With a dash of measured enthusiasm and a peppering of simmered ballyhoo The Barefoot Contessa has done it again, again. "How easy is that?" is the most recent addition to Ina Garten's cookbook brood and in birth order stands as number seven in her swelling bookopoly. As the name suggests, the featured recipes illustrate Ina's bid to slim down kitchen theatrics and streamline provisions to showcase simplified recipes. The usual suspects are well represented and yes, the indulgent butter prompts remain as innocent red velvet muffin tops continue to threaten even the strongest challah chiseled chests and waistlines. This time around though, the obscure mail order ingredients have become extinct and recipes have been stripped down to reveal only the components that boast maximum flavor crucial to the success of each dish. The greatest gift of this book is plucked from the rungs of the Food Pyramid. Revel in leafing through the recipes to uncover Ina Garten’s professional slant of top taste producing foods including the “chosen ones” from the vegetable garden. Alright Kreskin, perhaps you know where this is subtly heading...so, how will my jardin potager shuffle into Ina's trim new deck? A recap first.
"Ina thought your project sounded wonderful...she had no idea how much she referenced certain vegetables!.." was my official reply from Ina's office in response to the article I published last spring titled "Ina's Garten". (It is featured on www. sowandsow.blogspot.com). The essay determined that there was no better way to decide the architectural edibles that should be included in my garden than to source the recipes from which I cook. It outlined how I catalogued every herb, fruit and vegetable referenced in every single recipe published in each of Ina's cookbooks. Those with the highest frequencies were then considered to join my elite team of boxwoods. Now seasons later, when I learned that there was another cookbook in Ina's pipeline I knew that it would be perfectly poised to choreograph a savory cadence to the archipelago of planting beds in my backyard.
Meg Ryan does a great interpretation of the run/walk in many of her movies. Mothers were covering children's eyes as I performed my own version into Barrett Bookstore the morning the cookbook was released. Imagine, if you will the pure delight I felt when I had secured my own, unbagged copy of "How easy is that?” In a guilt ridden twist, my family feasted on The Colonel that night as I began a detailed index through HRH’s elaborate assortment of caponata, tapenade, bisque, tartare and panzanella. After a quick round of homespun kiddie New York Egg Creams and conscience thus clear, I began my review.
Personally, the highlights of the book for the vegetarian-landscape architect were three fold. Obviously the entries that heavily feature vegetables received my considered raised brow (decidedly low grades were given to beef oxtails," N-I-M-B-Y"). Passing this pivotal first test, recipes that call on produce that I could plant in my potager ranked exceedingly higher marks for merging hobby and lifestyle. (Why, hello to you Tomatoes Roasted with Pesto!) Finally, the cream of the crop, dog-eared medalists were those recipes that paid homage to the herb (Roasted Summer Vegetables, you complete me).
Yes, HERBS. Unless you are wintering in an Observation akin to Paxton’s Crystal Palace, gardening amid November's pursuit to run chlorophyll out of town is fruitless. At this time of year, I thought that it would be interesting to see what was going to keep the real estate over the proverbial kitchen sink green while Jack Frost hob-knobs outside with Clark Griswold.
I'm no actuarial, but I was confident that I could tally up the high frequency of herbs in Ina’s new recipes to decipher what mélange she culled to construct one arm of her “dream team of taste”. How would the herbal frequency in these haiku-sized recipes stand on their own and what would occur when pit against my previous statistics? The very premise on which the "How Easy is that?" recipes were designed suggested that at the very least, I was about to uncover the Rosetta Stone for translating the produce department at Whole Foods! Or so I thought. Allow me to spare you some busy work on Excel. With resounding crescendo...the top three herbs that showed the greatest frequency in Ina's latest cookbook were the exact same top candidates as tallied in books 1 through 6.....HUH? What it boils down to is this: Ina has basically had the perfect combination of full flavored herbs all along! Man, she's good.
Folks, it is with great pleasure that I invite you to remove the paper whites and wishbones past from the window sill. Allow me to introduce to you Ina Garten’s “Ryder Cup of Herbdom”, GARLIC* PARSLEY and THYME.
*In every effort to be an accurate actuarial I had to include garlic as a sill contender. However, allow me to suggest you try DILL as runner up.