Sitting on my kitchen shelves are volumes of cookbooks and cooking magazines. Full of beautifully photographed food, I thumb through them weekly looking for inspiration.
For a special dinner party I often turn to Bobby Flay’s Boy Meets Grill. Since Bobby’s a sauce guy, his recipes are not for the beginner cook or for weeknight dinners. There’s typically three sauces per recipe: one as a marinade, one for basting, and one for dipping. It’s always delicious, but it’s complicated.
And then there’s the dear Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. I love her! But almost all her recipes start with, “add one pound of butter, a truckload of cream, and a barrel of sugar.” Thus it’s not a cookbook I frequent for a healthy weekday meal.
There is one cookbook however that I do rely on for delicious, easy and healthy weekday meals. It’s called, The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook by Jack Bishop.
Here’s why I love it.
1) Mr. Bishop uses familiar spices like rosemary, thyme, garlic and sage. (No eye of newt or troll teeth required!) He puts a new spin on some of the old standbys, like asparagus and broccoli. And entices you to try new veggies, like chard, by pairing it with familiar spices.
2) Most of his recipes are relatively quick (under 45 minutes) and easy.
3) He provides serving suggestions at the end of every recipe giving you full menu ideas if you choose to use it.
4) The food is really delicious. (Not everything mind you, I have tried a few things that I didn’t like, but hey, with 350 recipes in the book there was bound to be a few that didn’t go over well.)
5) He teaches you a single technique and then makes variations on it. For example, he has a whole section on polenta. You learn the basic technique and then he provides 15 different polenta recipes based on it. This type of cooking style builds courage. You learn the basics of technique and which flavors marry well and voila, it encourages you to experiment on your own.
If you’re looking for a new cookbook, you should give this one a try.
Here’s one of my favorite recipes to get you started.
Spring Vegetable Stew with Fennel, Carrots, Asparagus and Peas
1 medium fennel bulb (I don’t like the licorice taste of fennel so I leave this out. Even without this, the stew is excellent.)
2 Tbls extra-virgin olive oil
3 medium shallots, minced
5 medium plum tomatoes, peeled, cored, seeded and diced
salt and freshly ground pepper
3 cups vegetable stock
25 baby carrots, peeled. (about 5 ounces)
1 pound medium asparagus, tough ends snapped off and cut on bias into 1 1/2 inch pieces
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
2 Tbls unsalted butter
Freshly grated Parmegiano-Reggiano cheese.
1. Trim the stems and fronds from the fennel. Discard the stems. Mince 1 tablespoon of the fronds and set aside. Trim a thin slice from the base of the bulb and remove any tough outer layers. Slice the bulb in half and cut out the triangular core. Slice the bulb into long strips about 1/4 inch thick.
2. Heat oil in a large saucepan. Add the shallots and saute over medium heat until golden, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste and simmer until tomatoes soften, about 5 minutes.
3. Add the fennel strips and cook until softened (stir often), about 10 minutes.
4. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Add the carrots and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the asparagus and simmer until the asparagus is cooked but crisp (about 10 mins).
5. Stir in the frozen peas and the fennel fronds and cook for a minute or two more.
6. Stir in the butter and stir until it is incorporated into the sauce.
7. Adjust seasonings and serve. Pass the parmegiano to sprinkle on the stew.