Mystery writer clues us in to characters' recipes

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Now we can eat what Kay Scarpetta makes

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January 07, 2004|By Susan Reimer | Susan Reimer,SUN STAFF

The most appealing thing about mysteries is how transporting they can be. The clues are intriguing to discern and the ending is fun to guess. But what I love best about mysteries is their sense of place.

In author Tony Hillerman's Navajo mysteries, it is the arid desert of Arizona and New Mexico, the color of the mountains and the power of the changing weather.

In the English mysteries of Martha Grimes, it is the bleak weather of England as seen through the leaded-glass windows of the cozy neighborhood pub.

And in the gruesome murder mysteries of Patricia Cornwell, it is the aromatic Italian kitchen of coroner Kay Scarpetta.

In Cornwell's early novels, Scarpetta and her crime-solving buddy, Pete Marino, would often retreat to her kitchen to sort out the facts of a case while she prepared something to eat.

In her most recent novel, Blow Fly, the only food mentioned is a scoop of chicken salad made by Scarpetta's secretary, Rose. The author seems to have exchanged salivation for goose bumps as the preferred reaction from the reader.

Not to worry. Cornwell, with the help of Marlene Brown, has written Food to Die For: Secrets From Kay Scarpetta's Kitchen (Berkley, 2003, $15 paperback edition).

This cookbook includes not only the recipes for food Scarpetta cooks in Cornwell's novels, but also excerpts from the books themselves, describing Scarpetta's technique for pizza and lasagna or creating the scene in which the food was eaten.

The recipes are arranged by book, from Postmortem to The Last Precinct, as well as by courses. There are also lists of items and ingredients that Kay Scarpetta keeps in her pantry and her freezer.

There are recipes from other characters (Mrs. McTigue's cheddar-cheese biscuits); recipes from restaurants mentioned in the books (fruit-marinated lamb kebabs from La Petite France in Richmond, Va.); and recipes from others in Scarpetta's crime-fighting team (Marino's BLT on rye).

The signature recipes would have to be Kay Scarpetta's Italian sausage with peppers, mushrooms and onions and her stew. But her marinara sauce, made in the summer and frozen so it can be enjoyed year-round, is as basic to her cooking as motive, means and opportunity are to a murder.

All and all, this cookbook is a good read.

Kay's Marinara Sauce

Makes about 7 cups

6 to 7 pounds fresh ripe Hanover, beefsteak or Roma tomatoes

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups chopped Vidalia or yellow onions

4 cloves garlic, minced

one 6-ounce can tomato paste

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano

1 tablespoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

2 bay leaves

1/2 cup dry red wine

Peel, seed and chop the tomatoes; set aside.

In an 8-quart Dutch oven or stockpot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook for about 3 minutes, or until tender but not brown.

Stir in the chopped tomatoes and all of the remaining ingredients except the red wine; bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, stirring frequently, for 20 minutes.

Stir in red wine. Cook for 30 to 35 minutes longer, or until the sauce cooks down to a thick consistency. Remove the bay leaves.

Use the sauce as needed or freeze in 1- or 2-cup portions in tightly sealed freezer containers, leaving at least 1/2 inch of headspace at the top for expansion.

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