A shot of my coffee table over the weekend. Several new books have made their way to me, along with the new March issue of [is] Martha Stewart Living [?] which is full of articles about gardening. Sigh. It inspired me, perhaps futilely, to buy some seeds – I’m going to try growing cherry tomatoes, basil and mesclun greens on my window ledges this year. Anyway, the books.
Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Cooking: a wonderful gift that I’ve yet to fully explore but which has been a fascinating read. While I love food-porny photo-heavy cookbooks, I am still attached to well written, readerly books – I always defend Nigella Lawson against her detractors on the strength of her photo-free but substantial and inspirational first book, How to Eat. Anyway, Heidi Swanson writes and photographs the absurdly beautiful 101 Cookbooks site and her book (she also has a new one coming out very soon) is less about the recipes so much as it is about finding and learning how to use a wider range of whole foods – things like barley, amaranth flour, teff, quinoa, flaxseed, blackstrap molasses (the name of my next band) and other things that lurk in the under-trafficked aisles of the grocery store. So partly the book is about demystifying the products and then offering up ideas for how to use them, with gorgeous photography which is a refreshing change from the cartoon-sunflower school of vegetarian/ organic/ wholefoods cookbooks.
Also on my table and also a much appreciated gift: the gorgeous, very summery Michael Chiarello’s Casual Cooking, which explains in lush visual detail exactly why it might be a good idea to move to Napa and befriend wealthy wine-makers. All very fresh, simple recipes but with some really interesting ideas for putting together your own spice mixes, dressings and marinades that I want to try.
Three books from a miscellaneous prize/gift/cast-off bag left on our doorstep by our lovely upstairs neighbours who have shelves even more overflowing than ours and access to stacks of free or cheap books: Grilled Cheese by Marlena Spieler; Fondue by Lou Siebert Pappas, and Latin Grill by Rafael Palomino and Arlen Gargagliano (no, seriously.) All of these are Chronicle books, thus beautifully designed, colourful and heavy on image-over-word. I don’t think they’ve convinced me on fondue – I just don’t believe anyone would ever eat this way regularly unless they lived in an Alpine ski village, and even then it seems unlikely. Chocolate fondue, especially, makes me feel queasy. I am willing to go to said Alpine ski village and test this theory, but for now I don’t think I’ll be getting 70s-wedding-registry happy and investing in a fondue set.
Grilled cheese, on the other hand, I am a big fan of, as our now pretty much weekly trips to Il Bambino (34-08 31st Avenue) will prove. New Yorkers, seriously. Come to Astoria and eat panini there. You will thank me. So this book is pretty much Bambino: The Book, and very nice for that. But without a real panini press, and with these sandwiches around the corner (and their menu as inspiration), I’m not sure how much I’d use this book.
Finally, Latin Grill!!!. The !!! might be implied. This is especially splashily designed and dazzlingly bright – just like those Latins!!! But it does have some substance behind the flash – even without an actual, you know, grill, I think I can make lots of this work on our basic Ikea stovetop griddle pan, and there are some great ideas for ceviche, dips, marinades, sides and drinks as well. Did I perhaps mention I can’t wait for summer?
Also on my table – February’s Bon Appétit (which I have yet to cook from, but they have features on braises and chillis, so I can make the most of the end – right, groundhogs? – of winter), the latest Edible Queens (which I picked up at Bambino’s neighbour, Bare Burger at 33-21 31st Avenue, which has expanded and is working on a garden) and as mentioned, March’s Martha.
I will close by recommending her sausage, chard and lemon lasagne. I made this almost note-for-note, although I didn’t have the right size dish, and Trade Fair was out of chard, so I used collard greens instead. I will tinker with this again, but for now, I recommend it as is. My links aren’t working, so here it is:
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
3 c. whole milk
1 c. finely grated parmesan cheese (about 4 oz)
Salt and pepper
5 c. coarsely chopped swiss chard (about 1 bunch)
1 lb. sweet italian sausage, casings removed
1 lemon, very thinly sliced
6 Lasagna noodles, cooked
Melt butter in saucepan over high heat. Stir in flour, cook for 2 minutes. Whisk in milk. Bring to a boil, stirring. Reduce heat. Simmer for 1 min. Remove from heat. Whisk in 3/4 c. cheese, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper. Stir in chard.
Preheat oven to 350. Cook sausage in skillet over high heat, breaking up pieces, until no longer pink, about 4 min.
Cover lemon slices with cold water by 3 in. in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer for 7 min. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate using a slotted spoon.
Spread 1/4 c. sauce in 8-in square baking dish. Top with noodles, half the sausage, and 1 c. of sauce. Repeat. Top with layer of lemons, noodles, remaining sauce, and lemons. Bake, covered for 27 min.
Remove from oven. Heat broiler. Uncover lasagna and top with remaining 1/4 c. cheese. Broil until bubbling, 2-3 min.