AMERICAN HOME COOKING. By Nika Hazelton. Viking. 326 pp. $14.95 NIKA HAZELTON, doyenne of American cookbook authors, deserves the accolades for American Home Cooking that her previous 20 volumes received. Born in Rome, reared in Switzerland and educated in England, she poses the question: "Why should I foreign born and bred, write about American home cooking? Because that's what I have cooked, well over two-thirds of my life, for an American husband and sons who, except for spaghetti, don't really like any other food."
Her observations about foods and the recipes from many sources and parts of the country are models of clarity and simplicity. She presents recipes for dishes that evoke nostalgia for American home cooking "before it was vulgarized by synthetic and convenience foods or scared into enept reproductions of foreign cuisines."
One of her best recipes is for M and C, which she calls "Superior Macaroni and Cheese." It is indeed a superlative dish, which she says is French Macaroni a la Bechamel incororating minced onions, cream, white wine and cheddar, "a good quality is essential." The author is sanguine about the comeback she sees in American home cooking and thinks it will continue. She bases that opinion on her observation that Americans are willing to devote a reasonable amount of time and work to produce, "without everlasting fussing," simple but satisfying dishes.
One of these is San Antonio Chili. Hazelton's recipe calls for beef -- chuck, round or sirloin only -- trimmed of all fat and gristle, then cubed, not ground. This makes good sense. So does her method of eliminating most of the fat from chicken before making "Old Fashioned Plain Chicken Fricassee." She simply skins the bird. ENGLISH BREAD AND YEAST COOKERY. By Elizabeth David. Introduction and Notes for the American Cook by Karen Hess. Viking. 592 pp. $17.50 ELIZABETH DAVID'S BOOD ON English bread shows how deserving this scholarly, practical author was of the decorations given her by Britain and France.
Her work is encyclopedic. Five years of research (in books and at the range) brings to this volume seemingly everything anyone would ever want to know about bread. This edition, with its introduction by Karen Hess, gives an American orientation to subjects such as flour, yeast, salt, sugar and cream, with sources for many of them and a section on weights and measures. aHess also worked closely with the author in preparing this edition -- computing American equivalents for British recipes and adding notes to some.
The book is written primarily for the home cook, for bread has traditionally been home produced, a tradition now resurgent after a slump when commercial baking prevailed.
A fascinating historical and background section covers every aspect of the subject, including the earliest methods of milling grain with crude stone mortors and pestles: Since the product went unsifted, human teeth from Stone Age skeletons are often chipped from eating the "primitive bread baked from stone-crushed grain." At the other end of the spectrum, David covers modern milling. For buffs who want to really start from scratch she includes material on handmills and where to buy them.
Some 200 recipes, clear and easy to follow, cover breads of every kind: white, rye, wholewheat and combinations of them. Included are traditional delicious breads (some seem more like cakes) unknown to most Americans, such as spiced Cornish saffron cake, yeast buns and crumpets. (Hess explains improvising crumpet rings with empty tuna cans.) French pizza and pissaladiere get deserved space. An entire chapter is devoted to French bread, for which a number of antique recipes are included for English adaptations of the baguette. For modern cooks, however, the author thinks it more realistic to concentrate on the English loaf "for which we have the materials and means." She refers readers who are determined to make French bread to recipes in books by Julia Child and James Beard. FRENCH CUISINE FOR ALL. By Louisette Bertholle. Doubleday. 492 pp. $19.95. LOUISETTE BERTHOLLE, coauthor with Julia Child and Simone Beck of Mastering the Art of French Cooking , has produced the masterly French Cuisine for All alone. It reflects many of the changes over the last 20 years in Gallic cooking -- which now concentrates more on simplicity and refinement to emphasize the natural tastes of foods -- but changes not so radical as La Nouvelle Cuisine. This comprehensive work includes a section on cooking techniques, valuable to both neophytes and enlightened amateurs at the range. Mousselines and unmolded souffles "that can wait . . . before being served" get preferential treatment "over the capricious classical souffles," although these are covered too. The traditional jus lie , or brown sauce thickened with cornstarch or arrowroot, is supplanted by a much lighter one which can be used alone or as a base for other sauces.
The author says in her introduction that she has also included some of her "little sauces" which are easy to make and delicious. This brings up an unfortunate lapse in an otherwise splendid volume, not in the recipes, which are well-written and clear, but where to find them: there are two indexes, one by general subjects in English, the other in French by recipes. The "little sauces" are not in the general subject index and in the French recipe index there is only one under "petite sauce pour asperges ." Presumably the others are under the foods they are intended for. But what foods? Similarly the directions for jus lie , although listed in the index, are part of the recipe for guinea hen with fruit sauce; but even then the information on what to do if it is to be used as a sauce rather than a base for one is in a footnote on an adjoining page. But don't let such imperfections keep you from a splendid book on French cookery. THE NEW ITALIAN COOKING, By Margaret & G. Franco Romagnoli. Atlantic-Little, Brown. 384 pp. $15 In THE NEW ITALIAN COOKING, the Romagnolis, restaurateurs in Boston and also authors of two other Italian cook books, bring traditional Italian cuisine into this age of food processors and other kitchen devices while still maintaining the integrity of Italian cooking. For instance although they set forth the simple method of making pesto in a processor or blender, they also spell out the mortar and pestle method. The same applies to pasta, but the Romagnolis recommended that one start out with the completely-by-hand method for homemade pasta and then go on to the processor and pasta machine operation.
Old recipes for many dishes are included along with several updates on the traditional. Some, such as Super-Quick Tomato Sauce, which uses tomato juice instead of the whole fruit, will give Aunt Giuseppena apoplexy. Other new ones, such as ravioli with hazelnut filling, (the hazelnuts are mixed with almond past and ricotta for the filling) are dangerously delicious. Indeed, a pastaphile could easily become a pastavore if he ate through the 140 pages on pasta dishes. Rissota dishes get complete treatment, including cooking rice in a pressure cooker. The authors endorse pressure cooking, even for the Italian version of corned beef and cabbage, which is a pleasing wrinkle in preparing this classic. They also recomment the pressure cooker for things such as ragu sauce that takes hours of simmering and stirring in the traditional way, but only 45 minutes with a safe cooker that is practically explosion proof.
Many new dishes are included such as Cornish hens with almond-prune stuffing. This is welcome news now that fresh birds are widely offered in and around Washington. They are infinitely better than the frozen ones.
The book is well organized and written with precision and charm. MAIDA HEATTER'S BOOK OF GREAT CHOCOLATE DESERTS. By Maida Heatter, Knopf. 428 pp. $15 CHOCOLATE MAVENS WILL salivate freely on reading Maida Heatter's complete, practical book on chocolate desserts which may in fact even increase the number of card carrying chocoholics. neophytes are guided through the processing of chocolate from the cacoa tree that produces the seeds to the manufacture of them into different kinds of chocolate: sweet, semi-sweet and bittersweet. Mail order sources for these are listed. Kitchen equipment for chocolate cookery is explained as are some basic techniques in dessert preparation such as fool proof methods of separating eggs, melting chocolate, measuring ingredients, adding dry and liquid ones, folding them, preparing pans and cookie sheets, making bread crumbs, wrapping cookies, decorating and freezing cakes.
Heatter details about 350 pages of recipes grouped under general headings -- cakes, pastries, cookies, cold and hot desserts -- and further, under more specific ones like cheese cakes (five recipes), chocolate chip cookies (11 different types), cakes with fruit (five are included.
Heatter leads with Craig Claiborne's Rum Chocolate Dessert and dedicates her book to that renowned chocomaniac. She also includes interesting chocolate anecdotes such as the story of Prince Metternich asking Viennese chef Edward Sacher to produce a "dense, solid masculine cake." The result was, of course, the famouse Sachertorte.
This is such a well produced bood with recipes that cooks at all levels of skills should be able to follow with tasty results.