Speaking of cookbooks, what are my favorites? My friend, Heather, asked so here goes…
#1 The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution by Alice Waters. If I was on a deserted island and could have only one cookbook…it would be 101 Ways to Enjoy a Coconut. BUT - if my island came with a Viking stove, Sub Zero fridge, and a farm, this would be the book I’d want with me!
If you’ve been reading my blog you already know I love Alice Waters and her restaurant, Chez Panisse. Her outlook on food – fresh, seasonal ingredients, sourced from local farmers and purveyors, prepared simply and deliciously - is right up my alley. To quote from the book:
I’m convinced that the underlying principles of good cooking are the same everywhere. These principles have less to do with recipes and techniques than they do with gathering good ingredients, which for me is the essence of cooking.
This book is like a locavore’s version of The Joy Of Cooking. Alice does an incredible job of teaching the basics of cooking such as sautéing and roasting and sauces and stocks, while explaining the importance of selecting the best ingredients to make the most of a recipe. I’m constantly pulling it off the shelf for recipes, yes, but also to walk me through her tried-and-true methods for cooking just about anything. Take, for instance, plain rice; mine never used to turn out until I read her two-page description of how to make it. Now my rice comes out great and I’m happy, grateful for her guidance.
Alice is the leader of what she calls the “Delicious Revolution” and a seasoned 40-year restaurateur who knows her way around a kitchen. The Art of Simple Food is the book I give to any friend, novice or expert, who has a serious love and appreciation for simple and tasty food.
The rest of the books I’m not ranking in any particular order – I use and love them all!
All the Barefoot Contessa / Ina Garten books (there are six with another coming in October). Why? Her. Recipes. Work. I’ve made many of them and not only do they never fail; they never fail to be delicious. Ina’s food is comforting, easy, and elegant. To top it off, she’s got great entertaining and culinary style - sophisticated but casual; polished yet laid-back. I’d like to think that’s how I am; I know that’s how Ina is.
Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. A classic, and the best book I know of for authentic, Italian food. Again, the recipes are simple (I see a theme developing here), clear, and comprehensive. As Marcella explains, there is actually no such thing as Italian cooking; each region of the country has their own cooking style that differs distinctly from the others. She somehow manages to capture the sights, smells, and tastes of all of Italy in a way that transports you from sea to countryside to city with ease. The first recipe I ever wrote down and made my own was Marcella’s Bolognese Meat Sauce.
Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America's Farmers' Markets by Deborah Madison. She's authored over ten books, mainly vegetarian, but this one includes some carnivorous stuff. Deborah grew up in California on a walnut orchard with a big vegetable garden out back. She’s been a graceful, expert ambassador for farmers' markets throughout her life. Her recipes are a lovely tribute to all the goodies that come from the ground and pastures of small farms across the United States.
David Tanis' book A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes, is wonderful - great stories, beautifully written, and incredible recipes. This book reads like a novel and if you’re like me, you’ll stay up late, turning its pages, and drifting off to sleep with dreams of goat cheese with honey and warm asparagus vinaigrette dancing through your head. No surprise, he’s a Chez Panisse alum…
Okay, back to reality. Everyday Food: Great Food Fast, published by Martha's Everyday Food magazine, is exactly what the title says – great, fast food. The book is filled with tasty, mostly healthy, seasonal recipes that don’t take much prep or call for a lot of ingredients. Every day – in fact, most days – are not Chez Panisse kind of days. Work, kids, life gets in the way of elaborate meals. This is the book to reach for during the week when you want something fresh, from scratch, and FAST.
Tom Valenti’s Soups, Stews, and One-Pot Meals is a classic in my family. I thought the concept sounded appealing (One pot? Sign me up!) and turns out, so did my dad. I took the book home to my parent’s one weekend and never saw it again. Dad swiped it. After eating several dishes he prepared from the book, (my favorite being Simmered Shrimp Saute with Shitake Mushrooms and Scallions), I bought another copy for myself, which now never leaves my apartment for fear of another theft (yes, it's that good!).
Speaking of one-pot meals, there isn’t one much more satisfying than risotto. Risotto by Judith Barrett and Norma Wasserman isn’t one of the famous chef/highbrow titles on my bookshelf, but you know what? They taught me how to make risotto many years ago and I’m forever indebted. I love this book – it’s an old friend.
The Balthazar Cookbook. Keith McNally has a reputation in the press for being a bit of a curmudgeon. I’d like to believe it’s not true, but even if it is, I really don’t care! I love his restaurants - they’re buzzy, hip, fun places and I’ve never had a bad meal at any of them. His executive chefs, Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson, excel at French brasserie cooking and I’ve made their Chicken Liver Mousse, Moules a la Mariniere, and Braised Short Ribs (okay, Dad made that one) to prove it. The book is filled with wonderful, satisfying food, especially for the upcoming fall and winter months.
No surprise, I’m ending with my current culinary crush, Frank Stitt. I’m still waiting for someone to invite me to Birmingham!! Anyway, both his books – Frank Stitt’s Southern Table and Bottega Favorita – are my idea of perfection. Incredibly photographed by Christopher Hirsheimer (who I had the pleasure of interning under at Saveur back in the day – she really is lovely) his food is the epitome of elegant, seasonal, local food. There are a mix of easy and more complicated recipes that I may or may not make but never mind; it’s sheer joy to page through his books. Did I mention he used to work at Chez Panisse? I sense a theme….
Salmon with Orzo Salad
1 ½ cups orzo
About 1 tablespoon olive oil
Four 6-ounce skinless salmon fillets, any pin bones removed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup corn kernels (from about 3 ears of corn)
1 cup quartered cherry tomatoes
1 shallot or ¼ red onion, minced
¼ cup pitted Kalamata or Nicoise olives, coarsely chopped
¼ cup basil leaves, torn into little pieces or cut into chiffonade, plus 4 small sprigs for garnish
2 tablespoons L’Estornell Spanish garnacha vinegar or other good-quality red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Grated lemon zest for garnish (optional)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Add the orzo and cook until al dente, 5 – 7 minutes. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Toss with a splash of oil.
Heat a large ovenproof skillet over high heat, then add just enough olive oil to barely coat the bottom of the pan. Season the salmon with sea salt and pepper, place in the hot skillet, and cook until the fish is lightly golden on the first side and the edges are beginning to turn opaque, about 4 minutes. Turn the salmon and transfer the pan to the oven to finish cooking, about 4 minutes for medium-rare, or about 6 minutes for medium. Transfer the fillets to a rack and keep warm.
Stir the corn, tomatoes, shallot or onion, olives, torn basil, and salt and pepper to taste into the orzo. Add the vinegar, drizzle in the extra virgin olive oil, and toss to coat. Taste for seasonings and adjust to your liking.
Place a large spoonful of the orzo on each serving plate and top with a salmon fillet. Garnish each plate with a little lemon zest, if desired, and a sprig of basil.