At one time in my life, I collected cookbooks with the same zeal I had once reserved for Partridge Family trading cards, bought and hoarded at the tender ages of nine and ten. Those cards, with their colorful, often amusing stills from the TV show, allowed me to indulge my innocent crush on Keith Partridge, my pre-adolescent love interest. Every time Topps released a new series, I ran out with my pocket change to buy a pack. Or five.
Later, cookbooks – with their colorful eye candy photos – fed the more sophisticated crush I had on good food and cooking. For a while, I bought books at almost the same rate as I did the cards: every time the newest, the coolest, the showiest showed up on the shelf, I had to own it. Same habit, you see, in grown up version…a more costly version. And more cumbersome too. When I finally said “enough” to collecting, my bookshelves groaned with the weight of close to one hundred books, and these had moved homes with me around a dozen times. For grownup crushes on things like books, shoebox storage won’t cut it.
Eventually I quit collecting: I cancelled the cookbook club subscription, ignored the pleas for my return to the club fold, and passed by all the artful displays of soft-core cookbook porn in every last book store I browsed, eyes fixed straight ahead. I weeded my books and donated dozens that I had never used or even perused to our local library. Now, when I want to look over a newly released book of recipes, or merely ogle a food book’s softly lit photos of voluptuous vegetables, I often opt for checking out the books from the same local library instead in order to give it a test drive.
But every once in a while a cookbook will call my name, ask me to give it a good home. This special book will be both beautiful and useful (my favorite quality in many things these days), and it will promote the kind of cooking that is just my style, only my style given some new and fresh twist. When I see this kind of book, I can’t resist it. I have to own it.
For me, and I think for you too, Home Made Summer by Yvette van Boven is this season’s must-have.
Yvette van Boven is proprietor of the Amsterdam restaurant Aan de Amstel. She is a cook, illustrator, and author of two previous cookbooks, Home Made and Home Made Winter. All three books capture her enthusiasm for fresh foods, reflecting the meals and catered goods coming out of the restaurant kitchen and inviting the reader to bring a little fresh and home made to gatherings with family and friends.
This new volume, with its emphasis on summer’s huge bounty of produce, holds recipes that are lighter with fewer steps. In van Boven’s own words, “Summer offers so many fresh fruits and vegetables that there’s almost no need to cook them…on hot summer days, few people are keen on spending long hours in the kitchen anyway.”
That’s not to say the book is all about tossing salads. Instead, it’s about making wise although minimal intervention to food as it goes from field or stream to plate. Fish is fresh and simply prepared to highlight the freshness. Meats are rubbed with summer herbs before being thrown on an outdoor grill in order to keep the kitchen cool. If you want a little more challenge, learn to make pork rillettes (a lessy fussy form of paté, perfect for the less fussy summer table), herbed goat’s milk ricotta to enhance your summer salads, your own bitters for cocktails, your own drinks syrups. Van Boven features an entire spread on infusing oils and vinegars with unusual spice combinations or garden herbs and fruits, giving solid information about how to do this safely too. Easy, yes, but her combinations are intriguing (cinnamon and saffron, anyone?) and will inspire you to take your own creative flights of fancy, both in flavor combinations and uses for the concoctions you bottle up.
As you read and then cook with the book, you will be charmed by the photos (taken by van Boven’s husband, Oof Verschuren) and van Boven’s own whimsical food illustrations. This book packages gorgeousness and good eating with unusual but practical recipes: irresistible, trust me.
Lucky for us home cooks, Yvette van Boven is in the US for the next few weeks to promote the book. Here’s a list of places where you might meet the author, buy the book and also get it signed. For more detailed information about each, check out Yvette’s website.
April 7, 2pm 92Y Tribeca, New York / Eat, Drink & Think Like…Napoleon
April 9, 7:30pm Greenlight Bookstore, Brooklyn, NY
April 10, 6pm Terrain, Westport, CT
April 11, 6pm Stone Barns Center/Cookbook Club, Pocantico Hills, NY
April 13, 12-2pm ICA, Boston/ Eat Boutique lunch
April 13, 4pm Brookline Booksmith, Boston, MA
April 14, 2-5pm Kitchenwares, Boston, MA
April 16, 7pm Trident Bookstore Café, Boston, MA
April 18, 12pm Rakestraw Books, Danville, CA
April 19, 6:30pm Draeger’s, San Mateo, CA
April 20, 3-4pm Omnivore Books, San Francisco, CA
April 21, 1pm Book Passage, Ferry Building, San Francisco, CA
April 22, 7pm Books Inc, Berkeley, CA
I wish I could be at one of the Boston events, but – as you may remember – I will be away. To get myself in the mood for Italy, its food and customs, I joined a great group of area bloggers a couple of weeks ago at a pizza making class led by Shelly Green, an Italian cooking instructor with her own company called Italy Eats, based in Beverly Farms, Massachusetts.
Shelly invited us into her teaching kitchen for a complimentary lesson, and it turned into a great night full of pizza, wine, and song. Her Italian husband, Ralph, manned the in-home wood burning pizza oven while family friend, Carlo, serenaded us with a combination of Italian folk classics and his own compositions, employing only his voice and guitar. You can read more about the feasting at North Shore Dish; I can’t top friend Jill Rose’s review of the entire evening.
None of us was under any obligation to promote Italy Eats after our free lesson, but I think classes such as this one make for a fun evening, and I suspect some of my readers will too. Learning to cook like a native of any country is one way to learn about and experience another culture without ever leaving home. Italian cooking is a great place to start: the food, of course, is delicious, and its intent is to bring folks together in happy gatherings, much like our night with Shelly in Beverly Farms. Every one of us left smiling, and that wasn’t just the effect of the good wine that flowed.
Good wifi willing, I will be posting photos and brief blogs from the road, and I have lots of fun planned for you – food market walks, meals, a vineyard, Rome, Florence, and some of the Tuscan countryside. Yet another way for you to have the experience even though you won’t actually be on the road with me.
If you would really like to get into the spirit of Italian travel while I’m on the road, but can’t get there right now, check out one or all of these stories set in that country. All are available at the library, all have been made into movies or television series; see Italy without leaving your armchair.
- Summer’s Lease by John Mortimer
- Don’t Look Now and My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier
- The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan
- any of Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti mysteries
- any of Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen police procedurals
If, instead, you’d like to join me from your kitchen, here’s a simple recipe to try at home. April is artichoke season in Rome, and although I won’t be able to get to Ladispoli’s annual artichoke festival, I do plan on eating my fair share of the exalted thistle. Here’s a way for you to get your own fair share.
Carciofi alla Romana
(adapted from Gourmet magazine, March 2002)
- juice of 2 lemons in a large bowl of cold water
- 6 large artichokes (10 to 12 oz each)
- 1 cup water
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided use
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley, plus extra for sprinkling at the finish
Add the lemon juice to a large bowl and fill this two-thirds full with cold water. Set the bowl aside.
Hold onto the stem of the artichoke and, at opposite end, cut off top inch of 1 artichoke with a serrated knife. Bend back outer leaves until they snap off close to base, then discard several more layers of leaves in same manner until you reach pale yellow leaves with pale green tips.
Cut remaining leaves flush with top of artichoke bottom using a sharp knife, then pull out purple leaves and scoop out fuzzy choke with melon-ball cutter. Trim dark green fibrous parts from base and sides of artichoke with a sharp paring knife. Cut 1/4 inch from end of stem to expose inner core. Trim sides of stem (still attached) down to pale inner core.
Once the artichoke bottom has been trimmed completely, submerge it in the bowl of lemon-water. This helps keep the artichoke from turning brown. Trim and submerge remaining artichokes in same manner.
Put the remaining one cup of water and oil in a 4-quart heavy pot.
Mince and mash garlic with ½ teaspoon kosher salt, then mix in the parsley. Rub one sixth of garlic paste into cavity of each artichoke bottom, then stand artichokes upside down in liquid in pot.
Sprinkle remaining ½ teaspoon salt over artichokes, then simmer, covered, over low heat, until tender, about 20 minutes (begin checking at 15 minutes). Transfer artichokes to a serving dish.
Boil cooking liquid, whisking, until emulsified and reduced to about 1/3 cup. Pour sauce over artichokes and serve warm or at room temperature.
©2013 Jane A. Ward