When you find yourself agreeing with an author when they write of Farinata: “This is one of my favorite starters, a thin, simple chickpea flour pancake with crisp edges. It’s terrific with nothing more than cracked pepper, but it can be enhance with a topping of thinly sliced mortadella or strips of roasted red pepper.” And you answer her in your head: “Yes, mortadella would be lovely, and what about a little shaved Parmesan?” And suddenly, you trust this cookbook author, and realize that you’ll probably agree on pretty much everything else in her book.
Anya Fernald’s Home Cooked: Essential Recipes for a New Way to Cook with Jessica Battilana (Ten Speed 2016) is one of those cookbooks you could use all summer long and never get bored. The recipes are full of bright, refreshing flavors. They are not simplified restaurant recipes, but ones that are easily made in any kitchen.
Let’s focus on the Vegetable chapter in the middle of the book – after all it is spring and its time to indulge in great vegetable dishes. Anya favors cast iron – and not just for a good sear on a steak. She provides a guide to cooking in cast iron (pp. 173-5) and you will need a good frying pan to make many of her dishes. It is likely you have one anyway, since cast iron skillets are so robust and long lasting. The first recipe is for Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms in Tomato Sauce (p. 138). These are stuffed with ricotta, Pecorino, and basil and then pan fried in a cast iron skillet and then simmered in a tomato puree. The result is lighter and less oily than traditional deep fried flowers.
Next is Zucchini Carpione (p. 140) or fried and brined zucchini. It’s a kind of quick pickle. “In Italian, this preparation, where an ingredient is first fried and then packed in vinegar, is known as carpione. It was originally invented as a way to add flavor to carp fish from Lake Cuomo, but now it’s a preparation that’s typically applied to vegetables.” (p. 140)
Into her caste iron skillet goes Torta Di Verdure (p. 155), a deep pie filled with any kind of fresh greens like Swiss chard, beet greens, collard greens, or a mixture of all of them. “A generous amount of Parmigiano-Reggiano enriches the greens and prevents the torta from feeling too restrained, too healthful.” And yet, it will certainly be a pleasure to eat your veggies.
Not all her recipes are quite so healthy – some are down right indulgent. Take Tallow Fries (p. 169). You will first need to render about 1 pound of beef fat (p. 22) and then double fry your potatoes. You can keep the beef fat for several months – or just fry a lot of potatoes! Or you can use those potatoes to make Asado Potatoes (p. 170) thinly sliced and tucked into spirals in a skillet. They are roasted and then topped with more butter.
The point of the cookbook is to make the core recipes like Rendered Beef Fat (Tallow) or Cultured Butter & Buttermilk (p. 23) yourself. Once you have these home made, deeply flavored components, your recipes will shine. What can you do with the buttermilk? Buttermilk Biscuits (p. 65) or Bitter Greens with Buttermilk Dressing (p. 150). Or you can treat yourself to Buttermilk Panna Cotta (p. 23). You could even indulge in a rich Buttermilk Pie (p. 270) flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and lemon. Finally, if you wanted to use your cast iron skillet again, make an Apple Torta (p. 287)
I have experimented with making this cake with lard instead of butter with excellent results (apples and lard are soul mates). (p. 287))
Home Cooked ties the ingredients and the tools together, so that you can build meal after meal. Go out and run around, play in the water, hike…anything to get hungry…and then have fun with Anya’s recipes.