Back in the early days when The Food Network seemed more focused on serious cooking than on competition shows and celebrity, Jamie Oliver, a British chef, made his debut on the network in 1999 with a series called The Naked Chef. As might be inferred from the show’s title, Oliver took a minimalist approach to home cooking, stripping recipes to their bare essentials.
I was a fan then and still am, after twenty years of watching him on television and reading his books at home. Recently, while viewing our local PBS channel here in San Diego, I came upon what I believed to be his latest show, 5 Ingredients—Quick & Easy Food. After watching several episodes, I purchased the eponymous book spawned by the series. All the beautifully illustrated book’s recipes do actually adhere to the limit of 5 ingredients, except for kitchen staples like salt and pepper, olive oil, vinegar, etc. and most can be prepared relatively quickly, making them perfect choices for weeknight cooking. Many of the recipes can also be found online on Oliver’s website.
Never before have I’ve been flooded with so many requests from friends and family to make a recipe that they saw in The New York Times. Heck, even The Times itself e-mailed me several times about the same dish. Although, I had already come across this cannellini bean and pasta recipe on my own when it first appeared, I didn’t find it all that exciting. I must admit, however, that upon reading the recipe’s backstory and why its developer chose to use a classic French beurre blanc, I became more interested.
Sometimes a recipe doesn’t turn out the way you hope. Such was the case this weekend when, inspired by a post by friend and expert food writer, Diane Darrow, about a stuffed pork-shoulder roast, I set out to make one. That our local Whole Foods was having a sale on pork butt motivated me even more to attempt to replicate Diane’s success. Attributing her recipe to one in an old issue of “Saveur,” she provided an illustrated account of her adaptation of the recipe capped with a photo of the finished roast. It looked so good.
Once again, I have to attribute the origin of yet another blog post to my better half. A couple of weekends ago, we were watching an episode of “Lidia’s Kitchen” on our local PBS channel. As she was cooking, I remarked that my only disappointment with Lidia Bastianich’s show is her neglecting to provide exact measurements for key ingredients to a dish.
While I continue to maintain she does it to promote sales of the cookbooks on which her shows are based, Andrew more forgivingly attributes it to Lidia’s being a “q.b.,” or “quanto basta,” chef, an expression found in Italian cookbooks that means “just enough” or “as much as you think you need.” However, when he recently surprised me with a copy of Lidia’s Commonsense Italian Cooking, which he “happened” to order after watching the aforementioned episode, I’m sticking to my “profit-motivated” position.
Whenever my skeptical aunt was underwhelmed by somebody’s claim of having made an earth-shattering discovery, she’d make the sardonic aside “Beh! Ha fatto la scoperta di Cristoforo Colombo.” (“Eh! He made the discovery of Christopher Columbus.”) Well yesterday, which just happened to be Columbus Day, I was similarly underwhelmed by my discovery in the fridge of a pork roast that had reached its use-by date. First off, it meant that I would have to abandon the pasta recipe I had planned on for today’s post. Moreover, I had already done my shopping for the day and wasn’t up for a return trip to the market to look for any special ingredients that might be required by a pork-roast recipe.
One problem led to another this weekend, which eventually led to cancelling a dinner party and leaving me with a bunch of potatoes and a plethora of chicken thighs. The problematic weekend also took its toll on writing a post for this blog, which I wasn’t able to get to until today.
After all the drama, I really wasn’t up to cooking last night but needed to put those spuds and thighs to good use. It’s at times like these that I turn to reliable favorites among my cookbooks for a no-brainer recipe requiring minimal prep and cleanup. It didn’t take me long to find one that met these requirements: Baked Chicken with Potatoes and Lemon. It’s from Michele Scicolone’s 1,000 Italian Recipes, one of the most comprehensive and dependable collection of Italian dishes there is.
For my last birthday, a dear friend gifted me with a subscription to the New York Times “Cooking” website. Although I had been tempted to subscribe, given my ever-growing number of cookbooks, I doubt that I would have ever done so on my own. For the last few months, however, prompted by the site’s daily email updates, I’ve become a frequent visitor and have grown even more grateful for the gift.
Sometimes the way I feel dictates what I cook. Such was the case the other night when I returned from the hospital after my husband underwent emergency surgery. He had been in severe pain and the anguish on his face conjured up in my mind images from Gustave Doré’s illustrations for Dante’s Inferno.
I was going to skip dinner but knew I’d need my strength to face the next day. After finding some left-over marinara in the fridge, I decided on something fast and easy that mirrored my dismal mood: Uova in Purgatorio, Eggs in Purgatory, a dish I’ve written about before here. Somehow, served on a thick slice of toast, they provided the comfort I needed.
When the publication of an intriguing New York Times Cookingrecipe for crisp gnocchi coincided serendipitously with my finding a forgotten shelf-stable package of those dumplings in the back of my cupboard, I had to make the dish.
Ever since losing my cookbook library to a flood from super-storm Sandy, I’ve been rebuilding it slowly. Since many of the books in my original collection are now out of print, I’ve been relying on used-book sellers both local and online. One book I was especially happy to secure, at an affordable price, is Jeanne Carola Francesconi’s La Cucina Napoletana. Close to 700 pages in length, it’s a treasure trove of classic Neapolitan recipes, often succinctly written, with many ingredient measurements marked “q.b.” which means “quanto basta,” Italian for “just enough.” Given her laconic style, I’m pretty certain that Francesconi had relatively experienced cooks in mind as her audience. But even a novice one can acquire an understanding of authentic Neapolitan cuisine, which today seems sadly to have been overshadowed by its Northern counterparts or bastardized by many popular chain restaurants.