Reinvented American dishes are what many home cooks are hungry for these days, and "Recipes from Home" by David Page and Barbara Shinn can feed that need. Filled with memories and rooted in regionalism, this new cookbook is a celebration of American food and family cooking.
Ms. Shinn and Mr. Page both hail from the Midwest. She grew up in Ohio; he's from Wisconsin. Gathering their culinary expertise in northern California and their love of local bounty from their travels across the country, they pulled it all together in New York City's Greenwich Village in 1993, when they opened their cozy little restaurant, Home.
There, in the heart of hip and trendy, the couple appealed to the homey palates many of us grew up with, but offered meals that were even better than the originals. The restaurant is hugely popular.
Their unusually shaped cookbook - long and narrow - is a metaphor for the restaurant, which is also long and narrow. "People who know our restaurant and see the book always laugh, because the shape is so unique," says Page.
"Recipes From Home" is a collection of 255 updated, home-inspired recipes. Certain recipes, such as Dad Page's Macaroni and Cheese, Cornmeal-Crusted Garlic Potato Cakes (roughly based on Tater Tots), and Chocolate Pudding - which is the single most-often requested recipe by their restaurant customers - are dishes you will want to try. Make sure to read the informative chapter on canning, which offers a primer on the process, along with wonderful recipes for jams and preserves, relishes, and whole fruits. The section on "Basic Condiments" even shares their Famous Tomato Ketchup recipe, an item you might never have thought of preparing yourself - until now.
The book was timed to coincide with the proliferation of seasonal produce and local ingredients that can be found at farmers' markets.
"People always judge the summer by the bounty of the tomato season," says Page, "the same way that in Bordeaux you remember the vintages of wine."
Shinn is quick to add, "This year when you go to the farmers' market, there will be an incredible harvest. A good solid freeze in the winter brings on quality crops.... The land drinks in the winter and breathes out in the summer."
The couple know the land and what makes it bountiful. They recently moved to a 22-acre farm on Long Island's North Fork, where they are start-up winemakers.
In between working on the vineyard and putting in time at their city restaurant, they are also touring the country this summer to promote and share the cookbook, which includes a delightful smattering of treasured family photographs and recollections.
"My parents always had gardens, as did everyone else in Wisconsin," says Page. "It was my father who taught me how to eat a tomato. The whole idea is that it has to be 85 degrees and very humid. You walk into the kitchen, pick up a salt shaker, then walk into the garden and pick a tomato. You feel the flesh and look at the color - bright, beautiful red. You take a first big bite, which squirts you in the face and drips down the chin. Now you can add a little salt. That was the ritual."
While the markets are now bulging with the bounty of August, be sure to try these simple tomato recipes.
This slow-drying method makes great use of late-summer tomatoes. Once dried, cover them with olive oil in an airtight container, and they'll keep in the fridge for two weeks. Use them in sauces, on sandwiches, in salads and soups.
5 pounds ripe plum tomatoes
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
10 assorted fresh herb sprigs, such as summer savory, oregano, basil, thyme, and/or rosemary
3 garlic cloves, slivered
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 175 degrees F. Place wire cooling racks in two 18-inch-by-12-inch baking sheets with half-inch edges.
Cut the tomatoes lengthwise in half and scoop out the seeds (a melon baller works well). Place the tomatoes in a large bowl, add the rest of the ingredients, and toss to coat well. Place the tomatoes cut side up on the wire racks. Scatter any herbs and garlic left behind in the bowl over the top. Slowly dry the tomatoes in the oven until shriveled but still somewhat moist, 6 to 8 hours, or overnight.
Makes about 5 cups.
Chilled Tomato Soup
Inspired by gazpacho, this uncooked chilled tomato soup is chunky with vegetables straight from the farm stand. Serve it really cold, in prechilled bowls.
4 pounds very ripe tomatoes
3 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, to taste
1/4 cup diced red onion (1/8-inch dice)
1/2 cup diced summer squash (1/8-inch dice)
1/2 cup diced zucchini (1/8-inch dice)
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper (1/8-inch dice)
1/4 cup olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or summer savory
Core tomatoes and cut into chunks, then puree in a food processor in two batches until smooth. Place a large strainer over a large bowl and press the tomatoes through the strainer. Add the vinegar, sugar, and cayenne to the puree and mix thoroughly. Stir in the diced vegetables and olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Serve chilled, garnished with the fresh herbs.
This is a recipe designed to remind you how good a good summer tomato really is.
2 very ripe tomatoes, cut into wedges or slices
8 medium fresh basil leaves, torn in half
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Toss all the ingredients in a non-metal bowl. Let stand for 10 to 20 minutes before serving.