In her hefty (and beautiful) tome, A New Way to Cook, Sally Schneider hits upon my very favorite culinary principle: flexibility. This book is comprehensive, and I hope that it will be the new Joy: a book handed to sons and daughters as they leave for college, wrapped up for newlyweds, pored over like some sacred kitchen text: a wise, calm hand to guide nervous cooks through their first roast duck, risotto, soufflé.
But reading recipes like scripture is quite the pet peeve of mine – most likely a symptom of my greater worldview. I so dislike being told what to do, or that I that I must use butter when all I have on hand is olive oil. Happily, Sally seems to agree with me.
Exhibit A: page 134, Gyo’s Chilled Noodles with Dipping Sauce and Embellishments. There’s a story, the recipe for the dipping sauce, suggestions about what to serve it all with. and if you don’t like enoki
The spirit of the book: here are the basics, and here are some suggestions regarding how you might want to fiddle with it. The real fun in the kitchen, for me anyway, is getting away with breaking the rules. It is not a perfectly executed Roast Chicken a la Julia, rather it is running a recipe through my own filters of style, flavor, nutrition and availability and creating something that is my own. On these pages – the contents of which cover allthe bases (from the nuances among sour cream varieties to vegetables by cooking method to a whole chapter on “flavor catalysts” and a delightfully comprehensive discussion on grains) – Sally offers herself as a partner instead of a dictator. She is pro-flavor and anti-excessive fat. Her recipes are classics and neo-classics, borrowing from a whole world of culinary traditions. This is the kind of book that makes me want to devote my year to cooking through its pages, though that kind of thing has already been done, and I’d hate to seem like a bandwagoner.
My comments on cookbooks always come up short, I think. The trouble is that I get so overwhelmed, so excited at the possibilities flopped open on the table before me that I can’t make myself think straight. My hands start to feel twitchy and I can begin to feel out the meal I will make. To have such a visceral reaction to a cookbook is, I feel, a good sign. The James Beard Foundation and the IACP both thought enough of Sally to honor this book; so if my ineloquence is unconvincing, maybe you can trust them instead.
Anyhow, yesterday Sally and I stayed in and made this:
I used Sally’s Pizza Dough recipe (p 355), and folded pinenuts and minced fresh rosemary into the dough during its second rise.
The sauce is butternut squash, shallot, garlic and ginger, simmered until tender and pureed to a satisfyingly velvet texture.
Over the sauce went thin slices of more butternut, yellow onion, fresh rosemary, yellow crookneck squash, leftover green beans, garlic cloves, olive oil, freshly ground black pepper, and milled sea salt – oh! and a couple of very thin slices of fresh lemon. You might not think that’s OK, but, damn, give it a shot anyway.
Oven @ 450º F., baked on a stone until browned along the edges, about 20 minutes.