Fresh & Seasonal

From the LA Times

vegetablesIn a world overstuffed with weighty, glossy celebrity chef cookbooks, it would be easy to overlook Alain Passard's newly translated "The Art of Cooking With Vegetables." But it would be a mistake.

Granted, it's a slim book — 100 pages even. There are no tricky Space Age twists — not a gel, juicer or immersion circulator in sight. And perhaps most damning for some, there isn't even a single food photograph.

But take it into your kitchen — and leave it there. This is one of those rare books that might actually change the way you cook.

Passard has always been one to go his own way — several years ago, he famously decided to stop serving meat at his Michelin three-star restaurant l'Arpège, instead emphasizing produce he grew on his own farm.

Meat was simple, he explained. Vegetables are complex. But that doesn't necessarily mean that they're complicated. Indeed, what's so shocking about "Art" is just how much Passard gets from simple techniques and ingredients. Again and again, you'll find that by employing a simple twist, he reveals a wholly unexpected side of an ingredient.

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ImageLike many home cooks, I'm always looking for new recipes and cookbooks that will elevate the quality of the meals I cook. The trouble is I want great food without having to buy a ton of ingredients or spending hours in the kitchen. I know, I should just stop being lazy and encourage my inner chef, but after cooking over 10 recipes from Rozanne Gold's new book, Radically Simple, I think I've found what I've been looking for. Though she's new to me, apparently Gold has been around and acclaimed for quite some time, mostly for her 1-2-3 cookbook series that delivers delicious recipes simply and with only a few, usually three, fresh ingredients.

She continues that model here, but takes it up a notch on the sophistication scale. The point in this book isn't just to use a minimum of ingredients, but to get the best results with the necessary ones with as little work as possible.

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AOCcookbookcoverTurmeric is a rhizome or rootstock of a South Asian member of the ginger family. As the major ingredient in curry and a cheaper alternative to saffron, it is commonly used in Indian, South Asian, and Middle Eastern cooking as much it seems, for its color as for its flavor. In fact, in the past turmeric was used for dyeing textiles and fabrics, for making cosmetics, and even for religious and cultural ceremonies, Hindu and other, especially in India. Turmeric is considered to have medicinal uses and is even being studied currently for its potential cancer-fighting properties.

In this dish, the turmeric pairs up with cumin, coriander, and paprika to spice up roasted root vegetables and give them an unexpected and exotic twist. First the vegetables are roasted in a very hot oven, an unorthodox method we first came up with at Lucques. We were having problems when working with baby vegetables, unable to get the sear and caramelization we wanted without overcooking the vegetables. Even with our deck oven cranked to 550°F, the results were either tender and pale or nicely browned and mushy.

My longest-running kitchen employee, Rodolfo Aguado, who started working for me as a surly fifteen-year-old dishwasher at Campanile and now runs our very busy catering department (and has three kids of his own), came up with the brilliant idea of preheating the sheet pans before placing the vegetables on them. It really works wonders: you get a great roasted sear and can control the tenderness-versus-mushiness issue as well.

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Imagine a chef who spends six months a year in a restaurant making food for the fussiest guests and six months in a tiny galley kitchen with a rickety stove and barely any counter space. Meet David Tanis of Chez Panisse. His recipes are mostly pretty easy, but rely on the best quality ingredients.

Bookmarked recipes: Celery, radish and watercress salad with walnut oil, Buckwheat galettes with ham and cheese, Black sticky rice pudding with coconut cream.

Why?
It's fascinating to see the way a restaurant chef cooks at home, when he wants to, to please himself and his friends.

Who?
Anyone who has access to fantastic quality ingredients and wants to learn how to make them shine.

brendabookI always think one of the nicest things to bring home from vacation is a souvenir cookbook from a spot you love. Miz Wilkes’ Boarding House in Savannah comes to mind and on the other end of the spectrum, Nobu or Suzanne Goin’s pick one (AOC, The Tavern, The Larder...).

But I was particularly charmed by Life One Tablespoon at a Time by Brenda Athanus, owner with her sister Tanya of the secret gourmet shop in Lake Country in Oakland, Maine.

It’s part memoir, part recipe, part an homage to other great food writers like MFK Fisher, Amanda Hessler and Calvin Trillen.

Make your own truffles. Celebrate Fiddle Head Ferns, assuming you can find them. The most perfect lobster roll ever! New Year’s Chinese noodles (not sure if that’s for Chinese New Years’ or the regular one) but delicious nonetheless.

It also includes a wonderful tribute to her cooking teacher Madeline Kalman and is sprinkled with stories about their travels, their local “walnut man” (wish I had one of those), their friends, and Brenda’s total love and understanding of excellent food, fresh ingredients, entertaining, laughter, and love.

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