Articles in Chefs

Marcella and Victor Hazan. Credit: Copyright 2016 Barbara Banks

I’ve lived in Italy off and on since the 1970s, eating my way up and down the peninsula, shopping the markets, raising the vegetables in my own gardens, prepping and cooking the food, studying the history and meeting the home cooks and chefs who carry the treasures of the Italian table in their heads, hearts and hands. I’ve learned a lot, in short, about Italian cooking. But almost everything I know, everything I’ve learned, ultimately traces back to one source — Marcella Hazan.

Her first book, “The Classic Italian Cook Book,” published by Knopf in 1973 and acquired by me a few years later as a gift from an erstwhile husband when we moved to Rome, truly opened the doors of my kitchen to Italian cooking. I have been grateful ever since. I consult that book and her many others to this day, often uncovering unexpected tips, ideas and information. Now I have a new treasure in my Marcella library — “Ingredienti” — her husband, Victor’s, tribute to his wife of nearly 60 years, who died in 2013.

A true Italian kitchen, in Marcella’s words

This invaluable little book is based on Marcella’s notebooks, discovered by Victor after her death and assembled by him into usable form. A caution: It is not a cookbook, though any number of cooking tips are scattered throughout. It is, in fact, a series of intelligent, well-informed essays on critical ingredients for an Italian kitchen, from “Produce” (artichokes, arugula, etc. ) to “The Essential Pantry” (pasta, of course, olive oil, Parmigiano, etc.) to “Salumi” (all the cured meats — prosciutto, guanciale, pancetta, and, as they say in Italian, via dicendo).

"Ingredienti" by Marcella and Victor Hazan. Credit: Copyright 2016 book cover courtesy of Scribner

“Ingredienti” by Marcella and Victor Hazan. Credit: Copyright 2016 book cover courtesy of Scribner

It’s an open secret in the food world that Victor Hazan was the defining voice in his wife’s long and remarkable career. While the brilliant ideas, sensible advice and enormous range of recipes Marcella produced all came from her inspirations and her own kitchens, it was Victor who developed the clear, comprehensive prose that distinguished her seven cookbooks and countless magazine articles. Throughout her career, she was a pervasive influence on America’s understanding of Italian food, yet she never had a restaurant, never starred in a television show and almost never appeared in public to give a talk or do a demonstration. What a different world she lived in, but she ruled that world for 40 years and continues, for many of us, to dominate it to this day.

An inspiring force

Marcella Hazan at a cooking demonstration. Credit: Copyright 2016 Victor Hazan

Marcella Hazan at a cooking demonstration. Credit: Copyright 2016 Victor Hazan

I met Marcella in the 1970s after “The Classic Italian Cook Book” was published. In fact, the first food story I ever wrote was an interview with the Hazans at their cooking school in Bologna, Italy, in a hotel across from the train station that was also headquarters for the Bologna division of Weight Watchers International (providing a memorable lead sentence for my story). Eight or 10 students were in the class, one of whom was planning to open a “northern Italian” restaurant somewhere in the upper Midwest and had come to take a weeklong course to understand what she was getting into. Another was a man who claimed to detest olive oil. “I don’t know what he’s doing in an Italian cooking class,” Marcella murmured, barely sotto voce, in her inimitably gravelly voice.

The menu for the class was simple, though some techniques were not. Students struggled to master shaping tortellini, the devilishly difficult little hat-shaped filled pasta that is the pride of Bologna’s sfogline, or pasta-makers. But there was also a traditional arrosto di maiale al latte, pork loin braised in milk, a surprisingly simple dish, flavored with nothing but salt and pepper, rich and succulent. A dish first described by Artusi, the Fanny Farmer of 19th-century Italian cooking, it was introduced to Americans by Marcella — and it deserves to be revived.

That was not my only encounter with the Hazans. In fact, I remember almost every time I spent with them simply because from each encounter, I took away a piece of invaluable knowledge. But one, in particular, stands out: In the late 1980s, when I was working as a food journalist in New York, Marcella called to invite me to dinner. “I want to show you something about pasta,” she said. The next evening, in the Hazans’ comfortable East Side apartment, she presented her dinner guests with two plates of pasta, identically dressed very simply with butter, a grating of Parmigiano Reggiano and a light sprinkle of herbs, nothing to interfere with the flavors of the pasta. One plate of tagliatelle had been made entirely by hand, rolled out on a board “until the pasta is almost paper thin and transparent,” as she says in that first book. The tagliatelle on the second plate were what you and I might call handmade, but rolled through a hand-cranked pasta machine. In the machine, as she wrote, “something happens to its composition … that gives the dough an ever so slightly slippery texture.” The words are Victor’s, but the sentiment, precise and to the point, is Marcella’s to the core.

And you know what? She was absolutely right!

Arrosto di maiale al latte (Pork Loin Braised in Milk)

This recipe was published in Marcella Hazan’s “The Classic Italian Cook Book” (Knopf 1973)

 Yield: For 6 persons

Ingredients

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 pounds pork loin, in one piece, with some fat on it, secretly tied

1 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper, 3 or 4 twists of the mill

2 1/2 cups milk

Directions

Heat the butter and oil over medium-high heat in a casserole large enough to just contain the pork. When the butter foam subsides, add the meat, fat side facing down. Brown thoroughly on all sides, lowering the heat if the butter starts to turn dark brown.

Add the salt, pepper and milk. (Add the milk slowly, otherwise it may boil over.) Shortly after the milk comes to a boil, turn the heat down to medium, cover, but not tightly, with the lid partly askew, and cook slowly for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the meat is easily pierced by a fork. Turn and baste the meat from time to time, and, if necessary, add a little more milk. By the time the meat is cooked, the milk should have coagulated into small nut-brown clusters. If it is still pale in color, uncover the pot, raise the heat to high, and cook briskly until it darkens.

Remove the meat to a cutting board and allow to cool off slightly for a few minutes. Remove the trussing string, carve into slices 3/8-inch thick, and arrange them on a warm platter. Draw off most of the fat from the pot with a spoon and discard, being careful not to toss any of the coagulated milk clusters. Taste and correct for salt. (There may be as much as 1 to 1 1/2 cups of fat to be removed.) Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of warm water, turn the heat on high, and boil away the water while scraping and loosening all the cooking residue in the pot. Spoon the sauce over the sliced pork and serve immediately.

Main photo: Marcella and Victor Hazan. Credit: Copyright 2016 Barbara Banks

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Photo collage: Some of the 2015 cookbook winners announced at the IACP awards show March 29 in Washington, D.C.

The International Association of Culinary Professionals announced the best cookbooks published in 2014 at its annual convention, held March 27 to 30 in Washington, D.C.

Winners were chosen in 19 categories, including American and international sweet and savory cooking; restaurant- and chef-centered books and those homing in on culinary travel; e-cookbooks and culinary history; and literary food writing and photography. The IACP program is widely lauded as the most selective in the industry due to its two-tier judging process that requires recipe testing in all relevant categories.

“A New Napa Cuisine,” by Christopher Kostow, was chosen the IACP 2015 Cookbook of the Year, and won in the Global Design category as well. Among the other winners was Zester Daily contributor Ramin Ganeshram, whose book “FutureChefs: Recipes by Tomorrow’s Cooks Across the Nation and the World” won in the Children, Youth and Family category.

Celebrity chef Curtis Stone was the emcee at the IACP awards event.

This slideshow provides the winner in each category and a brief summary or review of each cookbook.

More from Zester Daily:

» Cookbooks to covet: IACP names 2015 award finalists
» No baking required to savor writer’s bread odyssey
» From wicked to inspired, ‘Grilled Cheese’ inspires
» Dan Pashman’s ‘Eat More Better’ makes dining delicious
» ‘Prune’: A glimpse into a chef’s untamed cooking mind

Photo collage: Some of the 2015 cookbook winners announced at the IACP awards show March 29 in Washington, D.C.
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Court Bouillon is tap water with a little bit of salt, peppercorn, sliced onion, parsley, bay leaf, sliced carrot and something acidic -- often lemon juice, but equally often white wine and occasionally vinegar. Credit: Copyright 2015 Susan Lutz

Culinary icon Anne Willan has just released “Secrets From the La Varenne Kitchen,” a brief compendium of “50 Essential Recipes Every Cook Needs To Know.” This amazing book includes the recipes that are the backbone course for professional chefs and that Willan’s legendary school Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris has been creating since 1975.

Among the dishes are fish aspic, exquisitely specific details on puff pastry and 10 types of sorbet. But one recipe caught my eye: Court Bouillon — or in rough English translation: “Quick Broth.” As a mom who doesn’t have the time for more intricate recipes and whose two young girls don’t have the palates for aspic yet, I liked the sound of that. I called Anne Willan to get her thoughts.


“Secrets From the La Varenne Kitchen”
By Anne Willan, Spring House Press, 2015, 133 pages
» Click here for a chance to win a free copy
» Click here to buy the book


“It’s very interesting that you’ve chosen court bouillon,” Willan said from her home in Santa Monica, California, “because it’s not something anybody thinks of using nowadays. It really is right in sync with contemporary cooking,” she continued. “It’s very useful because today people always want to cook things healthfully and simply.”

Willan’s definition of court bouillon is simple and clear: “It’s a meatless and fatless broth, so very simple, but something that just adds flavor to whatever’s cooked in it.” The recipe, which is included below, is easy, but I was hoping to get some insider secrets. Willan was happy to comply, although clearly none of this seemed like a big secret to her: “Thinly slice the carrots,” she told me, “so that they give up their flavor in 15 or 20 minutes. Slice the onions fairly thinly, but not to worry about it. The green herbs you just drop in, keep the stems, they have lots of taste.”

The real secret of court bouillon is properly pairing the food being cooked in the broth with a sympathetic acidic ingredient. Traditionally, the acid used in court bouillon would be vinegar, wine or lemon juice. Willan provided more nuanced distinctions: “For whitefish, I’d probably go for wine, because you don’t want too strong a flavor. For darker fish, possibly lemon juice or vinegar because it balances the stronger flavor of the fish.”

In traditional French cuisine, court bouillon is a liquid used for simmering, and then it’s tossed out. But as we discussed using the broth as a part of the meal, Willan became intrigued, because that’s simply part of her cooking ethos. “Never throw anything away,” she said. “When you’ve got lovely cooking liquid from something like a big salmon, do something with it — fish soup with the leftover.”

I could hear her brain begin to click as she explored the Culinary Thought Experiment: “The liquid will have acquired the flavor of what’s been cooking in it,” she said. “So what I would like to do is boil it down, and make a little sauce with it, mount it with butter or something.”

Then her brain went into high gear: “You could do lovely experiments with it. I certainly haven’t gone into it myself, but you could do an Asian court bouillon, or a hot court bouillon. You’d use chili peppers, wouldn’t you? It’s got to be something pure, hasn’t it?”

From the wisdom behind La Varenne

This was more intriguing than interview questions: Willan was asking and answering herself, giving me a view into a creative culinary mind that has long fascinated me as I’ve gobbled up her writings and her recipes from the classic “From My Château Kitchen” to her dish-y memoir “One Soufflé at a Time.” As she brainstormed the possibilities for court bouillon, her encyclopedic knowledge of cooking became clear, as did her passion for food and good eating.

“Perhaps I’d use coriander instead of parsley. And then, what would you use it for? If you push it a little bit, you could use it for a risotto or cooking quinoa. Or even grits or corn meal.”

By the time we were done, Willan had improvised a court bouillon for down-home Southern cooking and an Asian-influenced broth with the addition of soy sauce, cilantro and rice wine vinegar. She cautioned me against using too much chili pepper if I wanted to try a hot version because the flavor of the pepper would concentrate as the broth cooked down. It was an invigorating conversation — an insight into a culinary mind-set deeply rooted in the basics, but excited to jump in and experiment.

I love my copy of “Secrets from the La Varenne Kitchen,” and I intend to use it to build those basic skills that every cook needs to know — whether they’re a chef at a high-end restaurant or a mom with kids to feed. And court bouillon seems to be an inspired place for me to start. Check out the slideshow that includes Willan’s secrets and two dishes that riff on the recipe.

Court Bouillon

By Anne Willan, courtesy Spring House Press

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Total time: 25 minutes
Yield: 1 quart

Ingredients
1 quart water
1 carrot, sliced
1 small onion, sliced
1 bouquet garni
6 peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup white wine or 1/3 cup vinegar or 1/4 cup lemon juice

Directions
1. Combine all the ingredients in a pan (not aluminum), cover and bring to a boil. Simmer uncovered 15 to 20 minutes and strain.

Main photo: Court Bouillon is tap water with a little bit of salt, peppercorn, sliced onion, parsley, bay leaf, sliced carrot and something acidic — often lemon juice, but equally often white wine and occasionally vinegar. Credit: Copyright 2015 Susan Lutz

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All winners will be announced at the IACP annual conference March 27-30 in Washington, D.C.

There are more than 25,000 cookbook titles listed on Amazon. It’s certainly a buyer’s market. But which ones to buy, either for use in the kitchen or viewing on the coffee table?

The International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) — a worldwide forum for the exchange of information, knowledge and inspiration within the professional food and beverage community — last week narrowed the field for cookbook lovers with its selections of what it considers the best cookbooks published in 2014.

The awards program received more than 500 submissions in 20 categories, including American and international sweet and savory cooking; restaurant- and chef-centered books and those homing in on culinary travel; e-cookbooks and culinary history; and literary food writing and photography. The program is widely lauded as the most selective in the industry due to its two-tier judging process that requires recipe testing in all relevant categories.

One cookbook is selected as the Cookbook of the Year. All winners will be announced at the IACP annual conference March 27-30 in Washington, D.C.

This slideshow provides a snapshot of the finalists in each category.


More from Zester Daily:

» No baking required to savor writer’s bread odyssey
» From wicked to inspired, ‘Grilled Cheese’ inspires
» Dan Pashman’s ‘Eat More Better’ makes dining delicious
» ‘Prune’: A glimpse into a chef’s untamed cooking mind
Photo collage: All winners will be announced at the IACP annual conference March 27-30 in Washington, D.C.

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Pickled Beetroot, Goat's Cheese & Chilli Jam. Credit: © Ryland Peters & Small/Loupe Images/Steve Painter

“Many’s the long night I’ve dreamed of cheese — toasted, mostly” Robert Louis Stevenson famously wrote. I share his feelings. Gorgeous, gooey melted cheese is still the top go-to comfort food in my book when Jack Frost is nipping toes and all you want to do is hibernate underneath the duvet.


“Grilled Cheese: Traditional and inspired recipes for the ultimate toasted sandwich”
By Laura Washburn. Ryland, Peters & Small, 2014, 64 pages
» Click here to buy the book


Grilled Cheese: Traditional and inspired recipes for the ultimate toasted sandwich. Credit: © Ryland Peters & Small/Loupe Images/Steve Painter

Grilled Cheese: Traditional and inspired recipes for the ultimate toasted sandwich. Credit: © Ryland Peters & Small/Loupe Images/Steve Painter

I think Stevenson would have enjoyed this small but perfectly formed volume on the art of the ultimate toasted sandwich. The toastie with the mostie can only be made with cheese as the author so wisely knows. It is a universal truth: Grilled cheese never disappoints.

Laura Washburn was born in Los Angeles, studied in Paris, trained at La Varenne and worked with Patricia Wells. She now lives in London, where she works as a cookery teacher and food writer, and she has brought her international experience and professional skills to bear on this seemingly simple equation of cheese, bread and pan.

The wonderful thing about this basic trinity is that it can be equally good — depending on mood and moment — whether toasted sliced white bread and ersatz block cheese satisfies a case of the munchies at midnight, or Poilâne sourdough bread and three artisan cheeses makes for a legendary lunch at London’s Borough Market.

The book divides into simple, global, wicked and gourmet sections. Leek and Gruyere is an elegant idea to be served with a glass of chilled white wine, and Brie and Apple-Cranberry Sauce on Walnut bread is a brilliant seasonal suggestion.

Chorizo, Mini Peppers and Manchego is a spicy, smoky treat with a Spanish accent, and Avocado, Refried Bean and Monterey Jack would make a great brunch. The purist in me questions a Welsh rarebit made with two slices of bread (traditionally it lacks the top slice), but Washburn nails the filling — and doesn’t forget the ale, mustard powder and Worcestershire sauce that gives the rarebit its feisty character.

Wicked grilled cheese sandwiches are mini meals (Burger Scamorza or Meatballs, Garlic Tomato Sauce and Fontina, for example). But the gourmet section really takes off with zingy concepts such as Pickled Beetroot, Goat’s Cheese and Chilli Jam, and a decadent Brioche-based Lobster Tail, Tarragon and Beaufort. That’s the one I’m going to dream of tonight.

Recipes from “Grilled Cheese” by Laura Washburn, photography by Steve Painter.

Basic Grilled Cheese

Basic Grilled Cheese. Credit: © Ryland Peters & Small/Loupe Images/Steve Painter

Basic Grilled Cheese. Credit: © Ryland Peters & Small/Loupe Images/Steve Painter

This is the basic grilled cheese method, which can be used as a blueprint for all sorts of experimentation. For a more complex taste, it’s a good idea to combine two relatively mild cheeses, such as a mild cheddar and Monterey Jack.

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients

4 large slices white bread

Unsalted butter, softened

3 1/2 cups mixed grated/shredded mild cheeses, such as mild cheddar, Gruyere, Monterey Jack or Gouda

Directions

1. Butter each of the bread slices on one side and arrange buttered-side down on a clean work surface or chopping board.

2. It’s best to assemble the sandwiches in a large nonstick frying pan/skillet before you heat it up. Start by putting two slices of bread in the frying pan/skillet, butter-side down. If you can only accommodate one slice in your pan, you’ll need to cook one sandwich at a time. Top each slice with half of the grated/shredded cheese, but be careful not to let too much cheese fall into the pan. Top with the final pieces of bread, butter-side up.

3. Turn the heat on medium and cook 3 to 4 minutes on the first side, then carefully turn with a large spatula and cook on the second side for 2 to 3 minutes until the sandwiches are golden brown all over and the cheese is visibly melted.

4. Remove from the frying pan/skillet and cut the sandwiches in half. Let cool for a few minutes before serving and dunk to your heart’s content in a lovely steaming bowl of tomato soup.

Pickled Beetroot, Goat’s Cheese & Chilli Jam

A zingy combination of colors and tastes — perfect for brunch or a late-evening snack. Use an ordinary mozzarella for this sandwich, as its presence is merely for added ooze and to help hold the sandwich together.

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients

4 slices white or brioche bread

Unsalted butter, softened

1 3/4 ounces soft goat’s cheese

2 to 4 tablespoon chilli jam, plus extra for serving

6 to 8 slices pickled beet

Freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 lemon

1 to 2 sprigs fresh dill, leaves chopped

4 1/2 ounces mozzarella, sliced

Directions

1. Butter each of the slices of bread on one side.

2. This is easiest if assembled in a large heavy-based, nonstick frying pan/skillet. Put two slices of bread in the pan/skillet, butter-side down. If you can only fit one slice in your pan/skillet, you’ll need to cook one sandwich at a time. Add half of the goat’s cheese to each slice. Top with half of the chilli jam, spread evenly to the edges. Arrange half of the beet slices on top, squeeze over some lemon juice and scatter over half of the dill. Top each slice with half of the mozzarella and cover with another slice of bread, butter-side up.

3. Turn the heat on medium and cook the first side for 3 to 5 minutes until deep golden, pressing gently with a spatula. Carefully turn with a large spatula and cook on the second side, for 2 to 3 minutes more or until deep golden brown all over.

4. Remove from the pan, transfer to a plate and cut each sandwich in half. Let cool for a few minutes before serving. Repeat for the remaining sandwich if necessary. Serve with additional chilli jam, for dipping.

Main photo: Pickled Beetroot, Goat’s Cheese & Chilli Jam. Credit: © Ryland Peters & Small/Loupe Images/Steve Painter

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Chef and

“Don’t use anything better — no brioche! no pain de mie! — in some attempt to make this ‘gourmet.’ We are not that kind of restaurant.” – Gabrielle Hamilton, in “Prune” (Random House, 2014).

It’s not every day a James Beard Award-winning chef wields the word “gourmet” as a barb, or exhorts you to use Pepperidge Farm bread instead of fancier alternatives, but Gabrielle Hamilton is not your average high-profile chef. Since 1999, when she opened Prune, her tiny restaurant in New York City’s East Village, she’s gone her own way, and the same can be said of her first cookbook, “Prune.”


“Prune”

By Gabrielle Hamilton, Random House, 2014, 576 pages

» Click here to buy the book


A companion piece to “Blood, Bones & Butter,” her critically acclaimed memoir, “Prune” deftly captures Hamilton’s personality as well as that of the restaurant, neither of which are easy to pigeonhole. She’s a self-taught chef who has a master’s degree in fiction writing, while Prune is the kind of place where a bar snack of canned sardines with Triscuits confidently holds court on the same menu as Tongue and Octopus With Salsa Verde and Mimosa’d Egg.

PruneCoverThe cookbook was written as if Hamilton is addressing her staff. It has been designed to look like a stylized photocopy of the recipes she types up for their regular use, complete with re-creations of the handwritten notes she pens when she’s forgotten some helpful detail. “If (the braising liquid) tastes too bright,” she scribbles at the end of a lamb recipe, “heavily char — almost burn — 2 slabs of peasant bread on the grill … push the burnt toast down into the liquid to soak it. … It will add body to the braise and soften the astringency.”

In its earliest days, Prune served only dinner, so that’s where the book begins, too. Tables of contents lead into the various subsections, but there’s no general index (though one will soon be available for download). Instead of lyrical head notes about a dish’s story of origin, Hamilton dives right in to the steps, though her voice is unmistakable when she directs you to “fully enclose the butter inside the dough, as if you were hastily wrapping a Christmas present.”

When I visited her at Prune recently, she explained the thinking behind the book’s form and content. “I tried writing it the conventional way for about five minutes, and it was immediately clear that I was lying my brains out, because I don’t use that language. The imperative was to tell the truth as I live it and experience it. I knew people would get it.”

The unique structure and tone are not the only things that set the book apart. There’s also a section called “garbage,” which details how the restaurant repurposes oft-discarded items such as zucchini tops and bacon rinds. At a time when Americans throw away nearly 40% of the food they buy, this chapter seems especially appropriate.

“Prune” includes many of the restaurant’s marvelously layered dishes, like Warm Lentil Salad With Fried Chicken Livers, Poached Egg, and Smoked Tomato Vinaigrette, as well as directions for assembling the more minimalist offerings (such as a bar snack of radishes with sweet butter and salt) whose unassuming appearance belies the care that underpins them. The first time I ever interviewed Hamilton, five years ago, we discussed the reaction to these “three-ingredient recipes,” a subject we revisited during our recent chat.

“They’re the ones that set you up for failure,” she says, “because there’s nothing to hide behind. Only radishes and butter and salt — what could possibly go wrong? And yet. You have overgrown, cottony, spongy radishes that have soaked in too much water, and they’ve lost their flame. Or the butter is over-tempered and greasy. Or you’re using the worst, overly granulated, way-too-salty salt. But when you have the right crispy-firm, hot-on-fire radish, the cool waxy butter, which not only tempers the heat but lets the salt adhere, and the salt, which brings back the flavor that the butter has started to tame.” She smiles. “I know it’s just three things, but can you believe what goes in to simplicity?”

There’s much to like about “Prune,” starting with Hamilton’s mouthwatering food, but what’s most appealing is the respect she shows her readers, a quality that took on paramount importance for her after she visited home kitchens during a road trip a couple of years ago. “I had lost track of who we were talking about when we use that phrase ‘for the home cook,’ and it turns out the home cook is incredibly diverse. … I think the cookbook industry in the main tends to underestimate them, and it’s time to stop.”

When she directs you to garnish a dish with a “lime cheek,” she trusts you’ll get it, and if not, you can figure it out from the photos. Even when her insider notes are not directly relevant to your kitchen reality, they often get you to reconsider some element of how you prep, cook, serve or store your food. And at their least practical, the asides to her staff (“If Health Department comes, take the serrano [ham] off the carving stand and throw in the oven.”) still offer us a peek behind the scenes, which is one of the reasons people buy chef cookbooks in the first place.

Ultimately, it’s that sense of transparency that remains at the heart of the whole endeavor. “The book is the same as Prune and me in every way,” she tells me. “We’re not to everyone’s taste — our food, our gestalt — and neither is the cookbook. We love you, and we hope you love us, too, but we’re not gonna lie about who we are.”

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Braised Fennel with Pernod Butter and Trout Roe. Credit: Eric Wolfinger

Farmhouse Chicken Braised in Hard Cider

[Excerpted from “Prune” by Gabrielle Hamilton. Copyright © 2014 by Gabrielle Hamilton. Excerpted by permission of Random House, A Penguin Random House Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.]

Even though it’s best to use homemade chicken stock, I opted for a high-quality, low-sodium supermarket brand, which produced good results. If you are using store-bought stock, be sure to factor in the sodium level when seasoning the dish. Since I mistakenly purchased a package of drumsticks instead of whole chicken legs, I cooked a total of eight drumsticks, two per serving.

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

4 large whole chicken legs

Unsalted butter

Extra virgin olive oil

3/4 cup slivered garlic

1 cup thinly sliced shallots

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/2 cup cider vinegar

1 cup hard cider

1 tablespoon honey

1 cup chicken stock

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Farmhouse Chicken Braised in Hard Cider, as made by Sofia Perez from the "Prune" recipe. Credit: Sofia Perez

Farmhouse Chicken Braised in Hard Cider, as made by Sofia Perez from the “Prune” recipe. Credit: Sofia Perez

Directions

1. Season chicken legs all over with more pepper than salt.

2. Brown chicken legs in mixed fats, more butter than oil. Brown perfectly, on both sides; don’t crowd and don’t crank it, either. Keep heat at medium-high and do a careful job. Remove chicken, pour off fat.

3. Add a good hunk of butter, the garlic and shallots to the same pan, reduce heat, and sweat.

4. Add tomato paste and stir to fully blend, melt, even toast a little.

5. Deglaze with cider vinegar and hard cider.

6. Add the honey. Simmer to cook off alcohol and reduce slightly, by no more than 1/3.

7. Stir in chicken stock.

8. Neatly nestle the chicken legs in the pan and be sure to taste the braising liquid for salt, acidity, sweetness. Adjust now or never.

9. Cover with parchment and tight-fitting lid, if you can find one that isn’t too warped. Check after 25 minutes. You want loose joints but not falling off the bone.

10. At pickup, reduce sauce per portion, to have body, but not to become viscous.

11. One leg per portion. Good bit of sauce. Shower with parsley, freshly chopped, at pass.

Main photo: Chef and “Prune” author Gabrielle Hamilton and the cover of her cookbook. Credit: Hamilton photo by Melanie Dunea

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Chef Jeremy Sewall and his new cookbook,

As far as I am concerned, we New Englanders own the winter kitchen, from the cranberries and pumpkin pies of Thanksgiving all the way to the corned beef and cabbage of St. Patrick’s Day. Our regional cooking is reliable and time tested, but possibly also a bit dated — in need of a pick-me-up, a refresher that catches us up with the way the rest of the country eats. Chef Jeremy Sewall is offering that refresher course in his new cookbook, “The New England Kitchen: Fresh Takes on Seasonal Recipes” (Rizzoli, 2014).

Sewall is one of the best chefs in Boston. A true New Englander (he descends from a family of seafarers and lobstermen), he is the chef and partner at four top Boston restaurants (Lineage, Eastern Standard, Island Creek Oyster Bar and Row 34). Following in the great tradition of Fannie Farmer, Jasper White and Lydia Shire, Sewall is widely seen as the new face of classic New England cuisine: heavy on the seafood, aware of the seasons, conversant with the flavors of the globe. This is his first cookbook, and it’s a modern classic — and a keeper.

New England fare for all seasons

Here’s my test for a new cookbook: If I’d instantly start prepping the first three entrees I come across, I know I’ve got my nose in a new classic. I hadn’t even finished the introduction before I started rummaging in my fridge, freezer and pantry to see if I could make the Steamed Mussels With Pilsner, Garlic and Fresno Peppers. I moved on to the Mushroom Ragout and the English Pea Soup before I acknowledged that I was getting very excited about ingredients that wouldn’t truly be available until early spring. So I thumbed deeper into the book and made Sewall’s recipe for Seared Sea Scallops With Creamy Turnip Puree and Crisp Shiitake Mushrooms. That held me for a while.

Sewall is a prodigiously talented, hardworking and remarkably humble chef. Not a TV commodity, he picked time in the kitchen over time in front of the camera, so you may not know him. But if you begin to work through his recipes, you’ll appreciate the skills honed over decades on the line.

For this book, he smartly teamed up with food writer Erin Byers Murray, the author of “Shucked.” The two share a connection to Island Creek Oysters, where Murray worked for a year as an oyster farmer, taking a sabbatical from her day job as a food writer and editor, and Sewall is the executive chef at two Island Creek Boston restaurants. The two seamlessly present a voice that is warm, confident and so infused with New England roots that you can hear the broad vowels as you read.

But there’s nothing provincial or backward looking in “The New England Kitchen.” It is stocked with food you want to eat because you love the flavors of New England and you live in this century. Razor clams and pot roast. Fried clams (of course) and a mussel dish that puts the French to shame. Pan-roasted hake and roasted duck confit. A recipe for skate wing I’ve made twice so far, and it’s made me a kitchen hero both times. A gorgeous lemon tart with lavender cream.

Each recipe is illustrated with a gorgeous large-format photo by Michael Harlan Turkell, making you believe that you can deliver on the promise of a perfect meal.

Reading through the book, you will get a good sense of the local bounty of New England season by season, and how a top-tier regional chef makes the most of it.

If you need a new cookbook to get you through the New England winter, this is the one.

Spiced Skate Wing

Recipe courtesy of “The New England Kitchen: Fresh Takes on Seasonal Recipes.”

Sewall’s note: “Skate might seem like an unusual choice for the home cook, but it has a nice firm texture and a really sweet flavor. Here, I toss it with a seasoned flour and quickly sauté it for an easy weeknight dish. Buy skate from a trusted fishmonger and give it a sniff before bringing it home (it takes on an ammonia smell when beginning to go bad). If you can’t find skate, freshwater trout is a great substitute, but it might require a minute or two longer to cook, depending on the thickness.”

Yield: Serves 4

Ingredients

Spiced Skate Wing With Toasted Orzo with Spinach and Chorizo. Credit: Michael Harlan Turkell

Spiced Skate Wing and Toasted Orzo With Spinach and Chorizo. Credit: Michael Harlan Turkell

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, crushed

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon dry mustard

1 tablespoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon curry powder

4 tablespoons canola oil

4 (6-ounce) skate wing fillets, trimmed, skin removed

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

1. In a small sauté pan, heat the olive oil and garlic over medium heat until the garlic starts to brown just a little, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and place in a small bowl. Let cool for 1 hour. Just before serving, whisk the lemon juice into the garlic oil.

2. In a large bowl, combine the flour with the cumin, dry mustard, turmeric, white pepper, coriander and curry powder. Set aside.

3. In a cast-iron skillet or large sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the canola oil over medium-high heat. Dredge the skate in the flour mixture and shake off any excess. Season the fish with salt and black pepper. Place two pieces of fish in the pan and cook until they begin to brown lightly, 1 to 2 minutes. Flip over the fish and immediately remove the pan from the heat; let the fish rest in the pan for 30 seconds before removing it. Repeat with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and the remaining fillets.

4. Place the fillets on individual plates. Drizzle with garlic oil just before serving. Serve with Toasted Orzo With Spinach and Chorizo (see recipe below).

Toasted Orzo With Spinach and Chorizo

Recipe courtesy of “The New England Kitchen: Fresh Takes on Seasonal Recipes.”

Sewall’s note: “I often pair this pasta dish with Spiced Skate Wing, but you can try it with other fish, chicken, or on its own. Chorizo is a spicy sausage that comes fresh or dry; for this recipe I use dry chorizo and cook it lightly. The heat from the sausage mellows when tossed with spinach and pasta.”

Yield: Serves 4

Ingredients

1 cup orzo pasta

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

1/4 cup canola oil

6 ounces dry chorizo sausage, cut into thin rounds

1 red onion, cut in half lengthwise and then into 1/4-inch-wide strips

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

3 tablespoons vegetable stock

2 cups lightly packed baby spinach

Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.

2. Toss the orzo with the olive oil in a baking pan and toast in the oven for 7 minutes, stirring halfway through. The pasta should be lightly toasted and have a nutty smell to it.

3. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil and add the toasted orzo, lower the heat and simmer until tender, about 12 minutes. Drain and spread on a baking sheet to cool.

4. In a large sauté pan, heat the canola oil over medium-high heat and add the chorizo and onion. Sauté until some of the sausage fat starts to render out and the sausage begins to lightly crisp around the edges, about 6 minutes. Remove from the heat and drain off any excess fat. Add the orzo, lemon zest and stock to the pan and warm through over medium heat. Add the spinach and immediately remove the pan from the heat; the spinach should be slightly wilted. Toss together and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Main photo: Chef Jeremy Sewall and his new cookbook, “The New England Kitchen.” Credit: Michael Harlan Turkell

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Anne Willan's

Although it has been a while since I set foot in a formal classroom, each year at this time, with the beginning of school fast approaching, I tend to think about new skills I can learn or old ones I can improve upon. It seemed fitting, then, that I recently received an email from a friend asking which cookbook he should purchase to help him become a better cook.

For me, the choice was quick and easy: Anne Willan’s classic cookbook “La Varenne Pratique.” Ever since I acquired it on my first day of chef’s school 18 years ago, it’s been my go-to resource whenever I’ve needed to reference a cooking technique or learn more about a specific ingredient.

The original volume, weighing close to 5 pounds, was published in 1989 and has sold more than 500,000 copies worldwide. Thankfully, this essential book, long out of print and challenging to find in a secondhand store, was recently reissued as an e-book.

During the first half of her 30-plus years running the legendary France-based cooking school La Varenne, Willan, a Zester Daily contributor, and her staff continuously researched and wrote about essential French cooking techniques and the importance of understanding every aspect of an ingredient. The laborious effort of distilling all this culinary information resulted in a 528-page tome that provides in-depth knowledge of how to choose, store, identify and handle ingredients. This knowledge of good ingredients is paired with clear, encouraging instructions and action photos of foundational cooking techniques, such as how to dice an onion, fillet a fish or prepare different types of meringues.

Willan’s cookbook goes beyond the surface

Many cookbooks these days take us on a wonderful culinary journey, tasting a region’s or country’s culture and table, yet only provide us with a fixed GPS map of how to get to the finished dish. When you get to a point in your culinary journey where you want to veer off course and understand why certain time-honored gustatory routes are so adored, “La Varenne Pratique” is the culinary guidebook to help you navigate your or any country’s kitchen.

The new e-book has been sliced and diced into four parts, each sold separtely. Part 1: The Basics discusses herbs and seasonings; soups; stocks; and sauces, as well as eggs, dairy and oils; Part 2 covers meat, poultry, fish and game; Part 3 examines vegetables, pasta, pulses and grains; and Part 4 dishes on our sweet tooth with baking, preserving, desserts, fruits, nuts and freezing. Each part also comes with a weight-and-measurement table (worth bookmarking for regular reference), list of cooking equipment, glossary of cooking terms and bibliography.

Because the book was written before the advent of modernist cooking, it does not include these techniques. However, if this is an area that interests you, I am sure Willan would recommend you check out her onetime student Nathan Myhrvold’s exhaustive six-volume series, “Modernist Cuisine.”

Having used the e-book version on both an iPad and laptop for the past month, I can vouch that the electronic version is reliable when adapting to different formats and layouts. Simply adjusting the font size or page orientation offers you a variety of almost personalized layouts. Because the images are scans of the original book and not high-resolution digital photographs, they can be enlarged only to a certain point. This is not much of a problem, as the images are large and easy to view.

How to purchase

The e-book version of “La Varenne Pratique” can be purchased through many major online retailers, including iTunes, Amazon, Sony, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Copia. Each of the four parts is $6.99.

The greatest challenge I’ve encountered is using the search function. In this day and age where we type anything into a search engine and get countless results, using an e-book’s search function can initially frustrate. If you type in a technique such as “how to cut up a chicken,” zero results show up. However, if you are more specific and type “cutting a bird in pieces” the exact result pops up. I’ve found eliminating the term “how to” and being more direct with your keywords drastically increases the likelihood of getting precise hits. It’s also just as easy to simply thumb through a section’s e-pages to find the specific subject you’re searching for.

Aside from the comprehensive information about ingredients, the best thing about this book is the countless technique shots that teach you lifelong, fundamental cooking skills. It would be fantastic to have a single website that aggregates all the “how-to” photo instructions “La Varenne Pratique” demonstrates as videos. But until someone invests the time and money to produce those videos, you will need to visit many websites to find all this information.

Simply put, “La Varenne Pratique” is a cooking school in a book, and certainly cheaper than tuition. It is the best gift you could give a new culinary student, a child heading to college, a newly married couple or your friend who writes a food blog. Fortunately, the e-book version is both lightweight and affordable and will not take up much space or weight in their culinary backpack.

Main photo: Anne Willan’s “La Varenne Pratique” is now available as an e-book. Willan photo by Siri Berting; e-book photo by Cameron Stauch

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