Cooking Up Classics
The Home Cook delivers
The Home Cook
Alex Guarnaschelli has undisputable culinary royalty in her blood: Her mother edited the seminal 1997 edition of The Joy of Cooking, the book that designed the way an entire generation cooked for their families. When she was growing up, her parents would pull regularly from their vast shelf of cookbooks for classics like lasagna and chicken cacciatore. She learned to love this stable of Italian-American dishes—but found herself updating some recipes to suit modern tastes and the growing availability of exotic ingredients. The result of many years of this tweaking is The Home Cook, a collection of nearly 300 dishes that Guarnaschelli turns to time and time again when she wants something that’s comforting and easy to make.
In The Home Cook, you’ll find no overly long laundry lists of ingredients or requirements for specialized equipment. Although some of these recipes require planning ahead, they are all designed to be easily memorized so they can be made again and again—and you’ll want to make them again and again. There’s a classic yellow layer cake recipe (that’s made more interesting by the addition of some brandied cherries), and there’s Chicken Marbella 2.0—a dish taken and interpreted from The Silver Palate Cookbook. There’s also, however, some new classics that will quickly become a part of your rotation, like gnocchi macaroni and cheese and grilled tomato salad with oregano. A large part of the modern feel that this book has over The Joy of Cooking and its like, is the wide spectrum of salads and vegetable side dishes it contains. Farmer’s markets and whole food diets are much more de mode now than they were in 1997, it turns out.
These are simple recipes made for weeknight dinners or casual gatherings with friends, covering everything from pickled vegetables, to pasta, to grain salads to cocktails. There are a few recipes with intimidating ingredients like trout roe and Maldon sea salt (where even is the Maldon Sea? Have y’all been keeping me in the dark about this one?), but for the most part these dishes aren’t aimed at gourmets; they’re for, as the title suggests, home cooks. There are, for instance, plenty of approachable one-course meals with inexpensive ingredients: a beef and carrot stew that’s a soul-warming tonic in the colder months, and a curried black bass with spicy black beans. There’s also whole sections dedicated to root vegetables, mushrooms and onions: Vegetables that every competent home cook should know how to make into a tasty side dish. And the section on common sauces and dressings in the back of the book is an invaluable cornerstone of anybody’s culinary education. The recipes from this book that pleased and surprised me the most were the roasted radishes (it had never occurred to me before that one could do anything with radishes besides put them into a fresh salad) and the wheat berry and parsley salad: Two dishes that I imagine I’ll be making again in the near future.
Despite her long and impressive career as a chef (she’s won the title Iron Chef on the Food Network and has been executive chef at Butter Restaurant since 2003), Guarnaschelli still knows how to craft recipes and prose for novice cooks that don’t intimidate. The Home Cook wins a spot on “your special shelf,” as Guarnaschelli herself says, “the one with the sauce-spattered books that you take down and use all the time.”