Recipes are just something to read between the lines

January 04, 1995|By Karen Avenoso | Karen Avenoso,New York Daily News

"Nowadays, so many cookbooks are just computerized laundry lists of recipes," says James Villas, author of "My Mother's Southern Kitchen" (Macmillan. $25). "Their recipes may be good but they lack humanity, heart and soul."

Mr. Villas' book, in contrast, interweaves Ma's recipes for pork pie and fried rabbit with witticisms about her bridge club meetings. Along with two other new culinary storybooks -- "Cooking Provence" (Macmillan, $25) by Antoine Bouterin and "Bitter Almonds" (William Morrow, $20) by Maria Grammatico and Mary Taylor Simeti -- it could create a whole new literary genre: cookbooks for foodies who'd rather don reading specs than aprons.

In "Bitter Almonds," more than half of the text is devoted to Ms. Grammatico's painful childhood in Erice, Sicily. Vividly painted memories of Good Friday processions, orphanage life and itchy undershirts are preludes to recipes for marzipan desserts, which Ms. Grammatico currently sells at her Erice pastry shop.

"After reading about how my mom made fried chicken -- and how she slapped my wrist whenever I turned the pieces too many times -- readers, I hope, will want to race to the kitchen so they can have the same experience of love and good food," Mr. Villas says. This is one of his recipes:

Buttermilk Biscuits Makes about 16 biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup Crisco vegetable shortening

1 cup buttermilk

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large mixing bowl. Cut in shortening with pastry cutter or two knives until mixture is well-blended and mealy. Add buttermilk and mix with large spoon to form soft dough. Add more buttermilk if necessary.

Turn dough out on lightly floured surface. Using light touch, turn edges of dough toward middle, but do not knead. Press out to 1/4 -inch thickness. Cut into even rounds with a small juice glass or biscuit cutter. Place rounds 1/2 inch apart on large baking sheet. Bake till just lightly browned on top, about 12 minutes.


This recipe is from "Cooking Provence":

Carrot-Eggplant Stew with Lemon and Rosemary Serves 4

2 tablespoons corn or peanut oil

1 large onion, thinly sliced

4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

3 large carrots, sliced 1/2 -inch thick

zest of 1 lemon, cut into large strips

2 plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise, then into thin wedges

4 cups homemade or canned low-salt chicken broth

pinch of salt

pinch freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 large eggplant, peeled, cut in 1 1/2 -inch cubes

1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary

In large saucepan over medium-high heat, heat oil until very hot but not smoking. Saute onion till golden, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, carrots, lemon zest (twist and squeeze a bit to release oils) and tomatoes and cook 1 to 2 minutes. Add 3 cups broth, salt and pepper; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add oil and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Add remaining broth, eggplant and rosemary, and cook 15 minutes. Serve vegetables on plates, surrounded by broth.


This is from "Bitter Almonds":

Almond Cookies Makes about 48 cookies

2 cups whole unblanched almonds, toasted

1 1/4 cups sugar

2 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 egg whites

2 teaspoons almond extract

Heat oven to 300 degrees. Line cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Butter and flour the foil. Combine almonds, sugar, flour and salt in food processor. Blend to a fine, crumbly powder. Transfer to bowl. Stir in egg whites and almond extract. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto cookie sheet, about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake 20 minutes, or till dry. Let cool slightly on cookie sheet before removing.

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