Helllooo Ms. Hesser

AriCooks, vegetarian

I have a lot of cookbooks. Not as many as some, but for our means and space I have plenty. And, we are moving to another country which involves packing and shipping all of our necessary belongings — a task that was preceded by the sorting and sifting of possessions, large and small. I tried to get rid of many extraneous items, I tried to purge, and continually reminded myself that any new purchases were silly at this point…  really I did. But then this cookbook came out and the temptation was just too great. Did I really need another five pound item to send across the oceans? Well yes, I needed the lovely, bright red, heavy-enough-to-squeeze-the-liquid-out-of my-tofu, must-have cookbook of 2010: The Essential New York Times Cookbook. And now, thanks to the generous belated Hannuka spirit of my little sister, I have all 932 pages of Amanda Hesser’s great work.

When the book first arrived, I already had an idea of what to expect. If you are into food, you’d have to have been living under a dark rock not to have heard of Hesser’s impressive undertaking (I first heard about it from Sharon Kitchens –foodie and PR gal extraordinaire): to compile the best recipes from the New York Times Food section’s last 150 years. (HA! What a nut she must be!) The result is a cream, meat and sugar filled, no-apologies-to-the-carb-conscious extravaganza of gastronomic Americana. Ohhhh man, fasten your seat belts.

Now, I am not going to pretend that I will be cooking my way through this whole book. It’s no secret that I am not a huge fan of cows’ milk and that I don’t really do meat either. If you are a vegetarian and the type of person who buys cookbooks purely for utilitarian reasons, The Essential New York Times Cookbook may not be for you (the only tofu recipe in the entire book also contains pork). But if you are a cook who loves stories and gets excited about food history and anthropology, then this book is definitely worth a peek. There’s nothing I love more than a book that encourages more research and further delving into the archives of  food-lore — something Hesser’s book does, whether intentionally (because she could only include so much information) or unintentionally (sorry Amanda, we don’t all know who the heck some of these obscure dead chefs are). Either way, reading through Hesser’s notes as she explains the origins of recipes like “Jonathan Waxman’s Red Pepper Pancakes” or “Gateau De Crepes”, a cook immediately feels the warm enveloping arms of kitchen tradition wrapping around them. We are here, therefore we cook… and read thoughtful and carefully constructed tomes like this one. Ms. Hesser, my hat is off to you, what an amazing and delicious achievement.

Risotto with Radicchio and Sausage, adapted from The Essential New York Times Cookbook, by Amanda Hesser

Not all meat-substitutions are created equal, in fact some are downright nasty. Soy sausages, however are not half bad, and when chopped up nice and small and added to this creamy, veggie-filled risotto, are a perfectly acceptable stand-in for the ‘real’ thing.

serves 8 as a main course

6 Tbs unsalted butter/vegan margarine

1/4 cup olive oil

2 sweet Italian  soy sausages (I used the Light Life brand), minced

1 small onion, chopped

pinch of ground cloves

pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 large head endive, shredded

2 large heads radicchio, shredded

3 cups arborio rice

8-10 cups vegetable stock, heated until hot

salt and freshly ground pepper

3/4 cup freshly grated pecorino romano (sheep’s milk cheese)

Melt 2 Tbs of the butter or margarine with the olive oil in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the sausage, onion, cloves, and nutmeg and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until the onion wilts ~3 minutes.

Add the white wine and cook until the alcohol evaporates, about 2 minutes. Add the endive, stir well, add 1/2 of the radicchio. Stir well until the radicchio wilts.

Add the rice and stir to coat thoroughly with the oil. Lower the heat to medium-low and start adding the hot broth 1 cup at a time. Add the next cup only when the previous cup has been absorbed by the rice. It should take 3-4 minutes to absorb each cup of rice, and this process should take 20-25 minutes total. (see my post on how to enjoy risotto-making). When the last cup of broth is absorbed, taste to see if the rice is cooked, yet al-dente. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Remove the pan from the heat. Add the remaining 4 Tbs butter/margarine and remaining radicchio. Blend well. Add the pecorino and blend well, serve immediately.

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