin. But the real spark came for me thanks to that tome, which was revolutionary at the time, a "practical gastrothriller" that didn't just make one imagine, but also gave one the illusion of feeling, tasting, and being in "the old brownstone" on 918 35th Street in Manhattan.
At the time I still had in mind the "Haute Cuisine" of the Woolfe episode on TV, with its campy moog sound effects, shiny 70s crystal, the squeaky soles, and the low ceilinged carpeted velvet laden rooms laced with the aromas of the Midnight Sausages, prepared following a secret recipe.
A quick search online and here we have it, "Alta Cucina del Delitto," published by Mondadori in 1969 -- 891 pages. I said it was a tome, and within its covers were Fer-De-Lance, The Red Box, Too Many Cooks (we're speaking of...), Over My Dead Body, and Where There's a Will. Now it's available in almost-new condition -- Zounds! -- in the used sections of web bookshops. But, warns my honest bookseller, "without the recipe cards in the jacket pocket." Which my copy has, because I of course still have it. Take that!
Like a river in flood this all came back to me when the mailman brought me the new Beat Edizioni paperback edition of Fer-De-Lance, the first story in the Mondadorian volume, and the first tale (1934) in Nero Wolfe's long saga, now reissued in an inexpensive paperback edition (9 euros) by the Venetian publisher.
An exciting tale of suspense, like all of Stout's stories. Which immediately reveals the hedonistic facets and twists destined to accompany the protagonist throughout his more-than-half-century career: cold, foaming beer to stimulate reflection, and food as an essential catalyst for every activity, which brings together civility and pleasure, and thought and knowledge of life. His investigations? Lucrative, necessary parentheses between one course and the next.
Fer-De-Lance: a wrapped up serpent and a diabolical assassin, the classic tale to devour in an afternoon. And I expect it won't be the last, if Beat Edizioni continues, as it has promised, to publish Stout's opus. With a mouthwatering rundown of recipes, luncheons, and dinners. And since both the IGP and our readers like, in addition to literature, cooking, here's a Christmas present to wind up, the famed Midnight Sausages:
- 2 onions
- 1 clove garlic
- 2 tablespoons goose fat
- 3 tablespoons brandy
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons beef broth
- 3 tablespoons red wine
- Thyme, rosemary, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves to taste
- Breadcrumbs as needed
- 1/4 pound boiled pancetta, chopped
- 1/4 pound roast pork loin, chopped
- 1/2 pound roast goose, chopped
- 1/2 pound roast pheasant, chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon peeled pistachio nuts
- Sausage casings, soaked
Chop the onion and the garlic and sauté them in the goose fat until translucently gold. Sprinkle the brandy over them, and then the broth and the red wine. Add a pinch each powdered thyme and rosemary, and hints of nutmeg and cloves. Simmer over a gentle flame for 10 minutes, and add enough breadcrumbs to make a paste.
Cook another 5 minutes, stirring. Add the chopped meats, beginning with the bacon, season with salt and a generous dusting of pepper, add the pistachios, and simmer until the mixture has the consistency of fresh sausage meat.
Let cool completely.
Fill the sausage casings with the mixture, giving the casing a twist every now and again to form links, and tying them with twine.
Run them under the broiler, after puncturing the skins here and there.
Published Simultaneously by IGP, I Giovani Promettenti.