WHY IS IT that in summer, when finally there is time to cook, the hot weather conspires to deaden appetities and the desire to cook? It's more agreeable to read about recipies than to prepare them; more fun to savor the description of a gastronomic adventure than to participate in one.
Here, then, is a multi-course literary banquet. Most of the books have been published recently and may be available at local bookstores. All of them are in print and therefore, if not in stock, can be ordered.
The Cuisine of Venice & Surrounding Northern Regions was published last year by Barron's ($15.95). It is a book both beautiful and practical and I regret not having discovered it earlier. The authors are Hedy Giusti-Lanham and a chef named Andrea Dodi, with whom she teaches cooking in New York. Giusti-Lanham should win the hearts of her adopted countryfolk almost immediately as she writes, "I have lived and cooked happily in this country for many years now and I have come to the conclusion that there is no Italian dish that cannot be duplicated with American ingredients or with (imported) ingredients available in most parts of this country."
She is rightly critical of the value of some cooking aids, such as dried parsley and basil; asks that sauces, even tomato sauce, be cooked briefly to preserve a sense of freshness, and admits her work is not "classic." There are statements and views to debate, but what facet of Italian cuisine, and culture for that matter, is not debatable and debated? The book itself is genuinely Italian in spirit and taste but of practical value to American cooks. One will learn a good deal about risotto and polenta and find a spectrum of useful recipies.
"The Cuisine of Venice" is misleading on two counts, however. Venice is only a touchstone. The book really is a compendium of (mostly) northern Italian recipies and lacks, for example, the wonderful spectrum of fish and seafood recipies found in a 1963 Macmillan book, "Venetian Cooking." Also, while the cover photograph is of a dish and bowl of pasta, the author writes in her introduction, "There are relatively few pasta dishes included in this book."
At times the seemingly unending diet of gimmick cookbooks produces a winner. Such is the case with Cooking in a Small Kitchen (Little Brown, $8.95) by Arthur Schwartz. An apartment dweller with even modest cooking ambitions should make this part of his or her basic library. Schwartz, whose Newsday food articles appeared occasionally in this section before he became food editor of the New York Daily News, has the eclectic taste and culinary curiosity of modern America. He cooks bigos from Poland, "explode-in-the-mouth" chicken from China, fudge pie from the Caribbean and otherpreparations once thought to be too exotic for home cooks. The recipies are concise and the book's organization is truly admirable. In addition to the necessary presentation of equipment and logistics for small-kitchen cooking and the inevitable chapters on soups, pasta and salads, he presents two chapters on specific cooking techniques - skillet cooking, and broiling and roasting. Then he builds from one-pot dinners to dinners for two, for four and on to party food. Two other appealing and appropriate features: "Cooking in a Small Kitchen" is both small in size and inexpensive to purchase.
The Book of Latin American Cooking by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz (Knopf, $15) will be a valuable addition to the North American cook's culinary map of the world. Ortiz broke new ground in her earlier works on the cooking of Mexico and the Caribbean. While Latin American cooking is not unknown here and books on specific national cuisines, such as Brazil's, have been published in English, "The Book of Latin American Cooking" appears to contain enough information and recipies for any but the most dedicated purist cooks. Ortiz has a repuration for scholarship and her introduction makes it clear that she has done considerable on-site research.
"Seviche," she writes, "...almost certainly originated in Polynesia and like all migrant dishes has evolved in its new home; I have found versions of it all over Latin America .... I think the best seviches I've ever had were in Ecuador. They are quite different from the Mexocan variety though not wholly unlike those from Peru since bitter (Seville) oranges are used in both countries."
The recipies are arranged by type (meats, rice, etc.), not by country. For the cook wanting something new or different for family or entertaining, many of them offer novel twists, especially in the soups, fish and poultry categories.
On this continent, as in Latin America, Indians were utilizing native resources for cooking long before the arrival of Europeans. A reflection of the ingredients and food preparations of early Americans is contained in a nicely produced paperback called Native Harvests by Barrie Kavasch (Vintage, $5.95). According to the author, the book "reflects the native usage of wild and cultivated botanicals, both indigenous and introduced species. In keeping with the style of food preparation 500 to 1,000 years ago in North America, the recipies collected here should be used merely as $&(WORD ILLEGIBLE springboards, guides to tastier, more creative cooking."
Summer cooking, or how to avoid it, is nearly an annual cookbook theme and this year proves no exception. Perhaps I'm jaded, but the overall impression left by Summer Feasts by Molly Finn (Simon and Schuster, $11.50) and The Summerhouse Cookbook by Chirs Casson Madden (Harvest/HBJ paperpack, $5.95) is that there is nothing new under the (summer) sun. As the title suggests, Finn's book contains the more ambitious recipies and by far the more stylish. There are several attractive soups and salads, but ratatouille, pesto and shrimp boiled in beer? We learned those last summer and the summer before. In "The Summerhouse Cookbook" a Draculian Daybreak turns out to be a bloody mary, bluefish is baked with lime juice instaed of lemon juice, Endive Dories (boats) are an out-of-season vehicle for chicken liver pate. There are some novel twists: rum is added to a curreid squash soup and honeydew melon is used as the basis for a cold soup. But to me this picnic basket contains too many freshly garnished leftovers.
Other books worthy of attention in specialized catetories include Entertaining the Slim Way by Lou Seibert Pappas (Addison-Wesley, $5.95 in paperback) and Marlene Sorosky's Cookery for Entertaining (HP Books, $5.95). The prolific Pappas also has produced a new volume on International Fish Cookery (101 Productions, $5.95 in paperback), Dorothy C. Frank's Cooking With Nuts (Potter, $12.95 cloth or $6.95 paper) gives information and recipes for more than a dozen different types of nuts.
The food processor continues to inspire books. Of the latest trio, the most substantial is Jean Anderson's Processor Cooking (Morrow, $14.95). Anderson doesn't just turn on the machine and run to the stove. She presents a thorough and useful list of processes (such as beating or blending) and how to do them, and another recommending how to treat specific foods. A third feature is a table of measurement equivalents for processed foods. There are a goodly quantity of recipes, which reflect the restrained worldliness of one who has produced "The Family Circle Cookbook."
The other two are The Ultimate Food Processor Cookbook, which isn't, (it's by the editors of Consumer Guide in Fireside paperback, $6.95) and Chinese Cooking the Easy Way by Dee Wang (Elsevier/Nelson, $8.95), which takes a lower-middle-borw approach to authenticity, while offering tips on how best to utilize your mechanical coolie to minimize all that preparatory slicing and chopping.
Of local interest: The Food Lover's Book of Lists (New American Library, $4.95 in papaer). Compiled by Patricia Altobello and Deirdre Pierce, two Washington food writers, is a great deal of fun. The fund of trivia is nearly endless, from an honor roll of "junk" foods to a list of produce cultivated in 2,000 B.C. Another by Roy Pingo, is The Eggs Act Cookbook. It is on sale at the Kitchen Bazaar stores. Pingo has the egg appear in different roles in his three-act kitchen drama: Crepes, omelets and quiches with some unusual variations and costumes appearing in each act.
Farther afield and of interest to collectors of regional recipes: The Best Cook on the Block Cookbook, edited by Peggy Daum of the Milwaukee Journal and Bayou Cuisine from St. Stephen's Espicopal Church, Indianola, Miss. To order the former, send a $5.95 check or money order made out to Newspapers, Inc. to the Milwaukee Journal Public Service Bureau, 333 W. State St., Milwaukee, Wis. 53201. For the latter, send $10.95 to Bayou Cuisine, Box 1005, Indianola, Miss. 38751.
MY FAVORITE TOMATO SAUCE
(Makes 2 cups)
1 clove garlic
8 tablespoons very fine olive oil
3 large ripe tomatoes, or the equivalent of canned, peeled, seeded and chopped
Salt and freshly ground balck pepper
5 or 6 leaves fresh basil, chopped, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
Rub the inside of your skillet with the clove of garlic, then discard the garlic. Heat the olive oil and, when it is very hot, add the tomato pieces. Add the salt, pepper and basil and stir the ingredients with a wooden spoon. Once the mixture has begun to cook simmer it for 5 or 6 minutes, but no longer. If the tomatoes aren't quite ripe, they will take a little longer to lose their raw appearance, but by all means don't allow the sauce to cook so long that it gets brown.
Serve this sauce very hot over the pasta of your choice, then sprinkle with 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated.
Note: If you use dried basil, you don't chop it, of course. Whereas the dried will add some flavor to your sauce, it does not compare to the taste of fresh basil.
- From "Cuisine of Venice"
CHICKEN AND SPINACH SALAD
3 scallions including green tops, finely chopped
2 large cloves garlic, minced
Juice of 1 large lemon (3 to 4 tablespoons)
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
3 to 4 cups cooked chicken, cut in bite-sized pieces
1 to 2 pounds fresh spinach
2 small zucchini, diced
Make the dressing. (Beat together with a fork: scallions, garlic, lemon juice, oil, salt, pepper and dill.) Combine it with the chicken and let it marinate in the refrigerator for an hour or so. Trim the stems from the spinach and wash it carefully by swishing it around in several changes of cold water.Shake off as much water as possible and dry the spinach in a salad spinner or on towels. Just before serving, put the spinach and raw zucchini in a salad bowl, add the chicken and toss until the leaves are well coated with dressing. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
- From "Summer Feasta"
SEVICHE DE CORVINA
(Bass Marinated in Lime Juice)
(6 to 8 servings)
1 1/2 pounds fillets of striped bass, or similar fish, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup lemon juice
1 cup bitter (Seville) orange juice*
1 fresh hot red or green pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, chopped
Salt, freshly ground pepper
1 cup vegetable oil
Put the fish into a large glass or china bowl and add the lime or lemon juice to cover, adding a little more if necessary. Refrigerate for about 3 hours, or until the fish is opaque, "cooked" by the lime or lemon juice. Drain. Transfer to a serving bowl and mix with the bitter orange juice, pepper, onion, garlic, salt and pepper to taste, and the oil. Serve with Maiz Tostada (Tasted Corn) on the side. (FOOTNOTE)
* If bitter (Seville) orange juice is not available, use 1/2 cup lime or lemon juice and 1/2 cut orange juice. (END FOOT)
- From "The Book of Latin American Cooking"
CARIBBEAN FUDGE PIE
It is definitely worth resorting to a good frozen pie shell in order to make this, but I've also included a recipe for a chocolate wafer crust if you want to go to the trouble of making this a double chocolate fantasy. The filing has the advantage of being entirely prepared in a small saucepan.
1/4 cup butter
12 oucnces semi-sweet chocolate
1/4 cup rum
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons instant coffee powder
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup coarse-chopped walnuts
1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell
1/2 cup walnut halves for top (optional)
In a small saucepan, cimbine the butter and chocolate. Over very low heat, let them melt together.
Stir in the rum, brown sugar, coffee powder, eggs and flour, in that order. It should be a smooth mixture. Stir in the chopped walnuts.
Pour into the pie shell, then, if desired, decorate top with walnut halves.
Bake in preheated 375 degrees oven for about 25 minutes or until filing is puffed and pastry edge is lightly browned. Cool thoroughly before serving. Serve at room temperature topped with whipped cream if desired.
Chocolate Wafer Crust
24 chocolate wafers
1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
In a blender or food processor pulverize the wafers into fine crumbs. (If you have the space, you can instead crush the wafers with a rolling pin between sheets of waxed paper.)
In a mixing bowl, mix together the crumbs, butter and cinnamon. Press mixture into an ungreased 9-inch pie plate. For a baked pie shell to be filled later, bake in a preheated 375 degrees oven for 5 minutes.
- From "Cooking in a Small Kitchen"
EGGPLANT AND TOMATO BISQUE
(6 servings, about 50 calories each)
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 small eggplant
1 cup pureed Italian plum tomatoes, or about 2 large ripe tomatoes
3 cups chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 clove garlic, chopped
Freshly chopped basil
Place the onion in a heavy saucepot and let cook in a dry pan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. Cut the eggplant into wedges, sprinkle with salt, and let stand 15 minutes for the juices to exude. Rinse, peel and chop. Add it to the onions, along with the tomatoes, chicken stock, salt, pepper and garlic. Cover and simmer 10 minutes, or until eggplant is tender. Puree in a blender or food processor. Return to pan and reheat. Ladle into bowls and garnish with basil. If you prefer, add a dollop of pesto sauce instead.
- From "Entertaining the Slim Way" CAPTION: Illustration, no caption, By Susan Davis for The Washington Post