Edible Reads: The Summer List 2013

As the temperatures warm and local, fresh ingredients abound, our palates invite new and innovative recipes to usher in the season. This latest installment of culinary books won’t disappoint. From technique (grilling) to form (burgers), your summer table won’t lack anything.

We also get an intimate look inside two very different kitchens and recipes, along with advice from the country’s leading sustainable chefs. And if you’re looking for an escape from the actual kitchen, there’s even a mystery novel set at a CSA.

What says summer better than the image of a backyard grill? While many undoubtedly fire it up all year round, there’s something about summer grilling that’s just quintessential, idyllic and, well, seasonal.

For Barton Seaver, family mealtime was a welcome, participatory ritual, even more so when grilling was involved. In Where There’s Smoke, he recalls “the scent of the just-lit fire in our small Weber grill in our tiny urban backyard.”

“Not only were the flavors bolder, but the cooking method was also part of the meal,” he says.

Seaver celebrates the grill, but more importantly, he offers sustainable grill-worthy recipes that are anything but conventional. At the same time, he heralds an essential and often overlooked component: smoke. In fact, he treats it like an ingredient and tells us how to use it.

“Smoke is the reason I grill,” he says, noting it’s always played center stage in his restaurants. “Smoke, to my mind, is an ingredient, as basic as stock or olive oil.”

Seaver explains in great detail the mechanics of grilling: how to properly manage smoke, types of fuel and wood, lighting charcoal, fire size and airflow, and techniques for healthier and greener grilling, for example.

Seaver, whose first cookbook For Cod and Country focused on seafood, spares no ingredient, including a section on wine pairings and libations. Omnivores and vegetarians alike will delight in Seaver’s recipes, but it’s the vegetable that reigns. “To focus a meal so strongly on protein is to deny the vegetables that better reflect the season a place at the table,” Seaver says.

It seems there’s nothing that can’t benefit from the touch of a grill: from Celery with Grill-Roasted Pimiento Cheese to Smoked Clams and Mussels. Even non-grilled foods get some love: Peach and Ginger Soup; Beet and Taleggio Panzanella; and Summer Corn Salad.

Speaking of grilling, it just happens to be one of the best ways to cook a burger. The comparably high heat of a griddle or skillet is another preferred method. That’s according to the latest tome by Tremont 647 chef/owner Andy Husbands and Chris Hart of the iQUE barbecue team and Edible Boston’s own Andrea Pyenson, who wax eloquent in mouthwatering detail about those juicy, meaty, discs of deliciousness.

While the search for the perfect restaurant burger is alive and well, Wicked Good Burgers: Fearless Recipes and Uncompromising Techniques for the Ultimate Patty—the trio’s follow-up to Wicked Good Barbecue—tells you how to create your own perfect burger at home.

From the history of the burger to grinding and shaping meat to equipment and toppings, they’ve got it all covered.

“Making a good burger is easy. But making what we believe is the perfect burger takes a little more effort,” the authors say. “To us, perfection is the whole package—the meat, the condiments, and the bun.”

Above all, the most important factor is quality ingredients. Meanwhile, “grinding your own meat/poultry/fish also gives you more control over the final product.” Then of course there are the shaping and cooking techniques.

The book begins with “Our Perfect Burger” and “Our Perfect Turkey Burger” to set the bar. Other recipes include the Brat Burger (featuring ground veal and pork and Hefeweizen beer), Tortilla-Wrapped New Mexican Chile Burger, Lamb Juicy Lucy, Caribbean Goat Burger, and Steak Tartare Burger.

Vegetarians and pescatarians need not shy away with options such as the Salmon Burger, Black Bean Portobello Burger, and Beet Burger.

To top it all off, there’s Best.Mayo.Ever, Fifth Dimension Powder, a host of “Wicked Killer Burger Toppings,” and bun recipes. And what’s the perfect accompaniment to a burger? Fries and a frappe, of course. In this book, there’s no lack of recipes for either: from Creole fries and tempura onion rings to a salted caramel frappe and a root beer float. When it comes to burgers and their sidekicks, no patty is left unturned.

Twenty years ago, when acronyms like CSA and GMO and terms such as organic and sustainable were not yet part of the American vernacular, a group of chefs began a conversation about best practices for sustainable cooking. That group blossomed into a national network of chefs, food professionals, and producers—the Chefs Collaborative—and that conversation is still very much alive. In fact, over the span of two decades, the collaborative has played a role in influencing the public’s food choices.

The Chefs Collaborative Cookbook: Local, Sustainable, Delicious Recipes from America’s Great Chefs marks the group’s 20-year anniversary. Penned by the Chefs Collaborative and Ellen Jackson, the book features 115 original recipes by the who’s who of the culinary scene, including many from well-known Boston-area member chefs.

There’s Heirloom Beet and Upland Cress Salad with Apples, Grapefruit, and Fennel-Buttermilk Dressing from Hungry Mother’s Barry Maiden; Asparagus, Spinach, and Spring Pea Lasagna from Gordon Hamersley of Hamersley’s Bistro; Sweet Potato-Chickpea Dolmas with Spinach and Crispy Mushrooms from Ana Sortun of Oleana; Blueberry Crisp with Almond-Oat Streusel and Sour Cream Ice Cream from Peter McCarthy of EVOO; Smoke-Roasted Whole Chicken with Moroccan Spices from Steve Johnson of Rendezvous in Central Square; and Pan-Seared Black Bass with Pepper Stew and Spicy Green Pesto from Brian Rae and Jody Adams of Rialto.

But more than recipes, this book is filled with sage advice on everything from choosing local and organic, reading labels, making better seafood choices, and making the most of all parts of fruits, vegetables, and meat. “The book is a blueprint for cooking like a sustainably minded chef,” says Michael Leviton, chef/owner of Newton’s Lumière and chef/partner at Area Four in Cambridge.

Each section is grounded in a historical perspective, underscoring just how much the culinary landscape has changed over the past 20 years.

“With this book, we start where we always have—with a mixture of flavor and community. These two values have anchored us to our mission and principles since we began our work about 20 years ago, and we have no doubt they will carry us into the decades to come,” notes Leviton.

There’s cooking your own and then there’s dining out. Food writer and clinical psychologist Scott Haas takes the culinary experience to another level in Back of the House: The Secret Life of a Restaurant. He goes behind the scenes of Tony Maws’s Craigie on Main kitchen in Cambridge. Seeking insight into the mind of one of the country’s top chefs, Haas spent 18 months with Maws, a James Beard Award-winner and one of the industry’s leading innovators.

Haas was drawn to Maws, for his reliance on local ingredients, changing menus daily to reflect what is fresh and in season, as well as his penchant for using all parts of the animals and vegetables he cooks with.

“The best restaurants are, in addition to the food being cooked and served, the ones in which the chef tells you his or her story. The emotions that inspire their cooking are felt in the dining room and on the plate, and it was obvious to me that night that Tony’s story was unique,” Haas says of his first dining experience at Craigie on Main.

Calling Maws’s restaurant “extremely personal” and his cooking “with refinement, but without many rules,” Haas felt compelled to get a closer look at Maws “to find out what motivates him and how he leads those in the back of the house and throughout the restaurant.”

During Haas’s 18 months with Maws, there were no rules and conditions; he was allowed to shadow Maws and his staff without restrictions.

The book is peppered with unfettered observations and conversation strings from the kitchen. “Tony compared the high one gets from cooking to the feeling of being in the zone that athletes talk about when the work takes over and they enter a transcendent consciousness that alters time,” Haas says.

There are accounts of Maws’s Baba Hannah, his inspiration for cooking seasonal cuisine and wasting nothing. “We’re talking ‘nose to tail’ cooking before the hype,” Haas quotes Maws as saying. There are interviews with his mother and his staff, and of course, Maws himself.

During Haas’s year and a half, he gets a kitchen-eye and chef’s-eye view of Craigie on Main and its creator. Readers will leave feeling satiated and hungry at the same time.

Inside another kind of kitchen, Andy and Jackie King knead their way to making exquisite bread. In their book, Baking By Hand: Making the Best Artisanal Breads and Pastries Better Without a Mixer, the founders of Salem’s A&J King Artisan Bakers tell their personal story threaded with countless recipes for bread and pastry.

“One of the reasons we love artisan bread is that, while it should be amazing on its own, it’s also a perfect starting-off point for greater things,” says Andy King. “I’m not just talking about food. I’m talking about gathering those you care about near to you, facing one another, and sharing a meal.”

And after a customer has purchased bread, the husband and wife team want to know how they used it, “how it fulfilled its intended destiny as a canvas for your own food obsession.”

This book is a homage to bread and its creation, with great care devoted to discussing what exactly makes a great loaf: from its look to the sound it makes if you thump its bottom. But it also demystifies bread making, detailing the process from the equipment to taking that first loaf out of the oven. Of utmost importance is an intimate knowledge of “how your ingredients interact with one another and what you can do to increase the instances of positive interaction.” And the most important piece of kitchen equipment? Your hands.

Recipes are laid out in a personal, anecdotal way, and divided by evening breads such as Sourdough, Brown Ale and Barley Bread, and Whole Wheat Baguettes and morning breads such as French Baguettes, Focaccia and Ciabatta. Then there are recipes for filling these glorious loaves. And of course there’s a primer on pastries from croissants and sticky buns to tarts and pies.

At the end of this sensory tour de force, one can genuinely imagine all those gorgeous smells wafting through a bakery. The sound of tearing into a fresh loaf. And of course the unmatchable taste of well-made bread and pastries. Which is exactly the point.

Recipes and tales from the kitchen are not the only fodder for this season’s food tomes. A community supported agriculture farm in the fictional Millsbury, Massachusetts (nestled in the real Merrimack Valley) is the backdrop for Edith’s Maxwell’s scintillating thriller, A Tine To Live, A Tine To Die. Maxwell—an amateur chef and former organic farm owner/farmer who has served on the board of directors of the Northeast Organic Farming Association—combines her experience and expertise in sustainable food with her literary chops (she also holds a Ph.D. in linguistics and is a published short story writer) to weave a tale of murder on Produce Plus Plus Farm.

The story’s protagonist is software engineer turned novice farmer Cameron Flaherty, whose fledgling farm becomes a maelstrom of suspicious activity. Cam fires her handyman, Mike Montgomery, when she discovers he’s been using pesticide on the sly; he’s found dead shortly after, his throat impaled with the tines of a pitchfork, and she’s named a suspect.

Threaded throughout the mystery is rich color about life on an organic farm, running a CSA, and a community of locavores ripe with characters. “I merely told him I couldn’t have him working for me,” Cam tells the police chief after Mike turns up murdered. “Organic certification takes several years, and I’m only in the first year. Pesticides on my farm, in my barn, on my crops could jeopardize the whole process…” Meanwhile, with the hoop house cordoned off as a crime scene, Cam is flummoxed about how to water the lettuce starts.

As Cam hunts for the real killer whilst working to get her new CSA off the ground, things continue to go suspiciously awry on the farm—a ruined crop of rhubarb, salted arugula, a ruined bean crop—and aspersions are cast on a host of characters. The book is the debut novel in Maxwell’s mystery series.