Thursday, March 6, 2014

The New Basics

 The New Basics
By Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins
Workman Publishing 1989

I loved the Silver Palate books back in the day--they conjured up a lifestyle of sophisticated little parties that weren't stuffy, but fun! Where people actually paid attention to the food! And every day was an excuse to entertain. I don't know why this so appealed to me then--I did not become an adult who entertains regularly--and certainly not with theme evenings.

I realized I hadn't looked (or cooked) from any of the Rosso and Lukins oeuvre in years. When I thought of them at all it was with a slight whiff of embarrassment--and a vague memory that there was some sort of unpleasantness about them.

Some leftover marinated artichokes got me to pull this one off the shelf. I used to make Pasta Sauce Raphael all the time in college and I thought it was time to revisit one of the biggest cookbooks of the 80s.

The first thing I noticed--what great design. They really did change cookbook design--and for the better. The blend of graphics and text are just jubilant--it shows the fun cooking can be. 
When bad things happen to good books
My second thought--the recipes hold up (even if the binding didn't.)  Rosso and Lukins now look prescient to me in their incorporation of ethnic ingredients as part of everyday cooking. Younger readers may not remember a world in which enoki mushrooms, pomegranate juice, and dried cherries could only be found in specialty stores. And pesto could not be found at all. Think about that people--a world in which there was no pesto. Unless you were lucky enough to have a Ligurian grandmother who grew her own basil.

Now, maybe they went a little too far--became a little too trendy. For a while there you couldn't get away from the pesto and the sun-dried tomatoes, and the oh-so-new-but-not-at-all-new use of fruit with savory dishes. And they certainly launched the whole buy-it-rather-than-make-it phenomenon in this country--that was the genesis of the original Silver Palate store.

But I forgive them all that and suggest you dust this one off of your shelf. The New Basics is a good primer on how to cook a whole heap of food--without making it feel like drudgery. The directions are clear, as a primer should be, and just reading it will educate your palate. And I will definitely be looking at this one again the next time I need to bring a dish--it has tons of great party ideas.

Now as for the discomfort--I did a little digging around and found that there was some serious unpleasantness between the two when they broke up the band. Google "Silver Palate feud" and you'll see what I mean. Somehow, I let the memory of that color my impression of their actual work, which stands tall on its own.

Pasta Sauce Raphael My Way
Adapted from The New Basics by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins

There are many copies of the original available online. I make mine a little differently and in a smaller quantity. I also use less oil, since the marinade is basically oil. I'm not a big fan of oregano so I leave that out and I only use a bit of pepper.  I also chop up the artichoke for better distribution. You can play around with the amount of chokes. Last time I made it, I had only ¾ of a jar of artichokes and ½ a quart of home canned tomatoes. Came out fine. Note that the taste will change depending on the brand of marinated artichokes. I find some are sweeter than others.

1 jar marinated artichokes in oil
2 tsp. olive oil
½ cup sliced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
½ tsp dried basil
few twists of pepper
½  to 1 quart of canned tomatoes, squish down the tomatoes with a spoon if whole.
2 Tbs grated Parmesean, plus more for serving
2 Tbs chopped parsley

Drain the chokes, reserving marinade, and roughly chop them.

Heat the marinade in a saucepan. Add the onions. and garlic and cook over medium high, until most of the liquid from the marinade has evaporated and the onions and garlic are soft. Add tomatoes, basil, and pepper. Rosso and Lukins call for a ½ tsp. of salt. I can't even imagine how salty that would be, so proceed with that at your own risk.

Simmer for 15-30 minutes, depending how loose your tomatoes are and how thick you want your sauce.

Add artichokes and Parmesean and simmer another 5 minutes. Stir in parsley once off heat and serve over pasta with more grated Parm.

Serving size--one very hungry person without any sides. Can serve two if you round it out into a proper meal with salad and bread.

I think this would also be good turned into a casserole and topped with some melty cheese.