By all accounts the pressure cooker is making a comeback. It has been redesigned, given additional safety features and promoted as an energy saver. It has retained, nonetheless, the image of the prim maiden aunt among kitchen utensils. Pressure-cooked foods may be convenient and healthful, but usually they are drab to look at and, having been overcooked, drab on the taste bud, too.
In "Pressure Cookery Perfected" (Summit, $12.95) Roy Andries De Groot seeks to change all that. Following a formula he used with "Cooking with the Cuisinart," he dispenses technical information (including comparisons of the various brands) and then unveils a wardrobe of recipes that will entice modish cooks whose taste is for international recipes with flair and color.
"Pressure cooking, in reality, returns the control of family nutrition to you, the home cook," De Groot writes, aiming a broadside at so-called convenience foods with their "additives and artificial chemicals." He follows with recipes for Yankee bean stew with mixed sausages and vegetables, stuffed veal chops with Canadian bacon and gruyere cheese and Chinese cucumber submarines, to cite only three.
De Groot's writing, although elegant, verges on the rococco and there is more than a hint of snobbery in even his "everyday" wine recommendations. Yet, he has produced a second book that goes far beyond riding the wave of a cookware fad: Those who own - or are planning to buy - a pressure cooker and aspire to use it creatively will be well served with a copy of "Pressure Cookery Perfected."
(The author pointed out in a recent conversation that not all of the recipes in the book - yeast breads for instance - can be executed with a cooker that works only at 15 pounds of pressure.)
DeGroot makes passing note of consumer concerns about food processing and convenience foods. To my colleague Marina Burros, in her attractively packaged Pure & Simple (Morrow, $9.90, it is the issue. Her book contains "recipes for additive-free cooking . . . with up-to-date advice on avoiding ingredients that contain chemical and preservatives."
Readers of the Washington Post's Food section have had the first look at much of the reporting that supports an introduction explaining Burros' "metamorphosis from user of convenience foods to lovers of basics." Many of them also have requested copies of do-them-yourself-at-home "convenience" items (instant breakfast, "help for hamburgers" and others) she has composed. These recipes are the first ones encountered and will be welcomed by economy-minded homemakers across the country.
But what should give "Pure & Simple" even wider appeal is its underlying philosophy. Despite her passionate concern about the safety and quality of our food supply, Burros feels cooking and consuming food should be acts of pleasure and festivity. There is no hint of Calvinism in a dessert called "Double Chocolate Threat" or "Salmoa with Sorrel."
"Moderation is the key," (to proper eating) she writes, "so I would be the first to say that many of the recipes in the book are not appropriate as a steady diet." But they are, as a collection, remarkably varied and tempting. They represent a wide range of ethnic styles and complexity, yet - in keeping with the title - some of the easiest are also among the most sophisticated.
Cooks who follow this section regularly will recognize a good many and can attest to their workability and popularity.
Another writer who has taken a theme usually surrounded with dogma and infused it with a welcome injection of joy is Anna Thomas. Her The Vegetation Epieure Book Two (Knopf, $12.50) is so sincere a celebration of food and good taste that even the most devout carnivore should clean a plate for second helpings before asking for the roast.
Clear brown type on buff paper and skillful line drawings relax the reader. Her recipes are international and universally fresh and tempting. A selection of menus gives an early hint of what an unusual and pleasurable tour awaits the cook, or even the casual reader. India, Mexico, Spain, and Italy are major sources of inspiration. There are breads, preserves and relishes and even a recognition that life - and food - can seem better when supplemented with a glass of wine.
A book of vegetable origin particularly appropriate at this season is Marjorie B. Zuchker's The Squash Family Cookbook ($3.95). It is a modest and sincere pamphlet of 80 recipes written to benefit New York's School of Musical Education. The recipes not only read well, but reflect the author's individual taste, something that is too often lacking in committee-organized cookbooks for charity. The presentation is very professional. As the author suggests, the book would be a fine house present as part of a weekend in the country or would make a good gift to a home gardener. Order a copy for yourself, too, from SME Cookbook, 57 West 94th St., New York, N. Y. 10025. Checks should be written to School of Musical Education.
There are timely recipes, too, in The Complete Book of Beans (Hawthorn, $8.95). While such absolutist titles are irritating, the author, Jacqueline Heriteau, has proven herself among the most dependable of compulsive cookbook writers. The recipes are solid, often stimulating and - if you think you've tried everything - concoct a "Lima Bean Fruitcake" and see how many in the family guess the mystery ingredient.
For meat eaters, and lover of refinements of the table, Random House has just published a valuable guide to carvery. Carvin and Boning Like an Expert ($4.95, paperback) is the work of Oreste Carnevali, whose skills are on view daily at New York's Four Seasons Restaurant.
Carnevali dissects fowl, beef, fish and even fruit. His description are accompanied by line drawings and advice on choice of knives, platter arrangement and presentation. Although European born and trained, he is quick to recognize that carving is not a male preogative these days and right to assert that proper technique has practical as well as asthetic value.
How often are people put off from preparing a whole bird, roast or fish for fear of having to cut it up? Yet in terms of cost, quality and flexibility, the whole is often a better buy than the sum of its part.
Some flights of fancy in the book should be reserved for the haute cuisine kitchen. (If ever I buy a whole filet, for example, none of it will be cut away and reserved for "boeuf bourguignonne or stroganoff.") There is enough hore, however, to fascinate even the truly expert knife wielder, and for the rest of us "Carving and Boning Like an Expert" is an investment that should quickly be repaid.
To learn how to carve properly, it is necessary to practice. One source is recipes that should prove popular at this time of year is Maggie Waldron's Fire & Smoke (101 Productions, $4.95). The book contains an impressive array of international recipes intended to be prepared over charcoal. It is packaged with the usual expertness that has become a hallmark of 101 books. It was promoted as the "perfect gift cookbook for Father's Day," but with several months of outdoor cooking weather ahead, it's not too late to buy it now.
Oreste Carnevali is one of the few Italians or lovers of Italy who is content these days to write a book about food that doesn't include recipes. A quartet of new volumes celebrating Italian cookery has arrived recently. Of them the most useful is Nika Hazelton's no-nonsense compendium The Regional Italian Kitchen (M Evans, $14.95).
A writer of considered good taste and a skillful cook, she know Italy well, but has opted to produce a practical volume rather than a romantic fantasy. The ingredients are available here.Techniques (such as cleaning squid) or terms that may not be well understood are explained without condescension. There is no attempt to be encyclopedic, but this book will be used by caring books at all levels of expertise far more often than those ambitious and elaborate works that find a place on a coffee table rather than in the kitchen.
One such book is The Big Book of Pasta (Crown, $10). Even at the close of a large meal, a glance at almost any of the photographs would stimulate the gastric juices. But the book is unwieldy and overblown, and the author's comments often are didactic. She and her friends from whom she has borrowed recipes may be good cooks, but there are few surprises in the preparations.
Wilma Pezzini's The Tusean Cookbook (Atheneum, $10.95) is a personal work, too. An American who lives in Tuscany, she has sent a valentine to Italian cuisine to her native country. But too much of Italy remains in terms of hard or impossible to find ingredients and her recipe directions are sometimes awkward or difficult to execute.
A much better buy for the pasta fancier who is not a chef is Spaghetti Al-I'taliana (Alandarth, $8.95) by Alessandro d'Annarba. The book offers 49 recipes, directions for making pasta at home and half-a-dozen special sauce. It is very much a textbook, with ingredients and step-by-step instructions listed on facing pages. Enough garlic, anchovies and pepper are included, however, to give the reader confidence that these recipes have little in common with those given our in home economies classroom or on the sides of tomato sauce cans. WILLIMANTIC SUMMER SOUP (4 servings) 1 can condensed cream of celery soup 1 cup ice cubes 1/4 cup sour cream 1/2 cup diced uncooked zucchini (or cucumber) Fresh tarragon, dill, parsley and/or chives. (Reserve some for garnish.)
Place all ingredients in a blender jar and blend until the chunks of vegetable and ice disappear. Garnish if desired.
This soup need not be made in advance but can be produced on demand.
-From "The Squash Family Cookbook" ESPRESSO MOUSSE (12 to 15 servings) 1 envelope unflavored gelatin 1/4 cup cold water 1 cup brewed extra-strength espresso coffee 1 cup sugar 2 cups heavy cream 3 tablespoons brandy 1 teaspoongrated lemon peel 1/2 cup chopped toasted almonds or chopped walnuts 3 egg whites 1/4 teaspoon salt
Sprinkle gelatin over 1/4 cup cold water to soften. Heat the coffee and 3/4 cup sugar in pan until sugar dissolves. Add gelatin to hot mixture and stir to dissolve gelatin; cool. Pour this mixture into a shallow dish which can go into the freezer. Freeze for 45 minutes or until mixture is solid 1 ich round edge, no more. Pour mixture into cold bowl; beat until smooth and creamy. Whip cream until soft peaks form; fold into coffee mixture with brandy, lemon peel and nuts. Beat egg whites with salt until foamy. Gradually beat in remaining 1/4 cup sugar, beating until stiff peaks form. Fold into coffee mixture. Spoon into 2 or 2 1/2 quart souffle or similar serving dish and refrigerate for several hours or overnight, until firm
-From "Pure & Simple SAN FRANCISCO HAMBURGERS (Makes 4) 1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef Coarse salt and pepper 1 cup good burgundy 4 tablespoons butter 1 cup finely chopped fresh herbs (parsley, green onions, or whatever happens to be available) 1/4 cup Chinese oyster sauce ( available in Oriental markets and some supermarkets) 4 thick slices sourdough French bread
Lightly season the meat with salt and pepper. Shape into 4 large patties around 4 little ice cubes. Put on the grill and cook until nicely charred, rare and juicy, turning once. This should take about 8 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan combine wine, butter, and herbs and reduce to about half. Add oyster sauce and mix well. Pour over hamburgers set on thick slices of bread.
From "Fire & Smoke" BEANS, MACARONI, AND SAUSAGE CASSEROLE (6 to 8 servings) 2 2/3 cups (1 pound) dry small white beans 6 cups cold water 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 1 pound fresh pork sausage 1 large clove garlic, peeled and minced 1 can (16-ounces) whole tomatoes 3/4 cup dark corn syrup 2 tablespoons fresh chopped basil or 1 tablespoon dried basil 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon dried oregane 1/4 teaspoon black pepper 1 package (3 ounces) elbow macaroni, cooked
Wash and pick over the beans. Combine the beans with the water in a large kettle, bring to a boil, boil 2 minutes, remove from the heat, cover, and let stand 1 hour.
Return beans to the heat, bring to a boil, and simmer 2 hours, or until the beans are tender. Drain, reserving the cooking liquid.
Heat the oil in a large, deep skillet and brown the sausage and the garlic. Break the sausage into bits and cook until it is all crispy brown, about 15 minutes. Add the tomatoes, corn syrup, 1 cup of the bean liquid, basil, salt, oregano, and pepper. Break up the tomatoes and mix skillet contents well. Cover, reduce heat, simmer 15 minutes. Stir in the beans and cooked macaroni, cover, and simmer 15 minutes more over medium-low heat.
-From "The Complete Book of Beans"