Great cookbooks are generally dirty books


September 13, 1992|By ROB KASPER

We have rows of cookbooks in our house. They overwhelm one kitchen counter top and occupy several shelves in the the pantry. Many of them are so clean they glisten in the light. But our favorites are the dirty cookbooks. The ones with smudges, stains, even occasional burn marks on them. These are the ones that get used. They aren't preserved for state occasions. They are pulled out for big-deal dinners and for weeknight fare.

The stains on the books are telling. The pages of Marcella Hazan's "Classic Italian Cooking," are dabbled with olive oil. Marcella can't cook without olive oil, and lectures her readers on the importance of using only the top grade stuff. So every time my wife and I cook something from this cookbook, whether it is grilled fish or meatballs, we pour the olive oil. Inevitably, some of it spatters.

There are chocolate stains on Maida Heatter's "Book of Great Desserts." Perhaps there are some cooks who can remains disciplined and neat when chocolate melts and tortes appear. But not us. We get excited.

The smudge on Janie Hibler's "Dungeness Crab and Blackberry Cobblers" is black bean sauce. I used it when I made her lumberjack steak, a 2-pound loin of beef, grilled. I got a little carried away, slinging ingredients around like a logger, and instead of felling redwoods, I knocked over the bottle of black bean sauce.

"The Thrill of the Grill," by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughy, is my constant companion at the backyard barbecue kettle. That book smells of smoke.

But our most battered book is "Cooking With Lydie Marshall." I don't remember how long we have had this hardback book, but when I opened it a minute ago I saw that it was published in 1982. It has been used so often that, when I opened it, some of its pages tried to fall out.

There is a large burn mark on the binding. I'm not sure how it got there. Probably when it got too close to the pan cooking her roast chicken stuffed with garlic, or the braised beef with vegetables, cooked for 2 1/2 hours in a pot with a sealed lid.

Her food takes some time to prepare. And sometimes you have to take some extra steps, like sealing the lid of the pot, or braising the sides of a pork loin. But the results are worth it.

"Lydie's suppers," as I call them, are a great lift to a weekend, a comfortable landing after a hard day.

The other day we tried a new dish, pork with prunes. It is not a combination I would ordinarily think of. And it required soaking prunes in wine for two hours. It called for leeks. We didn't have any, so onions were used.

But once again, the old burned book came through.

Lydie Marshall's pork loin stuffed with prunes

1 pound pitted prunes

2 cups dry white wine

1 medium size carrot

2 leeks

5 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon oil

1 teaspoon salt

freshly ground black pepper

4 pounds boned pork loin roast, center cut

Soak prunes for 2 hours in two cups of wine

Peel and cut carrots in 1/4 -inch slices. Cut off the tough green leaves of the leeks and reserve for soup or a stock. Split the whites of the leeks almost to the root and wash under cold running water to remove dirt or sand. Cut the leeks in 1/8 -inch-thick slices.

Combine the leeks and carrots in a 9-quart Dutch oven with 3 tablespoons butter and 1/2 teaspoon salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover tightly and cook over very low heat for 15 minutes, checking once in a while that vegetables do not scorch.

Stick a long slicing knife through the center of the pork roast from one end to the other and stuff prunes in the center of the pork from both ends. Reserve prunes that will not fit.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch cast iron skillet. When fats are hot but not smoking, sear the roast on all sides and ends, using 2 wooden spatulas to help you hold the roast in position while searing.

Scrape out fat if it is burned; otherwise leave it. Bury the roast i the vegetables, with the remaining prunes and the wine. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover.

Cook on the middle shelf of oven heated to 325 degrees for 1 1/2 -2 hours, checking once in a while and stirring.

prunes and vegetables.

Remove the pork from the oven, and let cool in the pot. Refrigerate until needed.

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