Friday, February 14, 2014

The pasta that broke my spirit



Twelve vessels to make a pasta dish, people. Twelve. I’m counting saucepans, skillets, baking sheets, and bowls. I blithely waded into Suzanne Goin’s penne with cauliflower, kale, pine nuts and currants from Sunday Suppers at Lucques last night and soon found myself drowning. I love Goin as an author and cheerful kitchen spirit, but this dish made me so grumpy. When the pasta was finally done I didn’t even set the table, we just hunched in our corners and ate. After all that work, it wasn’t even particularly good. Mark said, “When are you going to start making some of your staples again, the ten dishes you know we like?”

I don’t think I answered.

I looked on Chowhound and other cooks have run afoul of this dish. That is some consolation.

I also baked Goin's outstanding olive oil cake with candied tangerines, but because the pasta was so elaborate, never got around to candying the tangerines. I don't feel even slightly bad about that. Fortunately, this cake can stand beautifully on its own. It's moist and very plush, almost downy. Yes, it's plain, but in a delicious way. It's also easy and you should try it. A version of the recipe is here, though Goin has you use a 9-inch pan and does not call for orange zest.

So far so good with the Piglet, no? I would have chosen Whole-Grain Mornings over Summerland, but Christina Tosi did a snappy job overall. I'm completely fascinated by her description of the pistachio-apricot jam-cacao nib granola she improvised after reading Whole-Grain Mornings. 

Bryan Boitano isn’t such a graceful writer, but then I can barely stand up on skates, so I will shut up. At least he makes it perfectly clear why he chose the book he did (The New Persian Kitchen), which has not always been the case with Piglet judges.  

26 comments:

  1. Agree on Boitano, but I enjoyed the review, particularly since he actually cooked from both books. I've been annoyed in the past about Piglet judges who make their decision based on skimming through the book alone - not only is it lazy, but I want to know how good the recipes are!

    I find Goin's recipes hit or miss. The salads she serves at Lucques are always wonderful, though - some people really have the technique down on salads. Redd Wood in Yountville is another restaurant with what I consider near perfect salads.

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    1. I can't remember where I read that some sophisticated restaurant-goers think ordering salads is a waste. I totally disagree. My favorite thing is a perfect restaurant salad. Anyone can do a braise, but a salad requires a delicate touch. I've never been to Redd Wood, but will put it on the list.

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  2. What are the ten dishes?

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    1. Ah, that is the question. I will ask and try to come up with something definitive, but I'm afraid it will be very boring. Pasta with pesto, pasta with tomato sauce, hamburgers, steak. . .

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  3. Oh, I understand why you were grumpy! I hate recipes that ask me to make that big a mess in my kitchen all at once. If it is a complex recipe, I much prefer making that mess in several sessions over time rather than all at once. I am really a pro at cleaning up as I go along, but if the recipe requires that many pots, it's almost impossible to keep up. I am ambivalent about the Piglet. I think that judges should be required to cook from the books before they make the decision. Is this contest about recipes or how well the cookbook looks and how well the writer writes? I am all about recipe results. Maybe that is naive.

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    1. I feel crazy when the kitchen mess gets out of control. I always try to keep a good grip on it, but sometimes I can't and start to panic.

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    2. I really think restaurant recipe writers would do themselves a favor by thinking long and hard about how to cut down on bowls, pots, and pans. I made carrot cake today from (a blogger's copy of) Sherry Yard's recipe from The Secrets of Baking. It called for four bowls, a sieve, a pot, several measuring cups and spoons, two spoons and a Kitchen Aid bowl and paddle, and you know what? I did it all in my Kitchen Aid, one pot for browning the butter, a measuring cup and spoon. One thing that helps is if you have some parchment paper to measure dry ingredients out onto--they can then be funneled into the mixer straight from the paper, without dirtying a bowl, and the paper can be rolled up and put back in the drawer. (Probably not such a useful tip for making cauliflower pasta.)

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  4. oh, that recipe sounded so easy on first look--I think I would have been angry in the end. Loved Tosi's review and thought WGM had nailed it. I am biased though, have peach, cocoa nib/sesame/sunflower/pepita/barley flake granola sitting on the counter next to me. Do I need Summerland now? I have to page through it first.

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    1. Your granola sounds great too!

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  5. You're exactly right. That book is such a treasure, but every recipe is totally exasperating. And I've made that one several times. What can I say? I'm a glutton for punishment. And the result is delicious. I haven't used Goin's new one, but Sunday Suppers is one end of the chef cookbook spectrum (following the directions works only if you have lots of kitchen help) and something like the Stéphane Reynaud ones are the other (hardly any instruction whatsoever and huge steps left out). Still, I'd rather have either of those at least as sources of inspiration than the dumbed down middle that so many occupy.

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    1. I'm impressed you've made that pasta more than once. Are there other dishes in the book you strongly recommend?

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  6. I recently discovered MtBBtB in an academic remainders bookshop in Canberra, Australia. After I had read it cover to cover, I crowed with joy when I read your bio and saw that you had a blog. I've spent the last two months obsessively reading your entire archive of posts. I'm using your book as my main reference point for which DIY cooking projects are worth my time and money. Your blog provides inspiration, aspiration, motivation, and entertainment. In short, I'm a fan and I look forward to whatever's coming next.

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    1. Aw, thank you Roving Lemon. I love your name.

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  7. I think we'd all LOVE to hear about those 10 dishes! Please consider a series (or a list)!

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    1. I'm working on it, but it won't be very exciting.

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  8. We made prosciutto and grilled asparagus with whole grain mustard (Lucques, p 85) last night to accompany grilled strips. I was a little stingy with the prosciutto and only draped half the amount on the platter. The recipe doesn't say what to do with the lemon, so I squeezed it over the asparagus, which were fat and jolly ($1.99/bunch-TJ's) not "pencil-thin". It could have easily gone into the creme fraiche mustard sauce, as the whole lot melted into a velvety soft cloud of deliciousness. Oh, and only used less than half of the sauce to cover the asparagus. Pretty darn good! Going to try to make the Pastel Vasco today using frozen blueberries instead of blackberries.

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    1. The pastel vasco looks great -- but the cake with pastry cream and prunes is ahead of it on the list. I bought the prunes yesterday. Tell me how the pastel vasco turns out.
      That prosciutto and asparagus dish sounds quite easy and good.

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    2. The pastel vasco was not that great. Floury, pasty, and too sweet. I did, however, make the yogurt sherbet from A.O.C. to serve alongside. Subbed honey for the agave. That was the real winner. I'll make again, cutting back the sugar by about half. Also made her broccoli/burrata/bagna cauda. It was delicious but too rich and dirtied about half a million dishes. My husband wants me to make the three day short ribs from Lucques but I think I'm going to shelve the book. It's too hot down here for heavy dishes and I'm tired of cooking from a book that takes advantage of a full prep crew and a Hobart. Maybe I'll switch to David Tanis' new book. There is something to be said for simplicity!

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  9. Jennifer, what kind of olive oil did you use in your cake? I don't think the oil I have on hand is of a good enough quality to put in baked goods. I guess I have not yet invested (and it feels like an investment!) in an olive oil that will make me feel good about spending that money. Suggestions?

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  10. There are some cooks (or people in general, really) who LOVE process. I am not one of them, and I would hope that as a successful restauranteur, Suzanne Goin isn't either. But this book seems quite the opposite. I've since looked at the pasta recipe itself and it strikes me as thoughtlessly laborious. Why not blanch the cauliflower and the kale, and then cook the pasta, all in the same pot (and using the same water)? The cauliflower can be cooked in the same pan that the kale was just sauteed in -- as long as remnants that can burn, such as garlic, are removed between uses. A simple wipe with a paper towel would go a long way and save a lot of trouble. As much as my feelings are mixed about Cooks Illustrated, they always give excellent instructions about re-using equipment. I think her instructions to do otherwise are strange. What's more, they would not happen in a professional kitchen, where efficiency is king.

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  11. Also -- I look forward to hearing more of your ongoing thoughts on The Piglet! It certainly is a bright spot in February. There's been a little controversy with a review that was particularly insipid from someone who didn't bother to cook, relying instead on the force of her (not very interesting) personality to put a shine on things. (So you can see where I stand on THAT). In general I think the reviews have been excellent, but I haven't actually looked at or used any of the books they have so far discussed, so I don't have much grounds for judging.

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