Reading may seem like a solitary pleasure, but we do not believe it is so. As we read, we intimately interact with writers, the worlds they create, and our own inner selves as well as the real world that surrounds us. Some of us are also blessed enough to have friends to share the experience with.

While discussing the idyllic village of Three Pines and the captivating characters author Louise Penny created in the Inspector Gamache books, we were aware of the sensory pleasure to be had in the meals described. Olivier’s Bistro, Gabri’s baking, and dinners at the Morrow’s can easily make us salivate while reading the books… Louise Penny's books, are a wonderful entrée into a sensual world, where each book is a season, capturing its mood and flavours, and contributing to the layers of meaning about the characters, who are marvellously revealed over the series.

At one point, a daydream of going through the series with a notebook in hand, writing down all these meals and later cooking them, took shape. This is our "notebook". We hope you enjoy this literary-culinary-sensory-philosophical journey.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Fettuccine with shrimp sautéed in garlic and olive oil

by Amy

Gabri approached carrying a tray with four steaming plates. Within minutes they were sitting around the fireplace eating fettuccine with shrimp and scallops sautéed in garlic and olive oil. Fresh bread was produced and glasses of dry white wine poured.”

This isn’t the first time Gabri finds a culinary solution for an awkward moment. There’s a meal for every occasion and he is a master at producing them. I was looking forward to this one. I love pasta.

Once again, this project introduced an ingredient I had never cooked before. I like shrimp. I order shrimp at restaurants, but had never made any at home. The main reason is that I live far from the coast and sea-food isn’t as fresh or as affordable here.

The other ingredients were easier. I picked some basil, marjoram, and grape tomatoes from my backyard garden. I didn’t have scallops, but I had leeks and I absolutely LOVE leeks. So I used that instead. I cooked the fettuccine al dente while I made the sauce. I’ve actually made this meal numerous times – without the shrimp. Sometimes I’ll add chicken or sausage or some other meat, but I’ll usually make vegetarian pasta and make some kind of meat on the side for my husband.

This meal matches the scene in the books perfectly. It’s pretty effortless in terms of mental engagement. It gives the cook a chance to think about other things and listen in on conversations.  I’m sure Gabri was listening with at least half an ear (even if he was all the way in the kitchen) while Olivier and Gamache talked. I was cooking while my husband sat at the table nearby and shared tidbits on his day. In the meantime, my eight-year-old was pacing and talking non-stop about the new characters he’s invented to compose the Marvel universe and what adventures they – and the regular heroes – got into. I confess that I only listened to that conversation with half an ear myself. It was a very convoluted plot.

The only secret to this meal is that you cannot prepare it in advance. This is the kind of meal that you make minutes before you’re to eat it and, preferably, have the table set and everyone hungry before you’re halfway into cooking it… AND, ideally, there are no leftovers. I hate leftover sea food.

I sliced two cloves of garlic, 1 red chili (I removed the seeds, but I’m sure some people prefer to use them for a bit more bite), and half a large leek. I chopped the basil and marjoram leaves (I usually leave the thinner stalks as well). Then I halved the grape tomatoes.

In a large pan over medium heat, I placed a bit of olive oil and fried the garlic, chili, leeks, basil, marjoram and tomatoes. I added some white wine (about 2/3 of a glass) and the juice of one lime. I let it simmer for a couple of minutes, then added the shrimp and cooked it all for about 5 minutes. I didn’t add salt to the sauce because I’d cooked the pasta in very salty water, but I think some people might need an extra pinch of salt.

Toss the pasta with the sauce and you’re done!

“Chaos is coming, old son. It’s taken a long time, but it’s finally here.”

In a previous post we talked about secrets and the little lies we tell ourselves. I can only imagine how it felt like to be Olivier right then. He had so many secrets and lies… but he had questions, too. He knew the Hermit and he knew he’d been killed. But he wasn’t the murderer and he wasn’t the one who placed him in the bistro. On the other hand, he had so many of the answers that were crucial to the investigation and he wasn’t willing to share his information because it would compromise his secrets. He shared many of their questions, too…

“People lied all the time in murder investigations. If the first victim of war was the truth, some of the first victims of a murder investigation were people’s lies. The lies they told themselves, the lies they told each other. The little lies that allowed them to get out of bed on cold, dark mornings. Gamache and his team hunted the lies down and exposed them. Until all the small tales told to ease everyday lives disappeared. And people were left naked. The trick was distinguishing the important fibs from the rest. This one appeared tiny. In which case, why bother lying at all?”

This paragraph is the core of this book, in my opinion. Lies were exposed. Olivier was left naked and vulnerable. But the main question, for all of us, is “why bother lying at all”?

I wonder how frequently our little lies are an attempt to make us look better – even if the only ones judging are ourselves. Frequently they are reinterpretation of motivation and significance, not of facts. They are tiny lies when it comes to the facts of a murder investigation, but they might be crucial when it comes to our understanding of ourselves.

All quotes from The Brutal Telling. Page 33 in the paperback edition.


  1. Another very thoughtful post. There were lots of little lies in that story. Why would Olivier even tell some of them? Telling the truth from the start would've been so much easier. The dinner looks great also. I might have to try this one. Thank you for your insight

    1. Hi Nancy,
      Sorry for the late reply. I had dengue fever this week and I had no idea it would make me so slow for so long!
      I agree with you that telling the truth from the start would have been _so_ much easier. Probably, if he'd told the truth, less of his many little lies would have been so publicly exposed as well. Don't you think?
      I think I understand the "why", though. He was so used to telling these lies he didn't really even know how to stop.
      It was yummy. Although I confess that I never made it again. Shrimp isn't exactly abundant here.

    2. I hope you feel better. Dengue fever is not prevalent where I live! Does it last long? Is there a treatment besides rest and fluids?

    3. LOTS of rest and LOTS of fluids... And patience. Sigh.
      The worst are usually the first five to seven days. Today is day 7, so I'm hoping it's almost over. :)

  2. Ah, one of my favourite dishes. We eat that very often at our house. I grew up eating that kind of food, so it's comfort food for me.
    That paragraph is a standout. So, as Penny says, do people tell lies so that they don't feel naked? Very cool insight on her part. It's often easier to tell a lie than expose ourselves from whatever it is we feel we need to hide. Just pondering....

    1. Hi Mary,
      Sorry for my late reply. As I told Nancy, I had dengue fever this week and am a bit slower than usual.
      Do you make it similarly? What else do you add or how is your recipe different?
      I think you're right. In a way, Olivier's little lies (or anyone's) are like a character that hides vulnerability. Although, in regards to the mystery, just telling the truth would have been so much easier, Olivier probably was so used to telling the lies he didn't know how to stop.