The best of this year's selection of cookbooks proves that taste indeed is cyclical. We Americans (or the publishers who try to guess what will sell) are rediscovering our culinary roots. Regional books are gaining national distribution. Julia Child has tossed off her French chef's toque, if not her "bon appetit!"
The mad scramble to document the cuisine of yet another nation or nationality, no matter how sparse it is, has eased. Of the outstanding works on international food this season, two are written by Americans. The lone book of note to pass through translation is "The Nouvelle Cuisine of Jean and Pierre Troisgros," (Morrow, $12.95) and the humble origin of some of the book's finest dishes only underlines the current enthusiasm for simplicity, something that would be gourmets frowned on as unchic only a few mousses ago.
It would be too bad if fans of French cooking avoid this book because of the difficulities presented by Micheal Guerrard's complex "Cuisine Minceur" and the large volume of recipes from Paul Bocuse. While truffles, woodcock and partridgesare on display here, so are chicken, pork and potatoes. To an astonishing degree the Troisgros, whose three-star Michelin restaurant is located west of Lyon in Roanne, honor their provincial heritage and their vow of (relative) simplicity.
Roberta Wolfe Smoler has done the most successful job yet of translating the French chefs' intentions into recipes with which the amateur cook can cope in a home kitchen.The brief instructions in the French edition have been expanded and the translator interjects suggestions for substitutions. Like all works by professionals, however, a great deal remains unsaid or unspecified. These books really are not practical for beginning cooks or even for those who lack the frame of reference provided by cooking-school training or the taste experience of extensive dining in French restaurants.
Julia Child knows all that and she, more than any other individual, brought French cooking to Americans with the precise, patient approach she followed in the two volumes of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." This year she has contributed a companion volume to the 13-show TV series "Julia Child & Company" (Knoff, $15 hardcover, $8.95 paper). She offers 13 complete meals for entertaining, including recipes that are not demonstrated on camera plus some bonus recipes and tips. "Julia," as it seems she is known by nearly everyone, make corned beef hash, scrapple, New England fresh fish chowder and Peking chicken wings. But her French techniques and sense of seasoning are never far away. The menus are carefully planned and should ease entertaining worries considerably.
Perhaps becuase of the pressure of producing the book (done in collaboration with Peggy Yntema) while shooting the series, the minute detail of the "Mastering" books is missing and the delivery of instructions is somewhat staccato. But anyone of normal kitchen competence should grasp what's going on and there are excellent color photographs, some of them technique shots, to help the cook prepare and present the various dishes.
Another teacher who has been a trailblazer in unwrapping the mysteries of a foreign cuisine is Marcella Hazan. Her "The Classic Italian Cook Book" was just that, a classic presentation of Italian recipes for American cooks. Now she is back with "More Classic Italian Cooking" (knopf, $15).
Hazan's work is marked by care, craftsmanship and her remarkably catholic tastes. There'sa section on breads-including pizza, plenty of pasta and veal dishes and a baker's handful of ice creams. Like the Troisgros, she takes delight in honoring supposedly humble vegetables, such as the cabbage. As a result the book has an almost rustic tone, but her preparations never become coarse or clumsy. It should be in the kitchen of every Italian and would-be Italian restaurant in America. "More Classic Italian Cooking" is a work worthy of its predecessor and a logical extension of the earlier volume, In fact, the two should be though of as one.
Italy inspired another book, Elisa Celli's "Naturally Italian" (Dutton, $12.95). Celli, writing with Inez M. Krech, argues that Italian food is not nearlyas heavy as its detractors say. In her view, it can be light, appealing and only moderately caloric. She then provides a succession of succulent recipes to support her case, some of them "recast to make them less fattening. "The hard part may be restricting yourself to the modest portions she recommends, but that part of what she says is "not a diet cookbook. It's a style of eating that is a way of life."
For those who have heard the myths but never tasted the realities of "Tex-Mex" food, a small book produced by two local women of Texas extraction, Rue Judd and Ann Worley, would be a welcome gift. It's called "It's a long way to Guacamole" and contains nearly 150 recipes as well as 10 menus and a quartet of mixed drinks. Instructions are brief but to the point. Esoteric ingredients are avoided and seasonings are strong but well below the macho showoff level. The book is well packaged and cleverly illustrated. It is on sale at several local bookstores and by mail from J & W Tex-Mex Publications, P.O. Box 983, Arlington, Va. 22216. The cost is $5.75 for non-Virginians, $5.95 (with 20 cents sales tax) for virgina residents.
From Texas itself comes a beautiful regional book called "Flavors." It has been compiled by the Junior League of San Amonio. Mexican seasonings run through its 400 pages, but there is a sprinkling of other flavors, too. Treacle scones from Scotland, couscous from North Africa and "old fashioneds" from the Naval War College are among them. There are less exotic dishes standbys such as spaghetti casserole and a salad of canned and fresh fruit. At $9.50 by mail, it is the cookbook bargain of the year. For 50 cents extra, the Junior League will gift-wrap the book and enclose a card. Mail orders should be sent to "Flavors," The Junior League of San Antonio, Texas 78215.
Gertrude Harris, who thoroughness and kitchen savvy was demonstrated in "Pots & Pans", has turned her attention to "Pasta International" (101 Productions $5.95 in paper). It will come as no surprise that a fair share of the recipes are of Italian inspiration, but Harris deftly tossed in Oriental, Eastern European and even a Caribbean recipe. Her approach to cooking is enlightened without being archly gourmet, making this a good choice for new cooks or those seeking variations on basic themes. Another generic book with at least a faint Italian accent is "A Book of Vegetables" by Marina Stern (Lyceum,$13.95). Author Stern, who also provided the drawings for this beautifully packaged book, is Italian, which isn't a bad place to start because Italy is justly famous for its vegetable cookery. What's she's done is good. There are appealing alternatives for such standbys as carrots,eggplant, beets and spinach. But the inspiration for the recipes is almost exclusively Europe or the Middle East. There's nothing of the Orient, Africa or South America. As a result there is more repetition of preparation than there need be.
There were less Chinese cookbooks this year than there have been for sometime. Not that it's all been said, as Henry Chung proves in "Henry Chung's Hunan Style Chinese Cookbook" (Harmony Books, $10). Hunan's cooking is as hot as that of Szechuan but more varied. Chung's interpretation of the cuisine of his native province is on display at two very successful San Francisco restaurants. His book, laced with folklore and some solid cooking tips, achieves the difficult taste of making the recipes feasible to prepare at home. Anyone who is fascinated by the cooking of China will want to own it.
The best-seller among this season's cookbooks (six weeks on the New York Times' list) is Marian Burros' "Pure and Simple" (Morrow,$9.95). A much larger public than the food industry imagines is obviously eager for advice on how to avoid additive-riddled foods, how to prepare their own "convenience" foods and how to cook native and international recipes unadored by exotic or expensive ingredients. Burros' recipes run a gamut from corned beef and roast corn in foil to Burmuda fish chowder and a "low-callast minute souffle." The introduction provides a concise summary of the controversial issues that have made food and nutrition a political battleground.
For the slim at-heart, Barbara Gibbons has expanded her horizons and prepared a global recipe tour in "The International Slim Gourmet Cookbook" (Harper & Row, $13.95). Gibbo is has adjusted recipes to keep the calories (listed after each recipe) under control. She uses some commercial products as well as some canned and frozen ingredients. She is, she says, writing to the supermarket shopper, trying to offer a common sense approach to keeping weight off. In the main, she succeeds.
Chicken, an ever-popular subject, has been drawn, quartered, roasted, sauteed and poached by Carl Jerome in "The Complete Chicken" (Random House,$12.95). The book isn't "complete", of course. No book on chicken could be. ButJerome has come up with some fine modern and upbeat recipes. Furthermore, he has the good sense to recommend a series of flavored butters and oils that provide variety when serving roast chicken as easily and effectively as changes of clothing for humans.
The paperback book market appears stronger than ever. A pair of hardcover gems now in paper that would be an addition to any cook's collection are Jacques Pepin's "La Technique" (Wallaby, $8.95) and "The Delectable Past" by Esther B. Aresty (Bobbs-Merrill, $7.95). In hardcover, Pepin's book sold for $25. The color photos are missing from the paperback, but the exceptional step-by-step photos of nearly 50 separate kitchen techniques are intact. Pepin, a chef of note in France,has taught widely in his country. He sticks to each lesson, writing with brevity and leaving rhetorical flourishes to those who have less to say.
Aresty is both a cookbook collector and a cook. The hors d'oeuvre tray of literary tidbits she offers is woven together with skill and affection and illustrated by her own updated translation of historic recipes. It is a lovely book.
A third paperback of value to cooks, if not to collectors, is Jeannette Seaver's "Soups" (Bantam, $1.95). Seaver is a talented cook and there are some gems among the 200 recipes she has included in this collection.
Of specialized interest are: "Grandma Rose's Book of Sinfully Delicious Snacks, Nibbles, Noshes & Other Delights"(Random House, $10). Rose Naftalin, who baked her way into the heart of Portland, Ore, had a popular hit with her book on cakes, cookies and other dessert items. The appetizers offered here aren't very exciting, but she shifts to baking about halfway through, then comes up with a three-song encore that will delight her fans: pecan fudge cake, black forest cake and black forest torte.
ty Harrington has written a valuable guide for seagoing cooks. It's "The Sailing Chef" (Walker, $9.95). There are recipes here, about 150 of them, and a thoughful exposition on what the steward/cook should do before and after the sails are set.
Brief lucid and light. "The Backpacker's Budget Food Book" by Fred Powledge (David McKay, $3.95) should be a great help to those whose sense of adventure leads them overland instead of onto the water. In addition to the knowledgeable tips, the author writes his recipes in two parts: preparations at home and how to finish the recipes in the field.
"Artists' Cookbook, Conversations with 30 Contemporary Painters and Sculptors" (The Museum of Modern Art, $8.95) is not so much for artists as for any cook in search of an eclectic collection of offbeat recipes and several broad brush strokes of humor. The range is extraordinary-from Salvador Dali's favourite ortolans en papillote Lassere to Audrey Flack's teen-ager's hamburger for one. The spiral-bound paperback is distributed by Harry N. Abrams and should be available through bookstores as well as at the museum in New York.
BRAISED PORK WITH ONION SAUCE
(4 servings) one 2-pound pork shoulder roast with bone, or one 1 1/2-pound boneless pork tenderloin with 1/2 pound additonal bones 3 cloves garlic Salt Freshly ground pepper 7 tablespoons butter, in all 1 3/4 pounds onions (about 5 onions), thinly sliced 1 large potato, peeled and sliced Bouquet garni (sprigs of thyme and parsley and a bay leaf, tied together) 4 cup milk 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped parsley
Choose a pale piece of pork with a slightly rosy cast. Peel the garlic, and split each clove in two, lengthwise. Make 6 small incisions aroung the meat and stuff each one with a piece of garlic. Season with salt and pepper.
Preheat oven to 325 degress. Melt 1 1/2 tablespoon of butter in a casserole and over medium to low hear, slowly brown the pork on all sides. Allow about 20 minutes for this operation.
At the same time, melt the remaining butter in a saute pan and cook the onions, turning them frequently, until soft and golden. Add the onions to the pork with the potato and bouquet garni.
Bring the milk to a boil and pour it over the meat. Cover the casserole and place it in the oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Baste and turn the meat several times during the cooking.
Remove the pork from the casserole and place it on a deep heatproof serving platter. Keep it warm in the turned-off oven.
Discard the bouquet garni, and pass the onions, potato and cooking liquid through the fine blade of a food mill. You should obtain a sauce the consistency of a light puree. Skim off all surplus fat and taste for seasoning. Make sure that there is enough pepper.
Note: After smimmering the pork in the sauce, I preferred to present it sliced, napped with a band of sauce and with parsely scattered over all.
-From "The Nouvelle Cuisine of Jean & Pierre Troisgros"
SPAGHETTI COI CANESTRELLI
(Thin Spaghetti with Scallops)
Seafood, of any kind makes wonderful sauce for pasta. Of all the recipes I've tried, up and down Italy's long coast, there is none I have found more delectable than this. And none so lightning quick to prepare.
The scallops are cut up very small, to the size of canestrelli , the miniature Italian scallops. They are sauteed in olive oil, garlic, parsley, and hot pepper. That is the sauce. When it is tossed with the pasta, toasted bread crumbs, are added. 1 pound fresh bay or deep-sea scallops 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 tablespoon garlic chopped fine 2 tablespoons chopped parsley 1/4 teaspoon or more chopped hot red pepper (see note in recipe), dried or fresh Salt 1 1/2 pounds thin spaghetti or 1 pound if using high-quality imported Italian spaghettini 1/2 cup unf lavored bread crumbs, lightly toasted in the oven
Rinse the scallops in cold water, pat dry thoroughly with cloth kitchen toweling and cut up in pieces about 3/8-inch thick. Put the oil and the chopped garlic in a saucepan and saute over medium heat until the garlic turns a light gold color. Add the parsley and hot pepper, stirring once or twice. (Note: it is difficult to tell in advance just how hot the pepper is going to be. Put in 1/4 teaspoon at this time. When you taste the sauce a little later on you can add more if you think it is needed.)
Add the scallops and 1 or 2 large pinches of salt. Turn the heat on to high and cook for about 1 minute, stirring a few times, until the scallops turn a flat white. Turn off the heat. Cook the pasta in 4 to 5 quarts of salted boiling water untl it is al dente , or firm to the bite. Bear in mind that thin spaghetti cook very quickly. When the pasta is nearly done turn on the heat under the saucepan with the scallops to high. Stir rapidly and taaste, adding salt and hot pepper if needed. If you see the scallops throwing off some liquid, do not attempt to boil it away. You would toughen the scallops and lose a very tasty part of the sauce. Do not heat the sauce for more than 30 or 40 seconds altogether.
Drain the pasta the moment it is done, tossing it vigorously in the colander to shake away all the water. Transfer to a warm serving bowl, mix in the scallop sauce and the toasted bread crumbs, and serve at once. No grated cheese is required here.
From "More Classic Italian Cooking"
OYSTER BISQUE DEAUVILLE STYLE
(Serves 4 to 6) 1 quart oysters, freshly shelled, including oyster liquor 2 cups chicken stock 2 cups bread crumbs 2 celery stalks, diced 1 small onion, sliced 1 teaspoon thyme 1/2 cup finely chopped parsely 1 teaspoon tarragon 1 bay leaf 2 cloves Pepper and salt 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg 3 cups milk, scalded 4 tablespoons sherry 1 cup cream, mixed with 2 egg yolks
At your fish market, ask the oysters to be shelled and that you be given the oysters and liquor in two separate containers. (This said, if you enjoy opening oysters, by all means do; but lack of oyster-opening prowess should not deter you from enjoying this dish), Finely shop the oysters. In a kettel, put stock, bread crumbs, oyster liquor, celery, onion, thyme, parsely, tarragon, bay leaf, cloves, pepper and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce flame to low. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Discard cloves and bay leaf. Puree contents of kettle. Return to kettle and bring back to a boil. Reduce to very low. Add oysters, nutmeg, the scalded milk and sherry and cook for 3 minutes. Stir in cream-and-egg yolk mixture. Add the sherry. Do not reboil. Serve.
(l servings) 2 pound eggplant, unpeeled 1 small onion, finely chopped 1/2 cup vegetable oil 2 tablespoons flour 2 teaspoons curry powder 1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice 2 tablespoons butter 1 tablespoon parsley, finely minced Salt and pepper
Cut the unpeeled eggplant into 3/4-inch cubes. Heat the oil in a large skillet and fry the eggplant cubes, tossin frequently, until tender and lightly browned on all sides. This will take 10 to 15 minutes. Drain the eggplant on paper towels and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Keep the eggplant warm while you prepare the sauce.
Discard whatever oil remains in the skillet and add the butter. When it has melted, cook the onion for 5 minutes or until transparent. Stir in the flour and curry powder and slowly pour the hot broth into it, stirring constantly until the sauce has thickened. Simmer the sauce for 2 minutes, add the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.
Return the eggplant cubes to the sauce in the skillet and cook over the medium heat, while stirring, until well heated. Turn into a serving dish and sprinkle with parsley.
-From "A Book of Vegetables"
LAMB WITH PEPPERS
Time: 20 minutes
Calories: 345 per serving 4 green peppers 2 onions, 3 ouces each 2 tablespoons olive oil 2 garlic cloves, peeled 4 lamb steaks cut from the leg, 6 to 7 ounces each Salt and black pepper 1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried oregano 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper 1/2 cup white wine
Wash and trim peppers, discard ribs and seeds, and cut peppers into long strips no wider than 1/2 inch. Peel and chop onions. Heat oil in a skillet large enough to hold the steaks. Push garlic through a press into the oil and saute for 1 minute. Saute lamb steaks over brisk heat until lightly browned on both sides. Transfer to a plate and sprinkle lightly on both sides with salt and black pepper. Add onions to skillet and saute until translucent. Add pepper strip, and saute, turning often, for about 5 minutes, until peppers arealmost tender. Sprinkle in oregano and red pepper and pour in wine. Return steaks to the skillet, cover, and braise for 5 minutes, until lamb is done to your taste. Serve with rice.
Variations: Lamb steak can be found in supermarkets: if not, your butcher can cut them for you. If you can't find them, lamb shoulder or blade chops are good prepared this way.
-From "Naturally Italian"
HOT STUFFED AVACADOS
(6 servings) 6 tablespoons vinegar 3 cloves garlic, sliced in half 3 avocados, halved 2 tablespoons butter 2 tablespoons flour 1 cup light cream 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce 1 1/4 teaspoons salt 1/8 teaspoon pepper 1/4 teaspoon celery salt 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper 1 teaspoon grated onion 2 cups cook crabmeat, lobster, shrimp, ham, chicken or turkey 1/2 cup grated Cheddar cheese Toast "boats"
Place 1 tablespoon vinegar and 1/2 garlic in each avocado half and let stand for 30 minutes. Melt butter, blend in flour, slowly add cream and cook, stirring frequently until thickened. Add Worcesthershire, salt, pepper, celery salt, cayenne, onion and crabmeat. Heat mixture thoroughly. Remove vinegar and garlic form avocados. Peel acocados and fill with creamed mixture. Sprinkle with cheese, place in baking dish and add about 1/4 inch water in bottom of dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until cheese melts.
Avocados may be garnished with pimiento stuffed olives and served on a bed of lettuce or in toast "boats."
Toast "boats": Butter 6 thin slices bread with crusts removed. Place each slice into an individual baking dish large enough for avocados. Bake at 350 degrees until lightly toasted and firm. Place avocado into toast "boat". Garnish with parsley and thin slices of tomato, being sure tomato does not touch toast.
From "Flavours, the Junior League of San Antonio"