The best thing about reviewing summer food books is that literally everything is on the table. The Vegetables. The fruits. The fish. All the ingredients—all fresh and available, a little literary finger Beckoning you to create some wonderful meal, an alfresco feast for friends, or a feast to stimulate Your imagination and food lust. Welcome to the bounty of summer in New England! Happy cooking!
V IS FOR VEGETABLES; Inspired Recipes & Techniques for Home Cooks
Author: Michael Anthony
Photographs: Maura McEvoy
Publisher: Little Brown
You are going to want to own this book. You might even become a little obsessive once you do and find yourself keeping it in your car as you roll up to the farmers market or grocery store. Please do not confuse this book with a vegetarian cookbook (although a vegetarian will be ecstatic to receive it). Michael Anthony is the executive chef of Gramercy Tavern and of Untitled, two New York city dining standouts. V is for Vegetables is a top chef’s celebration of how to cook dinner with fresh vegetables at the center of the plate. Every recipe is a love story, and each chapter is lettered, like a dictionary, starting with “A” for artichoke and ending with “Z” for zucchini. It’s a tutorial with recipes for how to re-imagine vegetables in a starring role. For example, here are the entries for the letter “S”: glazed salsify & carrots; scallion pancakes; sweet & sour shallots; spinach & garlic puree with scallops; spinach egg crepes; steamed clams with scallion and tarragon sauce; Swiss chard shakshouka; sautéed chard arancini…And that’s just one letter! The recipes are scrumptious, well written and beautifully presented. We at Edible Boston loved the book so much that we didn’t care one jot that the author plies his trade in the Big Apple. It’s not that far from here to New York!
LOBSTER SHACKS; A Road Trip Guide to New England’s Best Lobster Joints
Author: Mike Urban
Publisher: Countryman Press
Dear to our hardy hearts, next to finding the quintessential New England inn, is zeroing in on the iconic New England lobster shack. From the South (i.e. Connecticut and Rhode Island), to the North—Acadia and Down East Maine—Mike Urban joyfully profiles each “joint,” sharing the vitals (phone, location, website) and the color (who owns it, why they do it and what makes each shack special enough to be included). Here and there, there is lobster history, tips on disassembling the perfect lobster basic lobster lingo (I’d always wondered what a “cull” was) and enough sass about each place to make you want to jump in a car and head east, or south, or north or just down the road for a lobster roll (gaining in popularity across the country, says Urban!), or the full-fledged lobster do, with corn, bib, crackers and all. Using Urban’s book as a guide, you could make a weekend out of the quest. And why not? What could be more fun than trolling the coast for the perfect lobster roll from shack to joint to shack?
Publisher: America’s Test Kitchen
You are having a dinner party. You know that one guest is vegetarian (or at least flexitarian). Another tries to eat gluten-free. And then there are the did-it-come-from-a-five-mile-radius types. And, after taking into account all of that, you realize that one of the party just shed a significant amount of weight on a paleo diet. What to do? This books helps. It’s full of good meat and protein-centric dishes that won’t offend any dining preferences and make the paleo prescription a lot more palatable, and even fun to make. How about a main dish of Smoky Braised Clams with Kale? Well organized, (it is from the America’s Test Kitchen folks after all), Paleo Perfected is a handy handbook, replete with tips and suggestions for variations on the theme of each dish. Each recipe (all eminently, obsessively follow-able) opens with a section on “Why this Recipe Works.” We liked that. It’s a chatty, distilled version of a Cook’s article that covers everything from what to look for when you buy frozen scallops, to reminding you not to buy a turkey breast that is bigger than seven pounds when you are making a turkey breast with shallot-porcini gravy. See what we meant about making it all sound palatable?
ICY CREAMY HEALTHY SWEET
Author: Christine Chitnis
Publisher: Roost Books
Just in time for steamy summer afternoons is Christine Chitnis’ idea filled book for homemade frozen healthy treats. From ice pops to slushies, snow cones and ices, from dairy-free ice cream to ice cream sandwiches, this attractive slim book has recipes that come from actual ingredients— not things you can’t pronounce. Chitnis developed these treats for her own young family and it’s easy to see why her boys are happy campers. Cones (there is even a recipe to make your own waffle cones), popsicles, gelato, ice pouches and pops on a stick. I loved the idea of homemade kiwi pineapple ice pops almost as much as I swooned (and slightly slobbered over) the idea of ginger bread cookie ice cream sandwiches filled with chai ginger ice cream. Take that Good Humor guy! All the recipes are easy to make and surprisingly light on labor and planning. Summer is coming! Keep your ice cream maker handy—and rock solid in the freezer.
THE ART OF MAKING GELATO; 50 Flavors to Make at Home
Author: Morgan Morano
Publisher: Race Point Publishing
Gelato must be the original recipe of ambrosia. Just ask the Italians. Or the gods. Or the people who stand dazed by the flavor options at a gelato stand. Do I want the straciatella? Oh but the strawberry looks so ripe! Morgan Morano is an artisanal gelato maker, trained in Florence and plying her art in Chestnut Hill. The recipes in her book are a little challenging (as befits high cuisine) but they are clear and the results can be delicious, if you follow the instructions. Gelato making is not a dump & freeze kind of endeavor. It’s a little closer to the intricacies of cheese making––you have to get the temperatures correct and the consistency right before you move on to the next step. An exercise in patience. But who wouldn’t want to know how to make gelato at home? Or at least, who wouldn’t want to try to whip up a batch of Crema Fiorentina, bursting with orange zest, vanilla bean and cream?
MY FRENCH FAMILY TABLE; Recipes for a life filled with food, love & joie de vivre
Author: Béatrice Peltre
Publisher: Roost Books
This book is charming. The writing is charming, the recipes are charming, the photographs of the dishes will make you want to move to the South of France, (or at least serve dinner in your yard and name your next child Lulu.) Peltre is a local food stylist, author and cook, a transplant whose palate and visual vocabulary have not yet noticed that she lives among the Yankees. My French Family Table, her second cookbook, is full of recipes that are un-fussy yet very French. And did we mention that all are gluten-free? From chestnut flour crepes filled with chocolate to a sweet potato and orange soup enlivened with smoked trout and pumpkin oil, clafoutis and macaroons, oven-roasted monkfish and Romanesco gratin, thyme flavored turnip tatin—even vegetable latkes. These are recipes that will tempt you, especially if you are cooking for a young family of moderate gourmands. If we could eat the pictures, we would.
FRESH FISH; A Fearless Guide to Grilling, Shucking, Searing, Poaching, and Roasting Seafood
Author: Jennifer Trainer Thompson
Publisher: Storey Publishing
Fish cooking seems scary, unforgiving to many of us. There is not a lot of margin for error. Two minutes too long on the fire and it is mush; two minutes short and the result is somewhere between inner tube and bubblegum. We need a fearless guide, one that forgives our errors and emboldens our experiments. Jennifer Trainor Thomson has written a fine, confidence-giving book that encourages us to try fish again. It’s a “don’t stress about fish” book and will be a welcome addition to your shelf. Full of 175 easily executed recipes, organized in sections like “Things That Swim” and “Things with Shells,” Trainor Thomson is like a good friend coaching from the sideline. She seems to be whispering, “Buy the whole fish and leave it whole. Don’t assume you can only cook fillets!” (She also reminds you to get a good grip on the tail before you scale it, with the dull side of the blade!) There is a great step-by-step guide on how to build a Lobster-Clambake, complete with pictures that seem to say you-can-do-at-home. If in fact you live by the beach. Her recipes are heavy on fresh fish, simple flavors and locally available seafood. Though she spent much of her childhood in Indianapolis, Trainor Thomson is a committed New Englander and her recipes employ “our fish,” not fish flown in handily by Fed Express. The recipes are a little more edgy than you might expect: try for example Grilled Tuna Steaks with Homemade Kimchi, or a Whole Mackerel with Lime and Spicy Yogurt. But there are plenty of recipes for simple swordfish and steamers with lemon butter to make your little sea-loving heart sing.
THE VERMONT COUNTRY STORE COOKBOOK; Recipes, History and Lore from the Classic American General Store
Author: Ellen Ecker Ogden and Andrea Diehl with the Orton Family
Publisher: Grand Central Life & Style Publishing
Remember the classic Vermont Country store with its black & white catalogues full of clutter and corny sayings? The barrels and bins with an array of sticks of sealing wax, pickles and and leaf-shaped maple candies? This is a lovely, cheerfully nostalgic book from the family that has created and sustained the iconic country store with recipes, and yes, lot of “lore” from the iconic Vermont Country Store in Weston, Vermont. The book is fun to peruse and the recipes are just right. Classic New England recipes with nothing fancy added, shepherd’s pie and popovers, maple glazed ham and elderberry shrub. Even a recipe to make your own blackberry cordial. (Hint: crushed blackberries sugar, and lots of brandy.) A sweet addition to the New England archive, it’s a book that is full of comfort food for the soul and body.
THE CONNECTICUT FARM TABLE COOKBOOK; 150 Home-Grown Recipes from the Nutmeg State
Author: Tracy Medeiros and Christy Colasurdo
Publisher: The Countryman Press
A love letter to the chefs, (including Jacques Pepin and Michel Nischan), farmers and artisans of Connecticut, this book takes the reader on a culinary tour of Connecticut, something, frankly, we thought we’d never do. Sandwiched between Massachusetts and New York, it has been easy to overlook the good and delicious offerings of the Nutmeg State. But the authors set us straight, having visited and documented dozens of farms, farmer’s markets, chefs and producers in Connecticut. They present an endearing and passionate two-page paean and profile of each of their stops along the way, each entry includes a recipe starring locally sourced ingredients. The recipes are very good, mouthwatering even. Who wouldn’t want to make tagliatelle with lobster, or fried green tomatoes with hot and spicy aioli? It’s an open invitation to take the by-ways on Connecticut and discover unexpected pleasures along the way.
THE BEETLEBUNG FARM COOKBOOK; A Year of Cooking on Martha’s Vineyard
Author: Chris Fischer with Catherine Young
Photographs: Gabriela Herman
Publisher: Little Brown and Company
It’s hard not to love this cookbook, to clasp the book close to your chest and swear you will make every recipe in it for people you hold dear. From the quality of the paper to the artful suggestive/not literal photographs, there is something about the recipes and the nuanced but not precious styling? and the low-key narrative way the recipes are presented that sings to me. I love, for example, the way the author explains his recipe for Crispy Chicken. “On the one hand, this is a simple recipe, on the other it takes some practice to get it exactly right, so I am going to go into extra detail below. Don’t be daunted—you’ll be happy I did.” And he continues, part cooking lesson, part recipe, featuring only four ingredients including the chicken. We’ve had the book at our house for a week or so and have been cooking our way through the “Longer Days” chapter, commonly known as late Spring. I’ve made the Spring Pea, Spinach and Potato Salad, the roasted pork shoulder (seriously good) and the Mushroom Soup with Parsley and Egg and the Spring Panzanella with cherry tomatoes and good bread. All successes and a pleasure to cook with this book in hand. I’m halfway into the curing period for pickled carrots now, happily smiling at me from a mason jar in my fridge. Chris Fischer grew up on the Vineyard, and returned to farm with his grandfather after a stellar culinary career with Mario Batali on the pasta station and at The Spotted Pig with April Bloomfield, followed by a stint at the River Café in London with a sojourn at Alice Water’s Sustainable Food Project in Rome. He seems to wear his impeccable pedigree lightly. It’s a soft and welcoming book, well worth owning and well worth cooking from at your leisure for the people you love.
TWO IF BY SEA; Delicious Sustainable Seafood
Author: Barton Seaver
Photographs: Michael Piazza
Publisher: Sterling Epicure
In the introduction to this beautiful new book chef and author Barton Seaver writes. “For too long we have told the oceans and the fishermen what we are willing to eat, rather than asking them what they can supply.” This is the the mantra of this book: how to cook delicious food that is in sync with what the ocean can sustainably offer us. There is more sugar kelp, sablefish, mackerel, dab, crab, tautog and triplefish recipes that we usually find in a seafood cookbook. But not to fret. There is plenty here for those of us with less adventurous seafood palates too. The book is a very nuts and bolts, user friendly, huh-that’s a goodidea guide to cooking and serving wild and cultivated seafood that are still plentiful in our waters. As we read through the recipes, we started mentally turning down the corner of dishes we’d like to make this summer. A pepper and nutmeg grind to finish fish? Check. Scallop Ceviche with Fennel and Mint? Check. Fish Tacos and Smoked Fish Mac & Cheese. How to best crush ice for a chilled seafood platter: roll it in a kitchen towel and beat it to death with a rolling pin. And lime trumps lemon on oysters. The recipes are simple and clean, easy to execute with confidence. Seaver isn’t drawn to complex ways to sauce or serve seafood, more comfortable with letting the seafood shine and be presented with a few good sauces, and some excellent side dishes to add fillip to the dish. The strength of this book is in coaching on technique—how to sauté, pan-fry, smoke, and poach with confidence, and the best way to grill seafood without sacrificing half the fillet to the charcoal. It is also a gorgeous book. The photographs by Edible Boston’s own creative director, Michael Piazza, are staggeringly beautiful, whether they are fish porn close-ups, still lives of finished dishes or a sequence of action shots to illustrate proper technique. This book is a winner. Excuse us while we get back to the grill and check on the fish for our smoked mackerel, lettuce and tomato sandwich. Heavy on the mayo and horseradish please!
Louisa Kasdon is the author of more than 500 published articles about food, restaurants, health, and business. She was the food editor for the Boston Phoenix/Stuff Magazine and a regular contributor to ZesterDaily.com. She is the founder/CEO of Let’s Talk About Food, letstalkaboutfood.com, an events-based organization that brings the public together around issues in our food system. She can be reached at Louisa@letstalkaboutfood.com.