13 July 2011

Recipes From Paradise

In the interest of full disclosure, I make two statements:
  1. I usually play pretty fast-and-loose with recipes.
  2. I don't regularly use recipes.
Like everyone else, most of my meals come from a set of standard dishes I can prepare without too much in the way of unusual ingredients, challenging steps, or close adherence to a recipe.
Part of the point of this blog, however, is to communicate some of what keeps me going week after week. Here's my secret:
Every once in a while, try something new.
That's about it.
Ah, but how does one find something new? That's where a good book is handy.
For instance, I've mentioned that my grandfather was born near Genoa, Italy. In his honor, I like to try out traditional recipes from that region, AKA the Italian Riviera.
The best book I've found for that is by Fred Plotkin (not the most Italian of names, eh?) and is titled Recipes from Paradise: Life & Food on the Italian Riviera.
I love this book. In it I can find all I need to know about Genovese contributions to cuisine: pesto and focaccia. I use their basic methods for making pasta when I really really want homemade pasta. Pasta with pesto, potatoes, and green beans? Plotkin calls for trenette, a flat pasta. I use any flat pasta I have on hand. I also use Yukon Gold or white potatoes instead of plain, and will stoop to canned green beans in the off-season. Pesto? I used to make my own when I lived where I could grow basil, but now I rely on the stuff in a jar from Trader Joe's though I'll often add a splash of better olive oil as a topping.
I haven't found a recipe in this book that I wouldn't try.
But the trouble with regional cookbooks is, well, they're regional. I live in the Pacific Northwest and we just do not have the same foods available. So you have to be willing to experiment a bit.
If you cook as a slave to a recipe, you end up falling back on basic simple dishes. If you're willing to stretch a bit, play a bit, and take a chance, you will find that a whole range of new dishes rise up out of the dull horizon of cheese burgers, hot dogs, and spaghetti.

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