Cookbooks to give and get this holiday season

  •  Zephyrs from “Salt and Time” by Alissa Timoshkina. COURTESY OF INTERLINK PUBLISHING

  • Rigitoni cake from “Pasta Perfecto” by Gennaro Contaldo. COURTESY OF INTERLINK PUBLISHING

  • FOR THE GAZETTE/CLAIRE HOPLEY

For the Gazette
Published: 11/30/2019 11:00:20 AM

‘Tis the season for cookbooks to beam out reassuring messages that all the conundrums about holiday meals and gifts will be resolved.

Certainly, recent cookbooks are packed with dishes that will charm their way into holiday meals, and since many focus one just one region, travelers, as well as cooks, can thrill to them.

Italy and its foods are perennial favorites, and two new cookbooks feature them, though rather differently.

Felidia: Recipes from My Flagship Restaurant” (Alfred A. Knopf, $35) comes from TV chef Lidia Bastianich. After having two Italian-American restaurants in the New York suburbs, she made her claim on fine dining by opening Felidia in Manhattan in 1981. Getting it going, she notes, was a financial struggle, but it was quickly successful, and under Chef Fortunato Nicotra, it won Michelin stars.

Stars notwithstanding, Bastianich has a thoroughly commonsensical approach to things, so the recipes in this book are all doable by the home cook. Many, especially vegetable dishes, are felicitous tweaks on simple dishes. Brussels sprouts braised in vinegar and butternut squash parmigiana are tasty examples. Among desserts, open cannoli is Chef Nicotra’s delectable version of the ricotta-filled Sicilian favorite. The picture of them wreathed in sugared orange peel is just mouth-watering. The chocolate espresso cookies are alluring too: star additions to any Christmas cookie array.

You won’t find cookies in “Pasta Perfecto” by Gennaro Contaldo (Interlink Publishing, $30), but you will find out which sauce goes with which pasta shape, plus pasta recipes assembled in chapters on dried pasta, fresh pasta, filled pasta, and baked pasta.

If a new book on pasta prompts the question, “Do we really need another one?” Contaldo answers by including many little-known dishes. Lasagne with chickpeas is one. Spaghetti with roasted onions, pasta-filled peppers, and gluten-free pasta dough are others. Among baked pasta dishes he has torta de rigatoni: “Great for kids’ parties,” he writes. It’s so easy that children can virtually cook it themselves. Certainly, both neophyte and experienced pasta cooks will love this book.

Alissa Timoshkina’s “Salt and Time: Recipes from a Russian Kitchen” (Interlink Publishing, $35) has a completely different feel because the author’s vast icy Siberian homeland is so unlike sunny Italy. Pickled and fermented vegetables take over from the tomato-and-oil infused vegetables of the Mediterranean, and coriander, pepper, caraway and fennel replace basil, thyme, and oregano as flavorings.

Most readers will find unfamiliar recipes here. While we’ve heard of borscht it’s another soup, shchi, made of cabbage, winter vegetables and beef, that’s Russia’s most popular dish. Timoshkina gives many other favorites too. Plov, a popular pilau-style dish from Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, is one. Others include several from the country’s Korean community, and of course, those that feature caviar.

The illustrations evoke space over details of the food, conveying the sense of a remote country and a little-known cuisine. Conversely, “Double Awesome Chinese Food” by Andrew, Irene and Margaret Li (Roost Books, $35) glows with close-ups of vivid food and the laughing faces of the three Boston-based siblings who wrote it.

They started out with a gourmet food truck and now have a restaurant. Of course, it’s Chinese — but Chinese food as developed by young people born and raised in America and unafraid to team foods of the other countries with Chinese specialties. There’s red curry Frito pie, for example, and maple-chili garlic rib tips, and oolong panna cotta. Their food is vibrant and fun, yet it ticks the boxes of healthfulness and care for the environment.

Caroline Rimbert Craig comes from farming families in Provence, but now lives in England. Both countries give her book its emphasis on cooking seasonally but its Mediterranean vibe comes from Provence. Titled “Provence: Recipes from the French Mediterranean” (Interlink Publishing, $30), it has Provençal specialties such as panisses — chickpea flour “fries” — and crespéou, a dish of layered omelets, each differently flavored. Others recipes are French staples that treat familiar vegetables, fruits and meats with Gallic verve.

These books make great gifts. For sampling, here are some of the recipes for tasty munchies and sweet treats for festive parties.

Paté

You can buy similar patés to this in supermarkets – at a price. But liver is cheap so you can make your own, which will not only be less costly but far more delicious. This recipe is from “Provence: Recipes from the French Mediterranean.” Author Caroline Rimbert Craig notes her Provençal family always has this at Christmas.

2¼ sticks (9 ounces) softened butter

3-4 shallots finely chopped

3 dried juniper berries

14 ounces chicken livers, gristle discarded

Scant ½ cup cognac

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Melt 1½ tablespoons of butter in a frying pan over low heat. Add the shallots and soften for 10 minutes. While they are cooking, crush the juniper berries with a pestle and mortar. Once the shallots have softened turn the heat up and add the livers, plenty of black pepper and the juniper berries. Sauté for 10 minutes, stirring frequently and adding more butter if required until the chicken livers are cooked to your liking. Spoon the livers and shallots into a food processor. Put the empty frying pan back on the heat, add the cognac and deglaze. Bubble the alcohol until it has reduced to half, then pour into the food processor. Add all but 4 tablespoons of the remaining butter and a pinch of salt and process until smooth. Pour the mixture into a dish and smooth the top. Melt the remaining butter in a small pan and pour over the top to create an airtight seal. Place the pate in the fridge for at least 3 hours. Serve with toasted bread.

Salt and Pepper Wings

No munchie disappears as fast as chicken wings. They come in many zingy flavors but in “Double Awesome Chinese Food” the Chinese combination of toasted salt and peppercorns is the favorite of authors Andrew, Margaret and Irene Li. They note that the salt and pepper mixture is great for flavoring all kinds of meat and fish.

For the toasted salt and peppercorns

¼ cup kosher salt

¼ cup Sichuan peppercorns

1 tablespoon black peppercorns

1 tablespoon white peppercorns

Combine all the ingredients in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Toast until the peppercorns start to make a popping sound and let off wafts of smoke, about 10-15 minutes. Let cool then grind in a mortar or spice mill.

For the wings

1 tablespoon toasted salt and peppercorns (see above)

2 pounds chicken wings

Scallions, thinly sliced for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cover a baking pan with aluminum foil, then place a wire rack on top or just use the foil or parchment paper. Toss the chicken wings in half the salt and pepper mixture, then place on the rack or directly on the covered pan. Set the remaining spice mixture aside for extra seasoning later. Bake the wings for 40-50 minutes until fully cooked and crispy. Use tongs to flip the wings halfway through. Try a wing to see if it needs more salt and pepper, and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Serve immediately with scallions and a sauce if you like.

Rigatoni Cake

Green basil leaves scattered on the red surface give this easy dish a Christmas-y look, Gennaro Contaldo, author of “Pasta Perfecto,” recommends using a springform pan to facilitate unmolding and cutting it.

Butter, for greasing

Breadcrumbs, for lining the pan

11½ ounces rigatoni pasta

Handful of basil leaves, finely chopped

9 ounces mozzarella, cut into small cubes

½ cup grated Parmesan

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the tomato sauce

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, left whole and squashed

2 14-ounce cans of chopped plum tomatoes

½ handful of basil leaves, plus extra to serve sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the base and sides of an 8-inch round, loose-bottomed, springform cake pan with parchment paper then grease with butter and coat with breadcrumbs. To make the tomato sauce, heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat, add the garlic, and sweat for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and basil leaves, and season with salt. Cover with a lid and cook for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. At the end of cooking, discard the garlic.

Meanwhile, bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente (check the instructions on your package for cooking time). Drain well and mix with the chopped basil, half of the mozzarella, some black pepper, half of the tomato sauce, and half of the grated Parmesan. Leave to cool slightly until you can handle the pasta.

Place the rigatoni standing upright in the prepared pan until you have filled the entire pan. Pour over the remaining tomato sauce, scatter with the remaining mozzarella, and sprinkle with the remaining grated Parmesan. Bake in the hot oven for 25 minutes, until golden. Remove from the oven, leave to rest for 5 minutes, then carefully remove the pan, slide onto a plate, and serve, sprinkled with basil leaves.

Zephyrs

In her book “Salt and Time,” Alissa Timoshkina notes that a zephyr is “a lovechild of a meringue and a marshmallow.” These pretty swirls make a lovely dessert or an eye-catching addition to a cookie platter.

⅔ cup water

⅓ cup (½ ounce) agar flakes

4 egg whites

2¼ cups granulated sugar

Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting

For the raspberry purée

1⅔ cups frozen raspberries

2¼ cups sugar

To make the raspberry purée, put the raspberries and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat and cook until they soften and start to break down. Blend thoroughly in a food processor before passing through a sieve. Set aside to cool.

Pour the measured water into a small saucepan and sprinkle over the agar flakes. Leave to “sponge” for 15 minutes.

When the raspberry purée has cooled to room temperature, transfer it to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or a large mixing bowl, if using an electric hand mixer. Add the egg whites to the purée and whisk until you have stiff peaks — this can take quite a while, especially if you’re using a hand mixer, so be patient. Add the granulated sugar to the agar pan over low heat and stir until dissolved. Next, increase the heat and boil the syrup until it reaches 250 degrees on a candy thermometer. Immediately pour the syrup in a steady stream into the whipped raspberry mixture while the machine is still running (if using a hand mixer, get someone else to whisk while you pour). Continue to whisk until the mixture is really stiff and holding its shape.

Transfer the mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a star tip and pipe round swirls onto two baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Leave to dry out at room temperature for at least 8 hours or overnight. Stick the two zephyrs together at the base and dust thoroughly with confectioner’s sugar using a sieve. Leave for another few hours for a crisp shell to develop, or enjoy as they are.

Espresso Cookies

Like chocolate? Like coffee? Like cookies? These are for you. They come from Lidia Bastianich’s “Felidia.”

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ cup Dutch process cocoa powder

1 tablespoon espresso powder

½ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Stir the flour, cocoa, espresso powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl.

Cream the butter and sugar in an electric mixer with the paddle attachment until light, about 2 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until well combined, about 1 minute. Add the flour mixture and beat until it just comes together as a dough. Divide the dough into two equal pieces. Roll into two squarish logs, 1 inch in diameter and 8-9 inches long. Set on plastic wrap and roll up and secure the ends. Roll on the counter to reshape the log if necessary. Freeze until the logs are firm, about 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Unwrap one log and cut it into scant ¼-inch thick slices. Place them on the baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Repeat with the other log (or save that one for later; it will keep in the freezer for several weeks). Bake, rotating the trays from top to bottom half-way through, until the cookies are crisp throughout, about 10-11 minutes. Cool on racks.




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