—A review by Kathryn Tempas
The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Weekends follows on the heels of the popular How To Eat Supper, Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift’s first collaboration. While How to Eat Supper focused on quick weeknight dinners, this volume has more complex recipes requiring some time and effort. The introduction highlights current culinary trends, discussing the popularity of cooking from
different cultures, and eating local, sustainable, and organic.
The cookbook begins with menus highlighting five cultures—Indian, Vietnamese, Italian, Mexican, and Chinese, plus several holiday dinner spreads. Then, the book is arranged as a typical cookbook, with sections for salads, soups, main dishes, sides, etc., where you’ll find recipes for dishes in the appetite-whetting menus.
The authors admit that a trip to an ethnic grocer will be helpful for some recipes, and I agree with them—it’s a great adventure worth the trip. This book would work well for cooking clubs where the host provides the main dish and others contribute salad or soup, sides, dessert, or wine.
As much as looking at the recipes, I enjoyed reading the culinary quotes, Cook to Cook tips, and suggestions for building a library. Most recipes include variations, and main dishes typically include wine suggestions as well as Work Night Encores, suggestions on ways to incorporate any leftovers in a quick and easy weeknight meal. Fascinating tidbits such as the story of seed saver Nikolay Vavilov, a vignette on vinegar, and one-page essays give you something to savor while you are waiting for water to boil or oven to heat.
Many recipes have multiple components to prepare, making them a bit time consuming. For example, “Homemade Ricotta Gnocchi with Saffron Tomato Sauce” involves making your own ricotta, making the tomato sauce, and preparing the gnocchi before the final assembly; but since it’s a weekend, take time to play in the kitchen and you’ll find it rewarding.
I began tempting my taste buds with “Orange Onion Salad with Warmed Coriander Oil.” It’s a simple salad combining navel oranges, red onions, black olives, and a dressing where coriander and orange peel are warmed in oil. “Oven-Roasted Carrots with Preserved Lemon & Allspice,” another recipe I tried, would be a great company dish with minimal last-minute finishing.
A friend coming over for dessert gave me the opportunity to try something from the sweets section. It was a toss-up between butternut “pumpkin” pie and triple chocolate brownie cake. Eventually I’ll make them both, but this time, the chocolate won out and was delicious, with a blend of cinnamon, allspice, coffee, and vanilla. Next time I might skip the cocoa nibs because they distracted from the smooth texture. I also eliminated the coarse salt; I know that’s a current trend, but not my favorite.
The “Summer Tomato Pudding,” though I made it in winter, was a delicious comfort food. “Rice Paper Rolls of Herbs & Shrimp” would make a great party dish, letting guests assemble their own creations.
My husband, a fan of Cornish hens, tried the “Ancho Cider-Glazed Hens.” Reducing the cider takes some time and watching.
Next weekend I’m going to try the “Homemade Ricotta Gnocchi” or “Golden Pie of Winter
Vegetables in Cinnamon Pastry.” I’ve made potato gnocchi before, as well as a home-made pot pie, but I’ll bet these recipes will take it to a new level.
Though I haven’t decided which of the menus to serve company, my family is enjoying tasting a variety of new recipes in the meantime. This cookbook is not at all for the novice, but for those who want to explore new culinary trends, enjoy spending time in the kitchen, and are willing to search out a few unique ingredients.
Triple Chocolate Brownie Cake
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate (good quality, please)
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter
3 tablespoons instant espresso, dissolved in 4 tablespoons boiling water
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground allspice
4 large eggs
11/3 cups granulated sugar
¼ cup cocoa powder, sifted
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup cocoa nibs or toasted blanched whole almonds, coarsely chopped
¼ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons coarse salt (optional)
1 cup heavy cream, whipped (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter the bottom and sides of an 8-inch springform pan and butter the top of an 8-inch round of parchment paper and place it in the bottom of the pan.
2. In a medium microwave-safe bowl, melt the bittersweet and unsweetened chocolates and the butter in the microwave at medium-low power for 2 to 3 minutes, or in a small stainless steel bowl set over a small saucepan of simmering water. Stir in the coffee, vanilla, cinnamon, and allspice, and cool
to room temperature.
3. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar, cocoa powder, and salt until creamy. Stir in the cocoa nibs, flour, and the melted chocolate mixture until smooth. Don’t beat; just stir until everything is blended. Pour the batter into the pan and sprinkle with coarse salt (if desired). Bake for 35 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out with a few streaks.
4. Cool on a cake rack for 15 minutes, then release the sides of the springform pan. Cut the cake into small slivers and serve on its own or with a dollop of whipped cream.
Summer Tomato Pudding
I used some San Marzano tomatoes from my garden that I canned in September for this delicious take on a savory bread pudding. It’s got a long bake time, so start early.
Extra virgin olive oil
½ medium to large onion, cut into quarter-inch dice
black pepper, freshly ground
pinch of hot red pepper flakes
2 large garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons fresh basil, torn
1¾ to 2 pounds tomatoes, cored and coarsely chopped (not seeded or peeled) or one 28-ounce can whole tomatoes with their liquid
7 to 8-inch piece of baguette, several days old if possible, cut into 1-inch thick rounds
5 large eggs, beaten
¼ teaspooon salt
1/8 teaspooon black pepper
1/8 teaspooon nutmeg
1 cup half-and-half
1 cup whole or skim milk
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
4 ounces firm, fresh, whole-milk sheep or cow cheese, thinly sliced (I used fresh Mozzarella)
10 fresh basil leaves, torn
¼ cup pitted niçoise olives
1 medium tomato, sliced into rounds, or 1 cup halved grape tomatoes
1. Make the tomato sauce: coat a 4-quart saucepan with a thin film of oil. Heat over medium-high heat. Add the onion with some salt and pepper and cook for 4 minutes, or until golden. Stir in the garlic and basil and cook for 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes, breaking them up as they go into the pan. Bring the sauce to a bubble and cook, uncovered, for 10 to 15 minutes, or until thick. Stir often to keep from sticking. Cover and set aside for 15 minutes to mellow.
2. While the sauce cooks, oil an 8” or 9” square baking dish. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Cover the bottom of the dish completely with the bread slices.
3. Make the custard: In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, salt, pepper, nutmeg, half-and-half, milk, and cheese. Pour half of the custard over the bread and let it soak for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with
3 tablespoons of the feta cheese and half of the fresh cheese. Tuck in half of the basil leaves.
4. Cover everything with the tomato sauce. Pour in the rest of the custard, scatter the olives atop, push the sliced tomatoes and the rest of the basil leaves into the custard, cover with the rest of the fresh cheese, and sprinkle with the remaining feta.
5. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes, then raise the heat to 375°F and bake for 25–30 minutes. Finally, uncover and bake for another 20 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted near the center reads 200–210°F. Let the pudding rest at room temperature for 15 minutes. Serve hot or just warm.
[Kathryn Tempas loves to leaf through luscious local cookbooks and her family is happy to oblige when she is looking for taste testers.]
Next issue—a look at local chef/author Robin Asbell’s new book, Big Vegan.