Previously in Corby's Table:

The Curious Cook (July 18, 2001)
Corby Kummer reviews How to Read a French Fry, Russ Parsons's investigation into the science of cooking.

No Taste Like Home (June 13, 2001)
Corby Kummer extols the simple pleasures of David Page and Barbara Shinn's Recipes From Home, an all-American cookbook.

A Fortunate Crossroads (May 9, 2001)
Corby Kummer on Fred Plotkin's La Terra Fortunata, a portrait of a region with "one of the worthiest and most complex cuisines in Italy."

Pasta With a Passion (April 4, 2001)
Corby Kummer offers selections from Piero Selvaggio's The Valentino Cookbook—"one of the few Italian cookbooks I plan to keep on my shelf."

Israel on a Bun (February 28, 2001)
Corby Kummer looks at Joan Nathan's new book on the food of Israel, a country not exactly known for its cuisine.

Napa Valley Blend (January 31, 2001)
Corby Kummer on Terra: Cooking From the Heart of Napa Valley, and its authors' unique mix of Mediterranean style with a Japanese sensibility.

More by Corby Kummer in Atlantic Unbound

Atlantic Unbound | December 21, 2001
Corby's Table
Chic & Simple Cooking


Fresh Pasta with Cauliflower, Currants, and Pine Nuts
Macaroni and Cheese
Pan-Smoked Fish
Warm Bean Salad with Balsamic-Bacon Vinaigrette
Carmelized Roasted Pears

A New Way to Cook

A New Way to Cook
by Sally Schneider
739 pages, $40.00

ere's my if-you're-giving-only-one cookbook suggestion for this season: Sally Schneider's handsomely striped, Bible-shaped A New Way to Cook. I praised this highly in my survey of the fall's cookbooks in The New York Times; and after I write those kinds of surveys, the question inevitably arises—What did you really think? My answer is: Buy this book. Start cooking from it and you won't want to stop. That advice, I'm glad to say, has been borne out by the experiences of several friends who have reported serial experimentation since taking the book home, and serial culinary contentment.

Although this isn't billed as a one-book cooking course for the new decade, it can serve as one. Schneider has a brilliantly vivid sense of flavor, perhaps resulting from her long experience as a chef and food stylist. (I'm sorry that there aren't more pictures of her in the book, or of the food she brilliantly styles; both are always pleasurable to look at.)

This book is the accumulation of a decade of cooking and refining dishes and techniques that caught the public's and the author's fancy. In recipes that emphasize the realizable over the echt, Schneider combines components of popular cuisines of the past decade (Thai green curry paste, Mexican ancho chile essence) and fashionable cooking techniques, to which she gives her own innovative twist (slow-roasting duck for five hours to achieve the Holy Grail of drained fat and crisp skin; tenderizing lamb roast with a paste of crushed olives, orange peel, and herbs). The uniting theme is taking out fat while keeping in flavor. But the publisher, evidently fearful that diet books don't sell, never comes out and states this, which makes the huge amount of information and recipes puzzling as to the thread of continuity.

It is indeed far more than a diet cookbook. Schneider's patient but unlabored explanations of essential techniques make this the ideal book for, say, my newly single brother, who is as experienced a restaurant-goer as he is inexperienced a cook. This is The Silver Palate for the new generation of sophisticated eaters who are unconfident cooks. The only thing that might prevent the book from reaching that audience is its sprawling range: as keen a sense of design as the author and publisher have, this is a case where less would have been more.

Here are a few recipes and lessons that will show you what has my friends sequestered in their kitchens. Fresh pasta with cauliflower, currants, and pine nuts is a dish I cook often. Unlike the author, I like cauliflower. More importantly, the recipe is written exactly the way I cook it—to pack the most flavor in and to mimic the Italian cooks I model myself on. Macaroni and cheese is a lower-fat—and better-tasting—variant on the comfort food that seems to be the current national obsession. An important enlivening accent illustrates Schneider's ability to innovate: a roasted and ground "essence" of ancho chilies, one of several such essences (smoky tea, homemade curry, Mexican "mole" rub) that are easy to make and much fresher and more pungent than most of what's available in spice jars.

Pan-smoked fish is one of Schneider's personal triumphs, a combination of an easy gravlax-style salt-and-sugar cure plus a stovetop "smoker" that's just a foil-covered iron skillet. Finally, general instructions for roasting fruit and a specific way to roast pears will show you how Schneider provides the tools for getting cooks started on creating their own dishes that make the best of what's available in season.

Corby Kummer

Excerpts from A New Way to Cook, by Sally Schneider

Fresh Pasta with Cauliflower, Currants, and Pine Nuts

I have never found cauliflower very compelling, despite its known nutritional virtues. So I have taken my inspiration from Italy, where cooks have devised many ways of making the lowly vegetable into something delectable.

This recipe is a play on a classic southern Italian dish that marries cauliflower with anchovies, pine nuts, and currants. First I flavor a small amount of fruity olive oil with garlic and anchovies, then I boil it with some of the pasta cooking water to make a light sauce that harmonizes the seemingly disparate flavors into a splendid, healthful whole.

This dish can also be made with broccoli or some of the more unusual cruciferous hybrids that have recently been appearing in markets, such as broccoflower.

4 servings

1/3 cup dry white wine

1/3 cup currants or raisins

1 head cauliflower

Garlic-Anchovy Oil:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes

One 2-ounce can oil-packed anchovies (about 10), drained, patted dry, and coarsely chopped
8 ounces dried egg linguine, saffron fettuccine, orecchiette, or gemelli

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

3/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 ounce (1/4 cup) roasted pine nuts, chopped medium-fine

In a small saucepan, bring the wine to a simmer over moderate heat and add the currants. Cover and set aside to plump for 10 minutes.

Cut the cauliflower into bite-sized florets, core and discard the stems. Steam the cauliflower in a steamer basket over boiling water for 5 to 7 minutes until tender but not mushy. Transfer the cauliflower to a bowl of cold water set in the sink and run cold tap water over the cauliflower until it is completely cool. Drain it well and set aside, or refrigerate, covered, until ready to use.

To make the garlic-anchovy oil, in a large nonstick skillet, combine the oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Cook, covered, over low heat until the garlic is very soft but not browned, about 3 minutes. Stir in the anchovies and turn off the heat.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt well, add the pasta, and cook until al dente (tender but still slightly firm to the bite). About 4 minutes before it is done, bring the garlic-anchovy oil to a simmer. Add the cauliflower and sauté, tossing for 2 minutes. Stir in the currants and their liquid and cook until the liquid has evaporated, about 3 minutes.

Using a measuring cup, scoop out about 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Drain the pasta. Add 1/4 cup of the cooking water and the cauliflower mixture to the pasta pot and bring to a boil. Return the pasta to the pot along with 1/4 cup of the cheese and toss to coat with the oil mixture. Stir in the parsley, salt and pepper to taste, and the pine nuts, and serve at once, passing the remaining 1/4 cup cheese separately.

You can blanch the cauliflower and prepare the garlic-anchovy oil up to 6 hours ahead; cover and refrigerate.

Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni and cheese can be ordinary when made with processed cheese, or truly sublime made with a more interesting cheese, like a fine Cheddar or Dry (aged) Jack. It is, classically, horrifically fattening: I calculated one standard recipe at almost 800 calories per serving. But it is so beloved and essential a dish to so many people, I set my mind to creating a leaner version—it tied for first place in an informal macaroni and cheese cookoff. None of the judges knew it was a heretical lightened version.

In this adaptation, the caloric, high-fat elements are replaced by two flavorful cheeses and milk thickened with rice flour, which gives it a satisfying, creamy, buttery flavor.

This recipe can be doubled or tripled to make a large batch. Rice flour is available at health food stores and Asian markets. It can be frozen in a tightly sealed plastic container for up to six months.

4 servings

1/2 teaspoon unsalted butter, softened, or vegetable oil

Rice Cream:
2 tablespoons white rice flour

2 1/2 cups whole milk

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 small shallot, peeled and stuck with 1 whole clove

1 small imported bay leaf

Freshly ground white pepper
8 ounces elbow macaroni

3 ounces, sharp Vermont Cheddar cheese or Monterey Jack, shredded (about 1 cup)

1 teaspoon Ancho Chile Essence or sweet Hungarian paprika

3 1/4 ounces Dry (aged) Jack, aged Gouda, or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated (about 3/4 cup)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Lightly grease a 2-quart ovenproof casserole with the butter. Set aside.

To make the rice cream, rinse a small saucepan with cold water. (This will make cleanup easy.) Add the rice flour. With a whisk, gradually beat in enough milk to make a thick paste. Then continue whisking in the remaining milk until well blended. Add the salt, shallot, bay leaf, and white pepper to taste, and bring to a boil over very low heat, whisking frequently. Simmer for 10 minutes, or until the mixture has the consistency of thick cream. Strain through a fine sieve into a bowl and set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt well. Add the macaroni and cook until it is almost tender but still quite firm to the bite (it will continue cooking in the oven). Drain well and return to the pot. Stir in the rice cream, Cheddar cheese, chile essence, and all but 2 tablespoons of the Dry Jack cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Pour the macaroni into the casserole. Sprinkle the top with the remaining 2 tablespoons Dry Jack. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Serve at once.

You can make the Rice Cream up to 2 days ahead; cover and refrigerate. You can assemble the casserole up to 2 hours ahead; cover and leave at room temperature.

Ancho Chile Essence

Ancho chiles—dried poblano chiles—have a mild sweet flavor with just a slight spiciness that complements many foods. I find myself using this essence frequently, as a dry rub for pan-seared and grilled meats and poultry, as a seasoning in Parmesan Crisps, and when I want an underlying sweet chile flavor for Southwestern-style foods, such as Ancho Chile-Rubbed Duck Steaks and Ancho Chile Ketchup. I also often use it as the base when I am improvising dry rubs such as Mexican "Mole" Rub.

Makes about 1/3 cup

3 dried ancho chiles (1 1/2 to 2 ounces)
Break the chiles apart. Remove the stems and seeds. If the chiles are still pliable, dry them in a warm oven (200 degrees F) for about 1 hour, until they are very brittle.

Transfer the chiles to a blender or spice grinder. Blend at high speed for at least 1 minute, until you have the finest-possible powder. Let the mixture settle for about 30 seconds before removing the cover, so the powder does not fly into the air. Use a dry pastry brush to push the powder through a strainer into a clean, dry container. Blend and strain the larger bits again.

Store in a tightly sealed jar away from light for up to 3 months.

Pan-Smoked Fish

Once you get the hang of this simple method, you can experiment with many kinds of fish and shellfish. The secret is to cure the fish slightly with sugar, salt, and pepper to draw out some liquid and firm up the flesh before smoking it. The cure also seems to act as a wick for the smoke, drawing it into the flesh and mellowing it.

4 servings

Curing Mixture:
2 1/2 teaspoons granulated or light brown sugar

1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt

1 1/4 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds fish fillets or steaks or shellfish, such as:
Salmon, mackerel, or bluefish (fatty fish): one 1 1/2-pound fillet or four 6-ounce steaks, at least 1 1/4 inches thick

Tuna and swordfish: one 1 1/2-pound steak or four 6-ounce steaks, at least 1 1/4 inches thick

Sea scallops (at least 3/4 inch thick)

Peeled and deveined jumbo shrimp
1 teaspoon vegetable or olive oil

Smoking medium, such as:
1 1/2 teaspoons wood chips

One 1-by-1/4-inch chunk fruitwood or mesquite

Two 2-inch pieces grapevine

1 dried ancho chile, stemmed, seeded, and broken into 4 pieces
1. At least 1 but no more than 3 hours before smoking, make the curing mixture: Combine the sugar, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Rub the mixture into the fish or shellfish. Place on a platter and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate if curing for more than an hour.

2. Blot the fish or shellfish dry with paper towels and brush lightly with the oil.

3. Set up your smoker. Heat over high heat for 5 minutes.

4. Add the chips, wood, or chile to the pan and place the metal rack in the skillet. Arrange the fish on the rack. When the wood or chile starts to smoke, after 2 to 3 minutes, cover the pan, placing a weight on the lid to seal it tight. Reduce the heat to medium, or so you just faintly smell smoke and see a little escaping from the pan. Cook the fish according to the guidelines below.

Approximate Cooking Times for Pan-Smoked Fish:

Adjust the cooking times as necessary according to the thickness of the fish. If you are unsure, test it early, then continue smoking until done.

Fatty Fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and bluefish: Cook until a two pronged fork inserted into the fish meets with no resistance, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Rare-Cooked Fish, such as tuna and swordfish: Smoke the fish for 4 minutes. Turn it over and smoke until it is opaque and golden on the outside and springy to the touch, 4 to 8 minutes, depending on the thickness; an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part should read 115 degrees F.

Sea Scallops and Jumbo Shrimp: Cook until opaque throughout, 4 to 5 minutes.

Roasting tends to bring out the best in fruits. The dry heat concentrates the flavors and caramelizes the natural sugars. A small amount of butter brushed on roasted fruits tastes like a great deal more.

This method works for many kinds of fruits, including plums, apricots, peaches, pears, apples, pineapples, and mangoes. Extremely soft, skinless fruits such as strawberries or peeled bananas need no water at all. Although the basic mixture of vanilla, lemon juice, and sugar will heighten the fruit's flavors, you can also dust it with a pinch of ground spices such as cinnamon, allspice, or cardamom, or even fresh herbs. A teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves gives roasted plums a somewhat wild flavor.

You can combine roasted fruits with a sauce of fruit coulis, a custard sauce, or with tiny scoops of vanilla ice cream.

4 servings

3 to 4 tablespoons sugar, honey, or maple syrup

1/2 vanilla bean

2 tablespoons water

1 1/2 pounds fruit, peeled, pitted, and halved or sliced (no more than 3/4 inch thick) as appropriate such as pears, fresh peaches, apricots, nectarines, apples, pineapple, mangoes, strawberries, or bananas

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons unsalted butter (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

2. If using the sugar, place it in a small bowl. With a thin sharp knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise in half and scrape out the seeds. Stir the seeds into the sugar. Or, if you are using honey or maple syrup, combine it with the water, then add the vanilla seeds. Cut the vanilla bean into 2-inch pieces.

3. Arrange the fruit in a large baking dish, cut side up if halved. Drizzle the lemon juice evenly over the fruit, then drizzle the vanilla sugar or sweetener over. Nestle the vanilla bean among the fruit. If using sugar, add the water to the dish. If desired, cut the butter into small pieces and distribute it over the fruit.

4. Roast the fruit, brushing it occasionally with the pan juices, until it is tender and glazed and the juices are thick and syrupy. If the syrup evaporates too quickly, add a tablespoon or two more water to the dish. If the fruit is halved, turn over halfway through the cooking time. Softer fruits, such as plums, apricots, or peaches, will take about 20 to 25 minutes. Harder fruits, such as pears and apples, will take about 40 minutes. Serve warm.

Slow-Roasted Stone Fruits:

When I have time, I like to slow-roast stone fruits such as peaches and plums at 275 degrees F. It renders the flesh extraordinarily creamy and concentrated.

Follow the guide above, using peaches or plums. Use only 1 teaspoon sugar and omit the water and lemon juice; melt the butter. Cut the fruit through the stem along the natural seam and remove the pits. Roast the fruit cut side up, brushed with the lemon juice, butter, and a sprinkle of sugar, until very tender, 2 to 21/2 hours.

Pears roasted with a sweet fragrant dessert wine and a little butter become dense and glazed, as though they were cooked with a lot of butter. They are delicious as is or with Saffron Custard Sauce or Raspberry Coulis.

When I make this dessert, I usually open a half bottle of a good dessert wine, using some to roast the pears and serving the rest chilled with the dessert. If you don't have dessert wine, mix 2/3 cup Riesling with 1 1/2 tablespoons wildflower honey.

4 servings

4 large not-quite-ripe pears (1 1/2 pounds), preferably Comice

3/4 cup sweet dessert wine, such as Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, Sauternes, Barsac, or Monbazillac, plus more if needed

1/2 vanilla bean

2 teaspoons unsalted butter

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

Saffron Custard Sauce, Raspberry Coulis, or 4 small scoops vanilla ice cream (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Peel the pears. Cut them lengthwise in half and scoop out the cores and seeds, leaving the stems intact if possible. Arrange the pear halves cut side down in a large ovenproof skillet or flameproof baking dish. Pour 1/2 cup of the wine over the fruit. With a sharp paring knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise in half. Scrape out the seeds and add to the wine. Nestle the bean among the pears. Dot the pears with the butter. Bring to a boil over moderate heat.

Cover loosely with foil and roast for 35 minutes, brushing the pears occasionally with the wine. Turn the pears over, cover loosely, and bake for 15 minutes longer, brushing them frequently.

Set the skillet over moderate heat and add the remaining 1/4 cup wine. Simmer until the liquid is syrupy, about 3 minutes. Turn the pears over so they are again cut side down, and sprinkle with the sugar.

Return to the oven and roast for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, brushing the pears frequently, until they are tender and nicely glazed. If the wine evaporates too quickly, add a little more wine or warm water to the skillet to dissolve the caramelized juices into a thick glaze. Set aside to cool slightly.

To serve, arrange 2 pear halves in each of four shallow soup bowls and brush with the syrup. Spoon the sauce around the pears or place a small scoop of vanilla ice cream between them.

You can roast the pears up to 2 hours before serving. Rewarm them in a 250 degree oven for about 20 minutes, adding a little water to the pan if necessary to dissolve some of the juices so you can brush the pears 2 or 3 times.

What do you think? Discuss this article in Post & Riposte.

More by Corby Kummer in Atlantic Unbound and The Atlantic Monthly.

Corby Kummer is a senior editor at The Atlantic Monthly and the author of The Joy of Coffee.

Copyright © 2001 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.
Recipes from A New Way to Cook by Sally Schneider. Artisan. Hardcover, 739 pages. ISBN: 1579651887. $40.00. Copyright © 2001 by Sally Schneider.