4 Excellent Cookbooks from Norton

I have to admit that as an avid food enthusiast and food writer I have a surprising lack of interest in owning cookbooks. I love to look through them for ideas, but I often find it more fulfilling to create a recipe than to follow one. However, this is not the case with an armful  of books that Norton has published over the past year.

My Calabria: Rustic Family Cooking from Italy’s Undiscovered South is an amazing book filled with incredible recipes and methods for making your own… well, everything. Using family recipes and methods, Rosetta Constantino illustrates how to collect and dry your own herbs, make your own preserved meats, dry your own fruits and vegetables, make cheese and bread, hand roll pasta and infuse your own liqueurs. All this alongside delightful  dishes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, and appetizers. Each recipe is steeped in Calabrian tradition and beautifully presented with photographs by Sarah Remington and commentary written with Janet Fletcher. I guarantee you that even the cook who thinks they can make everything will have a million things to learn from this book. $35.00

The Perfect Finish: Special Desserts For Every Occasion is written by pastry chef Bill Yosses and New York Times food writer Melissa Clark. This is my favorite cookbook this season. I lack a lot of confidence in baking, mostly because I am not a huge fan of sweets so I rarely look for a reason make cakes or cookies etc. The few things I love to make tend to be a little salty or caramelized. Well, this is an entire book of recipes like that. Every single page has something remarkable and delicious on it. This is not a cookbook filled sugary sweets you expect to find in most pastry shops, this is a cookbook filled with deserts you expect to find at a high end restaurant, or indeed, the White House where Yosses is the current pastry chef. The combination of beautiful and amazing recipes and Melissa Clark’s easy to follow writing makes this an absolute gem. Particularly his recipe for making flat, chewy, chocolate chip cookies, a recipe I have since made dozens of times and been told by everyone who tries them that they are the best cookies they have ever had. $35.00

Speaking of the New York Times, this year Amanda Hesser recently released the Essential New York Times Cook Book: Classic Recipes for a New Century, a book she tested over 1,400 recipes to write. Collected from recipes printed in the New York Times over the last 150 years, this book has everything. I mean literally everything. Cocktails, snacks, soups salads, whole sections on potatoes, corn and legumes, 3 sections on different types of meat, breakfast and brunch, bread, baking, frozen deserts, sandwiches, savory pies, and that is less than half the list in the contents. It’s as if the New York Times decided to do a celebrity version of the Joy of Cooking, with recipes from favorite food writers like Julia Child, Mark Bittman & Jamie Oliver. Each recipe was hand picked her after surveying devoted New York Times readers for their favorite recipes, an absolute must have for any food lover. $40.00

Jim Lahey’s recipe for no kneed bread remains my favorite bread of all time. It is something I still make on a weekly basis, even after 4 years. My Bread is an expansion on the recipe he released to the New York Times years ago, covering a wide variety of grains and variations for everything from crusty loaf bread to pizzas to foccacia, and an entire section on sandwiches. I cannot recommend this book enough. For any bread lover, even those with an acute fear of baking, this recipe is hands down the best. $29.95

My Bread by Jim Lahey | A Recipe

my breadIt is easy for me to recommend My Bread because I have been using Jim Lahey’s recipe for no knead bread ever since it was published in the New York Times almost 3 years ago.  It is a flawlessly simple recipe as well as versatile. It is based on the idea that modern bread recipes are all about saving time, putting your own labor into the bread to get what would normally take a day in a matter of hours.  Instead, Lahey’s method lets time and yeast do the work.  I have recommended his basic recipe to countless friends and acquaintances, and rarely have been met with anything less than extreme enthusiasm. And let me just say. I am not a baker.  I preserve, I cook, I make everything I can from scratch, from tomato sauce to pesto, to jams and pickles to yogurt and kombucha. But I very rarely bake.  Cookies, cakes, pies, breads, unless it’s a casserole I usually leave it to my boyfriend, so it’s no surprise that he is the one who initially discovered this recipe; but over the years I have learned to love this one particular baking project, and to make it my own.  It’s what I have always called a Fougasse (due to the shaping and haphazard baking method I use), and Jim Lahey has perfected into a Pizza Bianca.  It’s a beautiful upscale version of my very simple but very delicious adaptation. His book includes 40+ bread variations, recipes for sandwich ingredients from meats to spreads to vegetable preparation,  recipes for his classic panini, and what to do with left over stale bread.  In my eyes, this the bread book to end all bread books.

As part of my recommendation for this book, I’d like to share my enthusiasm for it’s publication by posting my adaptation for the Fougasse.

(cross posted on bramblings)

The Fougasse:

Adapted from Jim Lahey’s recipe via Mark Bittman  in the New York Times

fougasse 03

Introduction: A Fougasse is a traditional French hearth bread shaped into an ear of wheat.  A hearth bread, is a bread used to tell the temperature of an oven.  They are simple breads that rarely fail, and can be cooked at a variety of temperatures, making them perfect finicky ovens and spacey bakers.  The full time for this recipe from start to finish is anywhere from 6-18 hours depending on the weather.  Most of this will be resting time, with only about 15-20 minutes for baking, and about 10 minutes of work.

Ingredients:

3 cups of all purpose flour (plus extra for dusting)

1/4 teaspoon of active dry yeast (instant is fine)

1 1/4 teaspoons of sea salt

olive oil

1 Tablespoon coarse sea salt

1-2 sprigs of fresh rosemary

Method:

  • in a large bowl combine all ingredients, adding almost all of the water- reserve a little just in case the air is damp, and if you use it all and need a little more that’s okay too.  It should be shaggy and sticky but not particularly wet or well formed.
  • cover with plastic wrap until bubbles form along the surface, anywhere from 6-18 hours.

SIDE NOTE: To give you an idea here, living in Philadelphia where we see some extremes from dry cold weather to damp hot weather, we would let the bread rest for around 18 hours in the dead of winter when we kept our house very cool and dry, and 6 hours in the middle of summer when it was extremely humid and our average house temperature was about 85-90.  In my experience, during lesser extremes you usually end up waiting about 10-12 hours.

  • when the top of the dough is flat and dappled with bubbles, dump it onto a well floured work surface and fold it over on itself twice, covering it again with the same piece of plastic, and let it rest 15 minutes.
  • in the mean time, get out a baking sheet and line it with parchment, or oil a cookie sheet generously with olive oil.
  • after the dough has rested, begin stretching it into a giant triangular shape and place it on the parchment or oiled baking pan.  you may find it easier to stretch it once it is on the pan
  • dust it lightly with flour and cover it again with plastic, allowing it to rest until well risen (usually about 1-2 hours).  It will look puffy when it is ready

fougasse 01

  • preheat your oven to 475 F
  • remove the plastic (don’t worry if it sticks!) and drizzle generously with olive oil, and sprinkle liberally with a coarse sea salt
  • remove the leaves from a couple of sprigs of fresh rosemary, and sprinkle them around the dough
  • with a sharp knife, slice upwards from the center, starting at the wide edge and working up
  • bake 15-20 minutes or until golden
  • serve immediately

Available At Logos
My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method

by Jim Layhey with Rick Flaste Founder of the Sullivan Street Bakery
$29.95