Cooking with Robert St. John: Feline | Lifestyles
Over the past two months, we have welcomed a special guest into our home. Feline Been is the daughter of our good friend Marina Mengleberg. Marina, Feline and her brother Alec all live in the small Tuscan village of Barberino-Tavarnelle. Besides being friends with Marina, we work together to organize tours in Tuscany and other Italian localities. I got to know his children over the years and although I did not experience the official ceremony, I consider them both my godchildren.
Scroll down for Chicken and Meatballs recipe
Marina, Feline and Alec are Dutch but have lived in Tuscany for two decades. For the past few years, I’ve told Feline and Alec that they should come to America for an extended visit when they graduate from high school. Feline, an excellent student, has just finished her last year – second in her class – and is taking a year off before going to university in the Netherlands. His first sabbatical year was spent in Amsterdam. The last leg of his sabbatical year will take place in Bali. In between, she’s in my hometown of Hattiesburg.
A cynic would say, “How does Mississippi belong in a bunch of Amsterdam and Bali?” We’ll cover that later.
The Dutch-Italians had a blast on their first visit to Mississippi in the summer of 2019, and we’re happy to have Feline back with us. In 2019, we covered New Orleans, Mississippi, and the Florida Panhandle. This trip was mostly in Mississippi with a few jaunts to New Orleans.
There is something deep inside me that likes to receive people. I think that’s why leading tours in Europe has been so rewarding and so in demand. For the Feline tour, I wanted to cover all the bases in my hometown and surrounding areas – food, art, culture, events and entertainment.
The food zone was an interesting challenge. In my mind, our local cuisine resists Dutch cuisine, but it is difficult when we are faced with Italy, especially Tuscany. I forced a lot of okra into his diet. You don’t realize the shortcomings of your own diet until you host someone from another country. Dressings and cream-based sauces are practically non-existent in Tuscany. American teenagers live off Ranch dressing.
Her favorite meals were when we sat around the table as a family – although I never realized the chicken pot pie looked like it had already been eaten and came back until I serve it for dinner the first night. I don’t think she noticed, and she ate it all, so we passed that test.
We haven’t had as many dinners at home because I’m testing recipes for the new breakfast cookbook coming out this fall. Three nights a week we went to The Midtowner after eating all kinds of breakfast foods. She loves muffins, acai bowls and loves French toast.
Feline joined me for breakfast almost every morning at Table 19 in The Midtowner. It was there that she fell in love with the acai bowl and French toast, but her main favorites were the avocado toast and the Skinny Elvis (wheat toast, peanut butter, granola, bananas, honey and fresh berries).
She was able to attend several Mardi Gras evenings with us and recently fell in love with crayfish. The local cuisine seems to be what she likes the most: etoufée, jambalaya and pecans. She likes pecans a lot and she fell in love with chicken and meatballs. She was a joy to be around and was a perfect guest.
Seems like we’re on a weird trading schedule here these days. Marina’s daughter is here and our son Harrison works in Florence for a friend of mine who owns a restaurant in the small Tuscan town of Marina and Feline.
Harrison wants to get into the restaurant business, and I’ve laid out an eight-year plan that he must accomplish if he wants to come back to work in our restaurants. After this stint cooking in Tuscany, he will go to cooking school to become a chef, then he will go out and work for others for two years. This will include another cooking stint in Italy, then New Orleans for three six-month stints (conversation stages with the chef). Then, and only then, can he come back to work in one of our restaurants. But I said to him, ‘No matter what your degree says and no matter where you’ve worked and what your credentials are, you’re going to start at the bottom. But you will have the opportunity to progress. He seems to be on board with the plan.
In the meantime, Feline’s days in Mississippi are numbered. But ours too. She will return home to Tuscany today (Saturday), where she will spend some time before heading to the South Pacific. My wife and I are heading to Spain to host one of my travel groups and to film a season of my new TV show “Yonderlust” in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Mallorca, Seville and Malaga. This is a trip that was supposed to take place in March 2020, then postponed to March 2021. We are finally going. From there we will head to Tuscany to host three groups before some friends join us for a week. The bonus is that we will often see our son, because he works in the Tuscan town where our villas are located, and we often enter Florence, where the apartment he rents is.
Let’s go back to the cynical thought that many Mississippians might think: “How does Mississippi belong to a grouping of Amsterdam and Bali? Mississippi is an exotic land for most Europeans I’ve met over the years. We stoop and sometimes we can’t see the forest for the pines, but we are truly the state that gave birth to American music. We’ll give New Orleans credit for the jazz. But the blues came straight out of the Mississippi Delta, and if you believe Muddy Waters—and me too—that “the blues had a baby and they named it rock ‘n’ roll,” you don’t need to go too far east of the Delta to arrive at the birthplace of Elvis Presley – the king of said rock ‘n’ roll. A short hike on Highway 45 from Tupelo will take you to Meridian, home of Jimmie Rodgers, the father of country music.
Europeans know we gave this music to the world, and according to Feline Been, the food is pretty good too.
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 large onion, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 celery stalk, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 chickens of 2 pounds, whole
• Put all the ingredients in a large pot and simmer for two hours. Carefully remove the chicken, let cool and remove the meat from the carcass. Cut into bite-sized pieces and set aside. Strain the chicken broth and return it to a large saucepan.
1 tablespoon poultry seasoning
• Combine flour and seasoning.
• Use a fork to cut the shortening into the seasoned flour.
• Add the cold milk and mix until a ball forms.
• Place the dough on a floured surface and knead for five minutes.
• Divide the dough into two parts. On a generously floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/8 inch thickness.
• Cut the meatballs into one-inch squares and dust with flour to prevent sticking while you roll out the remaining dough.
• Place the meatballs in the refrigerator and repeat the operation with the other half of the dough.
• Heat the chicken broth over high heat until it comes to a rapid boil. Quickly drop the dumplings into the broth (be sure to separate them to prevent them from clumping together).
• As soon as the broth comes back to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the cooked chicken to the pan and simmer for another 10 minutes.
• Remove from the heat and let the mixture rest for 15 minutes before serving.