Former news reporter Rita Papazian draws from family history, celebrity interviews in memoir-cookbook
Anyone who’s read a newspaper in Fairfield County for the past few decades will remember Rita Papazian’s name.
Or, more specifically, her byline. The name preceded countless stories ranging from crime news to celebrity interviews.
Papazian also penned some books, including “Remembering Fairfield Connecticut: Famous People & Historic Places” for History Press, and “Gioacchino: Memoir of an Italian Immigrant.”
Papazian left the newspaper business, but she’s still writing. If she’s to be considered a reporter today, her new beat is her own kitchen.
“I Never Promised You a Cookbook” is the amusing name of her 212-page collection of personal stories, homey recipes and some of those celebrity interviews she filed back in the day.
The dishes, from antipasto to desserts, reflect a particular sensibility.
“I emphasize variety and simplicity,” says Papazian, who call her recipes “basic, but with Italian-American flair.”
Her byline appeared on thousands of stories, whether hard news and soft features, , or her byline in particular, will be familiar to anyone in Fairfield County who followed the news for the last several decades.
The book started out as a combination memoir-cookbook. The result is a little more than that.
“The memoir part consists of a few personal essays with a focus on family and food coupled with articles I wrote about celebrity chefs, who had written cookbooks and were publicizing them at bookstores in Connecticut,” Papazian writes in the book’s introduction.
So she makes use of celebrity profiles she wrote on Mark Bittman, Rachael Ray and Rocco DiSpirito. The celebrity chapters underline Papazian’s homespun, sensible kitchen chronicles.
Ray, for example, suggests how the last few tablespoons of peanut butter at the bottom of the jar can be turned into a spicy Thai peanut sauce. Bittman discusses his dietary shift from junk food to wholesome and “nearly vegan.”
But for most of the book, she raids her own recipe file, and that of her mother.
“There is nothing terribly unusual about these recipes, but they do represent my family with its Italian influences and, when I was married, the Armenian influences as well,” the books introduction explains.
Asked for a representative recipe to excerpt from the book, Papazian suggested the rice pilaf on page 115:
2 cups water
½ cup butter or margarine
3 tablespoons tomato sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup rice
Instructions: Boil first four ingredients. Add 1 cup rice. Bring to a boil again. Simmer until water is absorbed and rice is done.
That’s it. If that’s too plain, a version that adds a cup of orzo and a packet of instant chicken broth or cubes, and minus the tomato sauce, follows. Brown the orzo in a frying pan, add the rice and stir. Add enough water to cover the rice-orzo mixture by an inch. Simmer until the water is absorbed.
Just like mother used to make it. Someone’s mother, anyway.
Lee Steele is editor of Sunday
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