AUSTIN, Texas – Some days, what we cook is fueled by what we have.
On others, we cook to please a crowd or what our bodies are craving.
With school out and summer under way, that might mean figuring out what to do with the copious cucumbers coming out of your garden or finding a way to feed the extended family at the annual reunion that’s coming up. Maybe you’re just looking for ways to eat a little lighter now that the 90-degree afternoons are starting to set in.
I love poring through the dozens of cookbooks that come across my desk, but the authors of these four new books write with such a strong perspective and sense of purpose that they are the books I’d buy twice over if it meant I could cook out of them for the next three months.
If you can name more than two kinds of tomatoes or string beans, you’ll want a copy of Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge’s new book, “The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Vegetable Cookbook” (Rodale Books, $32.50).
The “star-mers” (reality star farmers) have made it their business to obsess over all things heirloom, from fabrics to goats to vintage recipes, and this latest book is the third in a series of books celebrating America’s culinary heritage.
Those Beekman Boys know how to chic up a rusty dish, like zucchini Cheddar breakfast muffins or homemade popcorn popped in bacon fat.
They embrace old and new, sometimes with jarring ease. Old-fashioned dilly pickles are followed by new potatoes baked in a salt crust, and rhubarb finds a home in both Masala chicken and soda floats.
Few cookbook authors have a way with ingredients like Britain’s Diana Henry, whose newest book “A Change of Appetite: Where Healthy Meets Delicious” (Mitchell Beazley, $34.99) looks and feels like her most recent books, “Plenty” and “Salt Sugar Smoke.”
The lauded recipe developer works with a tight team of a designer, photographer and an assistant cook to put together these masterful books. Inspired by Mark Bittman and others who advocate eating well while eating light, Henry set out to create a book whose recipes didn’t come across as health food.
Colorful dishes, like the persimmon, pomegranate and red endive salad and citrus-marinated salmon with fennel and apple salad, grace just about every page, and if you’re looking for lots of salads and lighter fare featuring Greek yogurt, this book is for you.
Another resource for cooking lighter with less or no meat is “The Simple Art of Vegetarian Cooking” (Rodale, $32.50), from Martha Rose Shulman.
As Ben Ford’s new book “Taming the Feast: Ben Ford’s Field Guide to Adventurous Cooking” (Atria Books, $34.99) shows, we’ll go to great lengths to entertain a yard full of friends and family, building fires and even temporary ovens and structures on which to roast pigs or simmer massive pans of paella.
Like his dad, Harrison, Ford relishes the art of performance. But for him, the stage is a beachside clambake or a Central Texas barbecue. Every recipe in the book feeds at least eight, and the centerpiece proteins like a whole spring lamb or an offset smoker full of briskets serve 50 or more.
Smaller-scale recipes, called “tamed feasts,” add to the relevance for home cooks who aren’t so interested in cooking a 20-pound sturgeon on a plank in the backyard.
Cucumber And Yogurt Soup With Walnuts And Rose Petals
For the soup
2 cucumbers, peeled and chopped, plus matchsticks of cucumber to serve
1 cup walnuts, plus extra chopped walnuts to serve
4 garlic cloves, chopped
6 scallions, chopped
3 tablespoons chopped mint leaves
3 tablespoons chopped dill leaves, plus extra to serve
Pinch of dried red pepper flakes
Leaves from 5 sprigs of tarragon
1 3/4 slices stale white country-style bread, crusts removed, torn
1 cup strong chicken stock
1 cup Turkish yogurt (see cook’s note)
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, or to taste
Juice of 1/2 lemon, or to taste
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar, or to taste Salt and black pepper
Handful of raisins (optional)
Pink or red rose petals (optional)
Cook’s note: Greek yogurt can be substituted. Turkish yogurt is thinner.
If you will be serving the soup with raisins, put them in a small bowl and cover with just-boiled water. Let stand for 30 minutes to plump them up, then drain.
Put all the ingredients for the soup into a blender, in batches if necessary, and process. You will have to stop every so often and move the ingredients around so that all of them get to be near the blade. Taste for seasoning; this soup needs careful adjustment. You might find you need a drop more lemon juice or white balsamic or extra virgin oil instead of salt or black pepper.
Chill well, then serve in small bowls, with the raisins (if using), chopped walnuts, cucumber matchsticks, dill and rose petals.
Yields 8 servings.
Recipe from “A Change of Appetite: Where Healthy Meets Delicious” by Diana Henry.
Corn Cake Stacks With Cheddar And Arugula
2 cups corn kernels, fresh (from about 2 ears) or frozen and thawed
1/4 cup finely diced red bell pepper
2 tablespoons cornmeal
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs, separated
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded aged cheddar cheese
2 cups baby arugula
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, stir together the corn, bell pepper, cornmeal, sugar, salt, baking powder and egg yolks.
In a separate bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. Fold the egg whites into the corn mixture.
In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat.
Working in batches, drop half the batter by scant 1/4-cup mounds into the oil, flattening them slightly with a spatula, and cook for 2 minutes per side, or until golden brown. Transfer to a baking sheet and repeat with the remaining batter and 2 tablespoons oil.
Divide the cheddar among the corn cakes and bake for 1 minute, just until the cheese has melted. Remove from the oven, top each with some of the arugula, and then stack 3 together, making a total of 4 stacks. Serve immediately. Serves 4.
Recipe from “The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Vegetable Cookbook” by Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell.
Eggplant And Tomato Risotto
1 large or 2 medium eggplants (about 14 ounces), cut into 1/2-inch dice (see cook’s notes)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
7 cups well-seasoned stock
1/2 cup minced onion
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1 to 2 garlic cloves (to taste), minced
1 pound tomatoes, grated (see cook’s notes)
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup dry white wine (see cook’s notes)
1/4 to 1/2 cup (1 to 2 ounces) freshly grated Parmesan
2 to 4 tablespoons minced fresh parsley or 1 to 2 tablespoons slivered fresh basil (to taste)
Cook’s notes: The eggplant ideally should be a long variety. The tomatoes also could be peeled, seeded and diced. Suggested wines include pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Season the eggplant with salt, toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Place the eggplant on a sheet of aluminum foil on a baking sheet and roast for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and carefully fold the foil up over the eggplant. Crimp the edges of the foil so that the eggplant is sealed in a big foil packet. Allow the eggplant to steam and cool inside the foil packet for 15 to 20 minutes.
Bring the stock to a simmer over low heat in a saucepan, with a ladle nearby or in the pot. Make sure the stock is well seasoned, and add salt and pepper if necessary.
Heat the rest of the olive oil over medium heat in a wide, heavy skillet or a wide, heavy saucepan. Add the onion and a generous pinch of salt and cook gently until it is just tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Do not brown.
Add the rice and garlic and stir until the grains separate and begin to crackle. Stir in the tomatoes, sugar, thyme and salt to taste and cook, stirring, until the tomatoes have cooked down and coat the rice, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the wine. It should bubble right away, but it shouldn’t evaporate too quickly. Stir until it is no longer visible in the pan.
Add the roasted eggplant to the pan. Begin adding the simmering stock, a couple of ladlefuls (about 1/2 cup) at a time. The stock should just cover the rice, and should be bubbling, not too slowly but not too quickly. Cook, stirring often, until it is just about absorbed. Add another ladleful or two of the stock and continue to cook in this fashion, adding more stock and stirring when the rice is almost dry.
You do not have to stir constantly, but stir often and when you do, stir vigorously, because it’s the stirring that coaxes the starch out of the rice, and the starch is what makes risotto creamy. When the rice is no longer hard in the middle but is still chewy (al dente), usually in 20 to 25 minutes, it is done. Taste now and adjust seasoning.
Add another ladle of stock to the rice. Stir in the Parmesan, parsley or basil and pepper to taste and remove from the heat. The mixture should be creamy (add more stock if it isn’t). Serve right away in wide soup bowls or on plates, spreading the risotto in a thin layer rather than a mound.
Yields 4 to 5 servings.
Recipe from “The Simple Art of Vegetarian Cooking” by Martha Rose Shulman.
String Bean And Potato Salad
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the boiling water and to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
6 scallions (white and light green parts), thinly sliced on the bias
1/4 cup large shards medium-aged pecorino
1 1/2 pounds fingerling potatoes or other small, thin-skinned potatoes, scrubbed
1 pound fresh green beans, yellow wax beans, or a mix
Edible flowers, for garnish (optional)
Whisk the mayonnaise, oil, vinegar, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper together in a medium bowl. Stir in the parsley, scallions and cheese.
Put the potatoes in a pot with water to cover. Add 1 tablespoon salt per quart water and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook the potatoes until they’re tender when pierced with a fork, about 20 minutes. Drain the potatoes and allow them to cool slightly. While the potatoes are still warm, slice them 1/4-inch thick. Put the slices in a large bowl.
While the potatoes are cooking, snip the ends off the beans. Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl. Bring another pot of water to a boil and salt it the same way you did for the potatoes. Add the beans and blanch them for 1 to 2 minutes, until they are just tender but still have some snap to them. Remove the beans and plunge them into the ice water to cool. (If you are using different types of beans, blanch them separately as cooking times will vary. Use a strainer to remove the beans from the water so you can reuse the water.)
Drain the beans and add to the potatoes. Pour on the dressing and toss to coat the beans and potatoes. Taste for seasoning and add more salt or pepper if you want. If you like, garnish with edible flowers. Serves 8 to 10.
Recipe from “Taming the Feast: Ben Ford’s Field Guide to Adventurous Cooking” by Ben Ford and Carolyn Carreno.