Thursday, October 24, 2013

Let's talk about cook books

Zok and I are firm believers in books.
We are both self taught in the kitchen.  Zok had to battle against a culture that does not allow for men in the kitchen, and I against my early propensity towards eating take out, and using the kitchen cupboards as space for my shoes.
Zok likes cook books with photos so he can compare his creations to the ones in the book.  This is exactly how he got hooked onto cooking.
When I still lived in Bellingham, I was busy between University classes and working at the 3B so Zok decided to cook.

He used a small book I had called 'Pasta Harvest' by Janet Fletcher.
His first recipe was 'Baked Conchiglione with spinach-ricotta filling.  This recipe is still a standard 'go-to' recipe when visitors come over.  

I think the most valuable cookbooks are instructional about the basics.

Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison has very few photos but most of what you could want to know about the basics.
Each time of bean, how to cook them, how much a cup will yield when cooked and so on.
The index is also really good.  I like to use the index when I am faced with an odd assortment of items in my pantry that need to be used up before they spoil.
If you are not a person that cooks much, but would like to, I recommend a book such as Deborah Madison's, it is an investment but you'll only need that one book for quite awhile.  If you are looking for inspiration I would recommend the style Zok likes, cheap and easy.

Here is the pasta recipe. Zok always uses fresh spinach and wilts it with great care.  His favorite pasta is rustichella d'abruzzo.  This is a dry pasta but found in speciality Italian markets.

1/2 pound spinach leaves, thick stems removed (this will usually mean you are buying about 3/4 pound untrimmed)
2 garlic gloves minced
1/2 pound whole-milk ricotta cheese (about one cup)
1/2 pound whole milk mozzarella cheese, coarsely grated
1 egg, lightly beaten (medium egg)
1 tablesppon finely minced fresh basil
20 jumbo conchiglione shells 
2 tbl olive oil
1/2 cup freshly graed pecorino romano cheese

Preheat oven to 375 F (175 C) Wash spinach and with cold water.
Transfer spinach to large skillet with just a bit of water clinging to it (Zok takes it from the bowl of water with tongs and wilts them quickly about 3 minutes)
Puts them aside, and washes the lot in cold water again, squeezing them dry by hand and then transferring them to the chopping board to chop finely.

(This is about the time I open a bottle of wine and sit on the counter top, while listening for the door bell to ring- this early glass of wine is responsible for my never getting a decent photo of the finished dish)

Cook shells in a large pot of boiling salted water. Drain them when they are about a minute shy of being done (remember they will cook a bit more in the oven) Transfer shells to a bowl and toss them iwth olive oil to keep them from sticking together.

Put half the tomato sauce on the bottom of a shallow baking dish just large enough to hold the shells in one layer.
Fill each shell.
Arrange your shells nicely and spoon the remaining sauce over and around the shells.
Top with pecorino cheese.
You can cover with foil or just bake open (Zok likes the crispy edges so he bakes his open).
Cook for about 30-40 minutes depending on your oven.
Serve directly.

*A nice thing about this dish is you can prep it early, and then only have your appetizers to make.  Or if your Zok the several side dishes and dessert...

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