edible reads

The Summer List
By Roz Cummins

Now that summer’s here, cooks can’t resist thinking of ways to serve the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables encountered at every turn. Backyard gardens, roadside farm stands and farmers markets are full to overflowing with ripe tomatoes, sweet corn, crisp greens and luscious fruits and berries, not to mention all the produce that arrives as part of one’s CSA share deliveries. There are favorite recipes we all look forward to enjoying each year, but if you are on the hunt for new ideas for familiar dishes—or suggestions for using unfamiliar fruits and vegetables—these books can help.


The Farmer’s Kitchen: The Ultimate Guide to Enjoying Your CSA and Farmers’ Market Foods by Julia Shanks and Brett Grohsgal (CSA Cookbooks, 2012)

This book is for anyone who has ever looked into a CSA share box only to discover a completely unfamiliar vegetable. The fact that the item in question may be fresh and delicious is immaterial if you don’t know what to do with it, including how to store it or prepare it. Authors Julia Shanks, a Boston restaurant consultant, and Brett Grohsgal know their way around farm-fresh produce. They explain their approach this way: “We follow the classic Italian tradition: a few outstanding foods simply prepared usually taste much better than a host of mediocre ingredients blended with secret seasonings and complexity.” Beginning with a discussion on eating seasonally, the authors explore each produce item in detail: how to select, store and prepare. True to the authors’ philosophy, most recipes are simple and straightforward featuring fruits and vegetables that can be perfectly preserved or ready to be enjoyed at the peak of their freshness.

List price: $20


Wicked Good Barbecue: Fearless Recipes from Two Damn Yankees Who Won the Biggest, Baddest BBQ Competition in the World by Andy Husbands and Chris Hart with Andrea Pyenson (Fair Winds Press, 2012) 

Andy Husbands and Chris Hart recount the tales of their IQUE barbecue team as they compete their way across the country. This serious but still fun-loving guide to barbecuing features clear and careful instructions and recipes that range from the “Four Mains” required in every competition—chicken, ribs, pork and brisket—to the highly inventive, like Tandoori Shrimp in a Flowerpot and Duck, Duck Smoke Po’ Boy. Some of the dishes and techniques are straight-forward; others take time, commitment and even special ingredients and equipment. The information necessary to achieve success in all of these endeavors is covered in great detail.

The authors describe different regional styles of barbecue and include a guide to smokers, grills, thermometers, charcoal and wood used by the barbecue connoisseur. The photographs in this book are beautiful as well as instructive, while the text communicates the fun and excitement of competition, or just spending time with family and friends.

List price: $21.99


Ancient Grains for Modern Meals by Maria Speck (Ten Speed Press, 2011)

As the title suggests, Maria Speck’s book covers ancient grains. But equally important, she includes the whole grains that are widely available and are already familiar to many of us. Whole grains—ancient or modern—are known to be healthy additions to one’s diet, but, Speck says, “…do not expect me to lecture about them or remind you to eat them regularly. I’d much rather have you try many of them and discover their remarkable textures and stunning variety—because eating is about pleasure first, and dieting last. I believe food has to be mouthwatering and seductive to stay in our meal plan for good.”

The book includes quick-cooking grains like polenta, buckwheat, couscous and millet, as well as “slower” ones, like grain berries. There are useful charts that list appropriate cooking times and amounts of water for each type of grain, and tips for shortcuts, such as parboiling brown rice. Speck discusses the purchase and storage of different grains, how to measure them for cooking and useful equipment to have on hand.

Her recipes entice you to add grains to dishes throughout the day, from Fig Muffins with Creamy Goat Cheese Filling at breakfast to Artichoke-Rosemary Tart with a Polenta Crust for lunch to Buckwheat-Feta Burgers with Tangy Parsley Sauce for dinner. Dessert could be a Wheat Berry Fool with Grand Marnier Figs or Greek Walnut-Barley Cake.

This book provides both the tools and inspiration to investigate cooking with whole grains for health and pleasure.

List price $29.99


The Boston Homegrown Cookbook: Local Food, Local Restaurants, Local Recipes

by Leigh Belanger, photography by Margaret Belanger (Voyageur Press, 2012)

The Boston food scene has indeed changed dramatically over the past 30 years. Jasper White, who started cooking in Boston in the ’70s, recounts his observations of changing attitudes: “I remember when you couldn’t buy a New England apple at Star Market… I cannot describe what’s happened here in the last 30 years… I’ve watched the whole thing evolve from nothing to something pretty special.” Gordon Hamersley remembers, “In the old days…we had to go out and find the farmers. But over time they got a lot more organized.”

This book celebrates the growth and maturation of the food community, in terms of suppliers as well as restaurants. As the cooking became more discerning and sophisticated, better-quality ingredients were required. Leigh Belanger acts like a forager, gathering stories and recipes as she surveys the current food scene with its emphasis on the ingredients that are part of the New England foodshed. The resulting book is a Who’s Who of respected local chefs, farmers, aquaculturists and fishermen. Belanger profiles 28 chefs, and the engaging interviews trace their careers; how they came to live and work in the Boston area; ways they are inspired by local produce, seafood, poultry, cheese and meat; and the people who are responsible for producing their provisions. The photographs by Leigh’s cousin, Margaret Belanger, show the suppliers hard at work on their farms as well as the chefs cooking in their kitchens. The names of the chefs and the suppliers will be familiar to many, but it’s nice to see the faces of the people behind the businesses and the stoves.

Organized by season, the book pairs food producers with local chefs who then develop recipes using their offerings. In Spring, Ten Tables proprietor Krista Kranyak uses produce from Allandale Farm to create Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake and Asparagus Soup. Hungry Mother’s chef, Barry Maiden, employs clams from Woodbury Shellfish in a creative Autumn dish of Grilled Clams with Country Ham, Pickled Butternut Squash and Tabasco Mayonnaise.

The foreword, by Edible Boston publisher Ilene Bezahler, describes the feeling of being witness to the changing food scene and the excitement associated with the increasing availability of local ingredients and the creation of a strong and vital food community.

List price: $30.


The Fresh and Green Table: Delicious Ideas for Bringing Vegetables into Every Meal by Susie Middleton (Chronicle Books, 2012)

In this book, Susie Middleton has set herself the task of moving vegetables to the middle of the plate. Her previous book, Fast, Fresh, and Green, offered recipes for vegetable side dishes. Here she creates veggie-centered main dishes. The recipes in the book happen to be largely vegetarian (although there are bits of bacon and shrimp scattered here and there), but vegetarianism isn’t the point. The author wants readers to enjoy vegetable-centered dishes simply because they are delicious.

Middleton offers detailed recipes with clear directions to help readers know what a dish should look like at all stages of the preparation. Her recipes fall into categories such as Main Dish Salads, which includes a Nine-Layer Grilled Vegetable Salad; Grilled Potato, Shrimp and Green Bean salad and, for a cold night, Warm Winter Salad of Roasted Root “Frites” with Shallot and Sherry Maple Vinaigrette.

Other dishes include a quick and easy Sizzling Veggie Fried Rice and a one-pot Spring Vegetable Ragout with Baby Artichokes, Fingerling Potatoes and Spinach. Readers can use some of the ratatouille they make from their garden’s bounty in a Roasted Ratatouille Tart with Goat Cheese and Mint.

List price: $24.95


Charlotte au Chocolat: Memories of a Restaurant Girlhood by Charlotte Silver (Penguin, 2012)

Charlotte Silver’s account of growing up in and around Upstairs at the Pudding is a lovely and evocative memoir that covers the years from the opening of the restaurant to the moment when the owners—her mother, Deborah Hughes, and Mary-Catherine Deibel—lost their lease. (The restaurant eventually relocated to its present Winthrop Street location and reopened as UpStairs on the Square.) Carefully observed and skillfully expressed, her descriptions include the physical space, the outstanding food and the comings and goings of the staff—including her father, who left his post as chef at the same time he left her mother.

Housed in Harvard’s Hasty Pudding Club on Holyoke Street, the restaurant was an eclectic if sometimes shocking combination of threadbare faded grandeur and vibrant, modern decorating schemes. Harvard Real Estate was determined to regain the space—and they eventually succeeded—but Hughes fought them tooth and nail and for many years she prevailed.

Silver captures the patterns and rhythms of both the academic and calendar year: the intense summer heat on the restaurant terrace, the excitement of decorating the dining room Christmas tree and the never-ending annual waves of Hasty Pudding boys and Harvard Krokodiloes are all noted.

Descriptions of the dishes that were served are mouthwatering and the attention to detail regarding the appearance of the dining room is well conveyed. The relentless and unforgiving hard work of running a restaurant—long hours at the stove, the difficulty of retaining a good staff—combined with the particular challenges of keeping this restaurant running are testament to Hughes’s and Deibel’s intense fortitude and determination.

Silver deftly makes her observations, rather than herself, the center of the book. Readers of this poignant memoir will feel like they experienced Silver’s early years firsthand, that they are themselves were there, watching everything that took place.

List price $25.95

Roz Cummins started collecting cookbooks as soon as she could read.The Betty Crocker Cookbook for Boys and Girls was her first acquisition.