Yeah, I know, some people pronounce it “OH-ffal.” I don’t. It’s punnier that way.
I mean, really, why would you eat this?
So: chicken livers. I hate ‘em. Foie is damn good but chicken livers? The smell of frying chicken livers makes me throw up in my mouth a little bit.
Sucks for me then that I’ve married into a family of ex-Brooklynite Jews who love them some chicken livers, so I thought that for “food you don’t like” month I’d give it a whirl. But I don’t think I could dive right into plain old chicken livers, literally or figuratively, so I decided to dip a toe into the livery water with Lidia Bastianich’s fettuccine alla Romana, or fettuccine in a tomato sauce with liver, mushrooms, prosciutto, and wine; organ meats are one of the hallmarks of Roman cuisine. And surely, prosciutto can make offal better? Please?
I couldn’t find dried mushrooms so I used sea monkeys instead.
There was an additional reason for using a Lidia recipe: yesterday was the 10th anniversary of my mom’s death, so it’s been a bit of a weepy week and I thought I’d so something to help me mark the occasion. Here are some ways my mom and Lidia Bastianich are similar:
- Named Lidia
- Somewhat beakish nose
- Stupid good cook
- Rejecter of guff
- Seems like she would hit you with a broom if she got really mad at you
Of course, there are some differences as well:
- Full head of hair (my mom, not Lidia)
- I think that’s it.
So mom, this one’s for you. Too bad it was gross.
We always did have an up-and-down relationship.
Wait, you want me to TOUCH the liver, too?
Moving on: dicing up livers? Fuck that. They’re LIVERS.
No, actually Brian had to cut up the liver because he has a shaky hand problem and can’t take the pictures (which, by the way, are totally unadulterated tonight, and 4 of 5 pictures from now, we’re all going to be really sorry about that). And that is 100% the reason.
It started well.
While the dried mushrooms were rehydrating, I started building the sauce, which stacks layers and layers of (mostly good) flavor like these onions and garlic in olive oil.
Not that these onions were an unmitigated good, because they tried to kill me. Okay, that might be a little hyperbolic. They tried to blind me. I don’t keep my knives in as good shape as I should, I admit that, but they’re not bad. My chef’s knife is a good one to begin with and Brian occasionally remembers to sharpen it, so onion dicing can sometimes be rough but is never impossible. The knife at my in-laws, where this meal was cooked? OH MY GOD.
It tore through the onion, releasing volatile compounds that I didn’t even think existed until this onion was chopped and burning through my retinas in 0.3 seconds. I couldn’t find a towel or napkin to press to my eyes, so I used my shirt. Which meant I was standing in the kitchen with my shirt pulled up around my neck, bra hanging out, but I didn’t care because THE PAIN OH GOD THE PAIN.
And then it got better.
Once the onions started to soften, in went some pancetta. This was supposed to be “especially fatty prosciutto,” but prosciutto options after 6pm in the suburbs can be limited and the only stuff I could find was pre-packaged and remarkably lean, so I made the executive decision to use pancetta.
Maybe I shouldn’t judge this dish because I didn’t follow the directions to a tee, maybe I would have loved it if it had included prosciutto.
But I doubt it.
And then it got MUCH MUCH worse.
The livers went in next. I actually had high(ish) hopes at this point, because the liver frying with the onion and pancetta did not immediately induce nausea.
And stayed that way
Last were the dried mushrooms. I don’t totally understand why I had to strain the shrooms out of the stock they’d been rehydrating in, add them, and then add the stock, but Lidia told me to so I did. Because you know, the whole broom thing.
And then DEAR GOD WHAT IS THAT THING.
Some white wine and the fortified mushroomy stock went in next. And then
[Okay, I need to interrupt myself here: this picture looks like dog vomit. I know it. I’m sorry. I could Photoshop it into acceptability, but I feel like that would be cheating. I just want to openly acknowledge that this is a terrible, disgusting, awful photo.]
And then I let it come to a boil and cook down a little while the flavors melded. It smelled kinda good, and only mildly livery.
Less like dog vomit, but only marginally so.
Another little change to the recipe: I did not crush these tomatoes by hand.
The completed sauce needed 20 or 30 minutes to tighten up a bit, so I left it to simmer while I went to watch Jeopardy! and fill up on chocolate chip cookies.
I’m a little ashamed to admit that I didn’t taste the sauce to check for seasoning while it was cooking down because I was still scared of the liver. I told myself it was because I didn’t have any bread to dip into it, my normal MO for pasta sauce-checking, but I need to be upfront about what really happened: Liver fear.
Yet ANOTHER change to the recipe: I did not make the fettuccine by hand; I just ran out of time today. To make myself feel better, I bought some Buitoni “fresh” pasta rather than dried pasta. It worked a little. When the sauce looked about ready, I quickly cooked the pasta and tossed everything together, adding a nice dose of pecorino romano cheese.
This dish made me really, really sad. Because the sauce tasted so…Roman. There’s just no other way to describe it; it tasted authentically Italian, like I was sitting in a little trattoria in Rome off the Campo dei Fiori, like something one of my zie would make as a primo.
Unfortunately, it turns out that I still hate liver. The taste, the texture, everything about it: when I got a bite with a livery chunk in it, I could barely swallow. I ate around the liver pieces for a little while because I was so into the overall flavor of the sauce, but eventually there was just no way to avoid the offal and I had to stop. No sir, I don’t like it; I don’t like it one bit.
Dinner of champions.
Given this experience, I think there’s little hope that I’ll ever be able to eat straight-up chopped liver. In fact, while I was in the other room at Brian’s parents’ uploading these photos, they decided to use the leftover chicken livers to make chopped liver. And the smell? As horrific as ever.
Honey Nut Cheerios? As tasty as ever.
Final score: Me 0, Liver 1.