Beyond ratatouille

“Roger Verge’s Vegetables in the French Style”

Until a great farmers’ market cookbook finally turns up in bookstores, I’m going to keep greasing up the pages of this eight-year-old coffee table book. Verge may no longer be perceived as one of the world’s great French chefs, but his glossy book is proof that he will always be a vegetable visionary. Everything I have cooked with his guidance has been a knockout.

This is not a book to be grabbed when you just get home from the Greenmarket with six bags of corn and zucchini. The selection of vegetables is limited to those available in France, and nearly all the recipes involve several steps and often a hefty investment of time. But from the simplest — spinach sauteed with eggs and topped with garlicky croutons — to the most hours-consuming — eggplant-zucchini-tomato tian with two cheeses — they deliver huge payoffs. Sometimes the food is even prettier on the table than it looks in the gorgeous photos by Bernard Touillon.

Attention, shoppers

My most literary friend, a novelist who puts his advances into tangibles, once asked me, after yet another inflated check for yet another mediocre meal in still another trendy restaurant: “Don’t you ever eat in a dive?” I recall getting rather huffy but then conceding, “No, not in the alleged First World.” Let’s be serious. I was toilet-trained in an outhouse; I was weaned on beans and cornbread off a wood-burning stove — I need a certain level of comfort with my food anymore. But clearly I’m much less choosy with books, since I thoroughly enjoyed one most creme brulee eaters would write off as so much Colombo frozen yogurt. Continue reading


“The Top One Hundred Pasta Sauces”
Diane Seed (Ten Speed Press)

Pasta is the anti-jazz: Improvisation destroys it. If you want something as good as you could get in Italy, you have to follow a recipe. Religiously.

Diane Seed’s recipes may not always be what the Pope would order, but they are by far the most accessible I have found collected between two cardboard covers. They range all over the map of Italy with a good mix of pantry staples (tuna, walnuts, chickpeas) and super-fresh ingredients (basil, asparagus, arugula), with a minimum of posturing. Giuliano Bugialli admittedly dictates a superior bucatini all’amatriciana, but Seed’s is quicker and almost as satisfying. Hers is the book to open for an easy meal, not a production.

“Sauces” is no walk in Tuscany. It has no index, which is frustrating, and measurements are given in metric first, U.S. equivalent second, which can be off-putting. But all the sauces are grouped by main ingredient, and few involve more than a handful of steps to perfection. Just do what she says, nothing more or less.