Summer is an easy beast.
Who doesn’t love the riot of ripe tomatoes, the flesh of figs, the thwack of a watermelon being opened with a knife? It’s life, unbound, summer is. It’s heat and leaning into it, it’s grapes and lemonade, hikes to clear-blue lakes, picnics on the beach, and staying up late on the porch, talking, until the light leaves the sky at nearly 10. It’s everything we hope for, all year long.
It’s also exhausting. Summer is utterly exhausting.
Autumn? The first chill. Darkness at 6:30 in the evening and fading faster every day. Hot soups seem appealing again. And squashes. So many squashes.
The autumn inspires me to cook, to play with my food, to settle in.
And this season, I’m so excited to be cooking out of Melissa Clark’s terrific new book, Cook This Now: 120 Easy and Delectable Dishes You Can’t Wait to Make.
Cook This Now is a kitchen diary of sorts, one compiled by one of the smartest minds in food today. Melissa Clark? She knows food. She knows how to make homey food with sophisticated flavors. Shaved fennel salad with parmesan and orange zest. Cinnamon roasted sweet potatoes and garlic. Baked stuffed potatoes with corned beef and dill butter. I want to make everything in this book.
If you don’t know Melissa’s work, you should. She writes a weekly column for the New York Times called A Good Appetite, which inspires me to move into the kitchen every week. In fact, I happened to read her first column there in early 2007, with a recipe for buttery polenta with olive-oil fried eggs, the day it came out. That night, I made it for dinner with Danny. It was the first time I cooked for him that I felt entirely confident in the kitchen.
We’ve made many of Melissa’s recipes in this house and all of them with great success. We’ve adapted some of them on this site, as well. Asparagus salad with walnuts and mizithra, the raw brussels sprouts salad, and spicy gingerbread men not only worked well but have stayed in our rotation. Melissa knows what she is doing.
One taste of this roasted cauliflower with salted yogurt and pomegranate seeds confirmed that for me.
These are whole-grain peanut butter cookies. Melissa learned the recipe for whole-wheat peanut butter cookies from her friend, Anna Painter, the former pastry chef of A Li Da in Brooklyn. Now, I knew I couldn’t have the whole wheat, but I’m pretty crazy about whole-grain baking these days. So, I used the original recipe and played with oat, teff, and quinoa.
Eureka. Best peanut butter cookies I’ve ever made. Such a complexity of flavor.
These are keepers.
(I might have to write these up as a recipe for you soon. I want you to have them too.)
The beauty of this book of Melissa’s is that she created these dishes for her family. Her NY Times column recipes are approachable but push you a little. These recipes are determined only by you getting your butt to the farmers’ market for fresh vegetables and fruits. And paying attention to what the season wants you to eat.
This dish above was lunch for us last week. Pork confit (Danny was playing with a recipe), sauteed red cabbage with shallots and carraway, roasted squash, and sauteed apples. It was one of the best lunches we’ve eaten in awhile. And it came from the produce sitting on our kitchen counter, threatening to turn.
It’s the kind of dish Melissa would have made too.
I know darn well that when next summer comes around I’ll be excited for the riot. And with recipes like cantaloupe and yogurt soup with toasted cumin salt, cucumber and almond salad with shiso, and fresh peach buttermilk ice cream, Cook This Now will still be open on our kitchen counter.
SHREDDED BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH PANCETTA AND CARAWAY
This is Melissa’s recipe, straight from her book. I don’t ever do that anymore. (Oh, the first few months of this blog, when I thought it was okay to just write up someone’s recipe in this space. But no one was reading then.) However, a number of us who keep blogs are highlighting some of the November recipes from Cook This Now, as a way of making sure people hear about this book. It’s that good.
This dish is simple to make less than 10 minutes but it’s a lovely layering of tastes to honor autumn. There’s something very green and cabbagey about brussels sprouts, but with a faint sweetness. The slight sternness of the caraway seeds cuts through those tastes. And pancetta? Please.
I have a feeling this one is going to end up on our Thanksgiving table this year.
1 pound Brussels sprouts
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 ½ teaspoons caraway seeds
4 ounces pancetta, diced small (about ½ cup)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
Use a paring knife to trim the bottoms of the sprouts; peel away any browned leaves (or fibrous dark green leaves). In a food processor fitted with the slicing blade, shred the Brussels sprouts. Toss the sprouts with 2 tablespoons oil, the garlic, and the caraway seeds.
Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and cook until golden, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the Brussels sprouts mixture and cook, tossing, until wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Season with the salt and pepper.