601 Cookbooks

Spring Greens

Question of the day: Which of your cookbooks is your absolute most favorite, page-worn and splattered from use?

People who collect cookbooks seem to enjoy counting their spoils. Since I’ve been collecting cookbooks for more than 20 years now, the other day I thought I’d count them (it must have been a very quiet day). I counted the books in the kitchen, strewn around on tables and floors, and in the dining and living rooms. I got up to 320. I didn’t venture down into the basement, where I know I have at least that many, and probably more, nor did I figure in the stack that lives next to my bed. After all that counting, I decided it would be much more useful if I’d spent my five minutes of free time cataloging my cookbooks.

This is what J would say, and for once I agree: Counting is so boring.

Admittedly, I don’t use every single one of my cookbooks. Sometimes they sit on the shelves for years before I notice them. And, every once in a while I actually have to let some go to good causes, to make room for new ones.

Out of the 600-plus cookbooks I own, I’d estimate I use or look at the same two dozen or so over and over again. One of them is Nigella Lawson’s How to Eat. I have all of her other books, but this is her best, in my opinion. It doesn’t have any photographs or illustrations at all – none of those money shots of Nigella licking chocolate off a spoon – just lots of personal writing and recipes.

My copy is paperback, and pages are falling out even after I’ve taped and glued them back in. The book falls open to one of my very favorite recipes, Lemon Linguine on page 230.

I’ve made many versions of this recipe, but my current version, with crème fraiche and lots of fresh vegetables, seems so Spring-y.

Pasta Shells with Green Vegetables and Lemon Cream
Serves 4

1 cup each trimmed asparagus, green beans and broccoli, cut into bite-size pieces
1 pound dried pasta shells (conchiglie)
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup crème fraiche
Zest and juice of 1 large lemon
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (try using a premium brand like Plugra for this – it’s worth it)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Throw in a good handful of salt. Add the vegetables and cook 3 minutes; scoop them out with a slotted spoon and plunge into a bowl of ice water. Drain.

Add the pasta and cook until al dente.

While the pasta is cooking, find your biggest serving bowl. In the bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, crème fraiche, lemon zest and juice, cheese, salt and pepper. Just before draining the pasta, scoop out about 1/2 cup of the cooking water and add to the egg yolk mixture, whisking.

Drain pasta; add to the bowl with the vegetables and butter, tossing gently to coat with sauce.

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Copyright (c) 2007 FamilyStyle Food

Brown Sugar Brownies with French Sea Salt

Time for a chocolate fix

Every once in a while, my sluggish sweet tooth wakes up and reminds me it’s time for a hit of chocolate. I suspect it has a little bit to do with the dew point, the Dow Jones average, Tony Soprano’s anxiety level and the price of tea in China. When certain things line up a particular way, well, watch out. I’ll be on the prowl for chocolate.

It’s a good thing I have a stash on hand for just those moments. It makes it so easy to wander into the kitchen and mix up a pan of deep, dark, moist chocolate brownies.

I strayed from a basic brownie batter by using some brown sugar and fancy fleur de sel because I wanted to intensify the flavors. But now I’m thinking I should have used some of the salt to sprinkle over the top of the ganache icing, to really point up the flavor. Yes! In fact, that’s what you should do if you happen to make these.

Update:
Fellow blogger Myriam at Once Upon a Tart is hosting Brownie Babe of the Month – check out her round-up of delicious brownies from the blogosphere….

Brown Sugar Brownies with Fancy French Sea Salt
makes about 16 bars

8 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
3 eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or flaked sea salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon corn syrup

Heat oven to 325 degrees.

Line an 8-inch square baking pan with a sheet of overhanging parchment paper.
Melt the butter in a small pan over medium heat. Stir in 8 ounces of the chocolate over low heat until melted and smooth. Cool 10 minutes.

In a medium bowl, beat eggs with vanilla and the two sugars. Add the chocolate mixture and stir until blended. Fold in the flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt just to incorporate.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 35 minutes, or until edges are firm and center is still slightly soft. Remove from oven and cool completely on a wire rack. Remove brownie in one slab and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until cold, at least an hour.

Place the cream in a heatproof glass measuring cup and microwave on high for 30 – 40 seconds. Pour over the remaining chocolate in a small bowl and let sit 30 seconds. Add the corn syrup and stir until completely melted and smooth.

Set brownie slab on a rack over a large piece of parchment or waxed paper. Pour ganache over the center of the slab and gently spread to the sides. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt over the top. Let set about 1 hour before slicing into bars – use a knife that has been heated under hot running water, wiping the blade clean after each cut.

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Copyright (c) 2007 FamilyStyle Food

Quick and Rustic Pappardelle

Whole Wheat Pappardelle with Creamy Sundried Tomato Sauce and Toasted Walnuts

I had a rare afternoon off the other day – lunch with a friend and then a quick pit stop at Soulard Market – the oldest farmer’s market in the country west of the Mississippi.

I went in search of fresh farm-raised rabbit, which I’ll be cooking up tonight. (I know, what is it with me and little farm animals?)

While strolling the aisles, I found the stand of Pappardelle’s Pasta, an artisanal pasta company from Denver. They had an eye-catching display of dried pasta shapes in all colors and sizes, but I restrained myself to trying just one flavor, toasted-onion whole wheat pappardelle. The noodles cooked up beautifully – not too mushy or starchy. I’m already planning another trip to try some other flavors.

Pappardelle with Creamy Sundried Tomato Sauce and Toasted Walnuts
makes 2 entrees or 4 side dishes

1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup oil-packed sundried tomatoes, drained and finely chopped (I use my mini food processor for this), or prepared sundried tomato pesto
4 ounces soft goat cheese
1/2 cup chicken broth or water
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
8 ounces dried pappardelle
Italian parsley leaves
1/4 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped

In a large deep pan over medium heat, saute the onion in the oil with a pinch of salt until softened. Add the tomatoes and cook about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the goat cheese and broth and simmer until cheese is melted into the sauce. Keep warm.

Cook the pappardelle in a large pot of boiling, salted water until al dente, about 6 minutes depending on the brand. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water before draining.

Combine the pasta and parsley with the sauce, tossing gently. Add pasta water as needed to thin as desired. Serve sprinkled with walnuts.

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Copyright (c) 2007 FamilyStyle Food