Saturday, June 11, 2011

Simply Divine: At Elizabeth David's Table

Is there anything better than heading out to the mailbox only to find that a book you've been anticipating with near fervent glee has arrived?

That happened to me this morning.

I swear, I walked outside to get the mail, opened the mailbox and let out a loud squeal of joy.  An embarrassingly loud squeal, too, the sort that is usually reserved for 4 year olds who have heard the ice cream man coming from three blocks away and have watched and watched and watched until his truck is finally coming down their block, sweaty dollar clutched in their excited little hand.  That kind of out loud squeal of joy.

The neighbors probably think I've pulled a nutter, but it couldn't be helped.  It flew out of me when I saw the box.

It is all I can do today to get anything else accomplished, I've been holed up every spare second I could find, pouring through the pages of At Elizabeth David's Table: Classic Recipes and Timeless Kitchen Wisdom.

It is heaven.

Am I the only person who reads cookbooks as though they are page-turning thrillers?  I am consumed by reading the recipes and the background travel notes or family anecdotes, and then trying to imagine the taste just by reading the recipe again and "tasting" it in my imagination.

I can lose myself in a good cookbook as surely as I can in good fiction, and I have had a long attachment to Elizabeth David thanks to Laurie Colwin.

Which is kind of a coincidence, actually.  For the last week or so, I've been re-reading through Laurie Colwin's  Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen, mostly because it is comfort in a book for me.

I've been a little tired and, as a result, out of sorts, from all the library work in the heat the last couple of weeks.  And so I turned to my old stand-by for a little comfort reading.  I swear, Colwin's food writing was one of the inspirations for my starting this blog on a dreary, miserable day way, way back, and I find myself turning to her work whenever I'm in need of a friend's comfort but without the trouble of having to actually pick up the phone and get someone live on the other end.

Last night? I was reading a chapter wherein she mentions a classic Elizabeth David recipe, and my mouth started watering so much that I almost got out of bed to look it up.  Lo and behold, today the latest incarnation of Elizabeth's David's best recipes shows up in our mailbox, in all its full-color photo and descriptive Mediterranean splendor and I have spent chunks of my morning being transported into a land of fragrant spices and long-roasted garlic, where fish so fresh fro the sea that it is still briny is thrown on the grill, and I am loving it.

This passage tells you why in a couple of sentences:
The making of a good soup is quite an art, and many otherwise clever cooks do not possess the tour de main necessary to its successful preparation. Either they overcomplicate the composition of the dish, or they attach only minor importance to it, reserving their talents for the meal itself, and so it frequently happens that the soup does not correspond in quality to the rest of the dishes; nevertheless, the quality of the soup can fortell that of the entire meal.
So true, isn't it? As Elizabeth David goes on to discuss, you cannot treat a good soup as though it were your kitchen dustbin, dumping everything you see into the pot -- simplicity is key, but with a careful hand for seasoning and a slow simmer to temper the lot.

And isn't that really true for just about everything you cook? Or for all of the rest of your life, for that matter?

The photos in this book are amazing.  You can almost smell the roasted peppers, onions and tomatoes  in the Peperonata recipe on page 145 just by the lovely accompanying photo of what looks to be heaven in a jar.  And the recipe for Sauteed Chicken with Olives and Tomatoes on page 263?  The photo made me start drooling, I swear.

I cannot put this cookbook down, and we'll be eating out of it for weeks to come, I can already tell.  Oh joy!

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