I am really picky when it comes to cookbooks.
Before I buy one, I have to ask myself if I could see me using it realistically. By that, I mean that I rarely cook directly from cookbooks unless it’s something that I’ve never made before, or requires special expertise I don’t currently have. For example, making jiaozi counts, or anything to do with meat cookery, or baking.
I only bought one cookbook this year, “Modern Spice” by Monica Bhide. I bought it so I could give Monica some support, because I think she’s a fantastic author who deserves more exposure, and also because I want to expand my repertoire with respect to Indian food.
I use cookbooks more for inspiration when planning menus, reading material or points of reference. Sometimes I’ll see an idea that’s not useful now, but it might come in handy in the future. Most of my collection has to do with either Italian (not Italian-American) cooking or vegetarian cooking. When people ask me “Have you heard of Mario Batali?”, I tell them, “Why yes I have. I even have one of his cookbooks Simple Italian Food.” The truth is, that book was given to me as a gift. If I had my choice, I’d have taken one of Marcella Hazan‘s instead.
My main thing is that I don’t want to cook out of cookbooks. I want to learn how to cook without relying on a book. That’s why I look for books that will teach me something, which the vast majority of works do not, in my opinion. Many are produced as the literary equivalent of the Food Network — they look good, but they’re not meant for serious usage.
I want to be able to cook LIKE an Italian even though I’m not of Italian ancestry, I’ve never been to Italy, and don’t plan on living there anytime soon. (But I would totally move there if I could!) That is something that I don’t feel I could learn with Mario’s book. Marcella’s on the other hand, and those by Lynne Rossetto Kasper or Lidia Bastianich, those are another story.
Tonight’s post features a recent dinner based on two of Lidia’s recipes, broiled shrimp and braised brussels sprouts with garlic and vinegar.
Braised Brussels Sprouts with Garlic and Red Wine Vinegar
Broiled Shrimp, with Seasoned Breadcrumbs and Shallots
That being said, I took one look at the shrimp recipe as written, and knew it wasn’t for me. I generally prefer shrimp and seafood cooked as “naked” as possible; that is, so that they’re not covered in sauce, which might otherwise mask their lovely flavors. The version below is an adaptation that’s a little more “minimalist”.
1/2 cup bread crumbs
sea salt, to taste
freshly milled black pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 shallot, peeled and sliced thinly, lengthwise
juice of one lemon
Toss breadcrumbs with salt and pepper, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and oregano until all ingredients are mixed well. Line a baking dish with the remaining oil. Transfer the shrimp one by one to a dish containing the seasoned breadcrumbs, coat well with crumbs by pressing with your fingers, and shake off the excess. When all the shrimp are coated with the seasoned bread crumbs, return the shrimp to the oiled baking dish. Roast for 8 minutes at 375 F. Turn oven to broil and broil until golden brown, about 1 minute.
Warm 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add shallot and sauté until browned, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in lemon juice. Raise heat to high, and let the liquid in the skillet reduce for 1-2 minutes, while stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.
Spoon the shrimp onto warmed plates. Spoon shallots atop the shrimp, then serve immediately.
Time: Both the brussels sprouts and the shrimp dish will take about 35 to 40 minutes each, including prep.