on 23 January 2008
This is a marvellous book. I keep checking if Suzanne Goin has already written a new book, because I love it that much. But I should not complain, and admit that it's only greed making me do this, because I am far from ready with this one.
My favourite way of cooking is mostly Mediterranean, with a passion in particular for the Italian and Middle-Eastern cuisine, for olive oil and garlic based dishes, with a major part for vegetables, based on simple preparations, in which the ingredients are shown in their pure form and strength. Books I own are by Sam & Sam Clark for example, Ursula Ferrigno, Paula Wolfert or Diana Henry. This book is different, although it's cooking is Mediterranean in style and flavour- yet it's very elegant, and as sometimes the straightforward kitchen is lacking in sophistication, this brings the link between a more classic or French way of cooking and simple food. I don't fancy elaborate cuisine, I dislike chefs that cook rather for their ego than for my palate and I hate towers on my plate. Don't get me wrong, I love being in the kitchen- I just don't see the beauty of making foams of asparagus, or cappuccino of beets, or lemongrass frost on duck beaks. But one still needs to cook in a different register, now and again. I want to serve my lover on a special occasion with something else than the amazing pastas I make, or the hearty lamb stew. The answer I was looking for was to be found in this very book.
It is organised per season, and each of the four chapter contains eight full menus composed of four courses, comprising of more than 130 recipes, each made with ingredients current to the time of year. Of course the restaurant is located in Los Angeles, but the ingredients in this book are not necessarily according to Californian seasons, but follow the traditional cool autumn and cold winter. Every chapter opens with an introduction to the season and a listing of the seasonal produce. The menus are elaborate indeed, and many involve a lot of preparation. But what inspiration they offer, what richness in their combination.
"Spring" offers for example a menu containing
- Sauté of white asparagus, morels and ramps over polenta
- Wild salmon salad with beets, potato, egg and mustard vinaigrette
- Glazed duck confit with black rice, mizuna and cherries
Summer brings such sweet things as ricotta gnocchi with chanterelles; sweet corn and sage brown butter; prawns with tomato confit, garlic and chile or plum tarte tatin with crème fraiche; and in autumn I ate clams with vermouth, cannelloni beans and cavolo nero. One of my favourite autumn menus has
- kabocha salad with dandelion, bacon, roncal and pecans;
- sea bass with shell bean risotto and gremolata butter
- pork porterhouse with sautéed quince, apples and potatoes
- cranberry-walnut clafoutis with bourbon whipped cream
"Winter" offers such treasures as grilled squab with farro, scallops with chanterelles, young onion tart with cantal or gateau basque with Armagnac prunes. And oww, duck braised in banyuls and turnip-parsnip gratin, also with prunes.
The recipes, as I mentioned, are elaborate and sometimes more difficult than an average amateur cook could cope with, but they are all clearly written, so that you are walked through and even with little skill or experience should be able to manage. Btw, lucques have always been among my favourite varieties of olives. I'm a fan!