Seasons by the Sea: For the Cook's Bookshelf

Ina Garten credits Anna Pump as the inspiration for her baked spinach and zucchini recipe, pictured, a version of which is also in “The Loaves and Fishes Cookbook.” Clarkson Potter

Of the three cookbooks reviewed here, two are new and one is the reprint of a local classic. Two are very similar, in that their authors, Ina Garten and the late Anna Pump, were dear friends and had cooked together.

“Cook Like a Pro” is the 11th cookbook by Ina Garten (the Barefoot Contessa). “The Loaves and Fishes Cookbook” by Anna Pump with Gen LeRoy was Anna’s first cookbook of four, published in 1985 and recently reissued. The third book here is Gwyneth Paltrow’s fourth book, “The Clean Plate.” It is not so much a cookbook as it is a series of recipes and six doctor-approved cleanses, described as “eat, reset, heal.”

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The similarities between Ina Garten’s book and Anna Pump’s are logical. They had worked together at the original Barefoot Contessa in Westhampton Beach, both had takeout shops with catering businesses, both lived locally year round, and both love entertaining and cooking for friends and family. Gwyneth Paltrow’s entire book has recipes designed for two because “it’s generally just for myself and leftovers.” Who is “leftovers” I wonder?

Anna Pump’s book has helpful hints, snippets of poetry and literature, and such delightful lagniappes as “always keep heavy cream on hand inside your refrigerator. So many recipes call for it.” You can tell she grew up on a farm, where everything was grown, harvested, pickled, put up, baked, skinned, smoked, milked, you name it. 

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Ms. Paltrow’s book, “The Clean Plate,” begins: “life is messy” and “I hear a common refrain ‘I don’t feel . . . great.’ ” This book has moved past the psy cho-spiritual nutrition, anthroposophical medicine, and lots of xylitol of her last book and onto a variety of cleanses and detoxes from fat-flush to heavy-metal detox to adrenal support to candida reset to heart health and veg-friendly ayurveda. 

There are interviews with six doctors for each category, but I got exhausted by the research on leaky guts, toxic triggers, leptin and ghrelin, horsetail, red clover, and oral chelators. One doctor sells supplements online,another doctor recommends an emerimide (a “blood-brain-barrier-passing metal chelator) called Irminix that might be available in a few years from a biotechnology company called EmeraMed. One doctor says we should only drink bottled water, bottled water in glass bottles. There is a smoothie recipe with something called chlorella, similar to spirulina. According to Dr. Andrew Weil, however, chlorella’s nutritional benefits are “scant at best, although it probably won’t hurt you.”

There are some nice recipes, however, and it appears that chicken and eggs are not evil nutritional hobgoblins like most everything else. Have you ever heard of aquafaba? You know that mucus-y goo from a can of chickpeas that you drain off before you enjoy the chickpeas? You can make aquafaba with it, a nifty (albeit strange and very oily) mayonnaise substitute, a thick white substance that can be flavored with garlic, herbs, citrus, etc. You can also tailor butternut squash neck and jicama slices into taco shells, whee! A lot of the recipes wisely rely on international flavors from Mexico, the Middle East, Japan, Korea, and India.

I tried one recipe for a “soccata,” presumably a riff on “socca,” a chickpea pancake that is the street food of Provence, specifically Nice. It is perplexing that the versions in this book are called soccata because soccata is a destructive insect, the sorghum shoot fly, found in various grain plants in Asia and Africa. Ugh. This recipe did not work terribly well. It was very thick and gummy. Chickpea batter is usually pourable and is meant to sit for several hours before frying. I resorted to a Richard Olney recipe just to make sure my chickpea flour was not at fault; his version came out lighter, thinner, and very crisp around the edges, as desired.

When I get a new cookbook, especially by someone who has published a lot, I want to see something new and different and inspiring. Such is the case with “Cook Like a Pro.” The short ribs and the blue cheese grits were some of the best I’ve ever tried, and I’m a grits snob. Next summer I will try the chipotle Parmesan sweet corn. Tomorrow I’m going to make cauliflower toast and roasted eggplant Parmesan. The Barefoot Contessa cookbooks always have ingredients you can find anywhere, and the recipes have been tested and tested and tested. Ina Garten delights in the high with the low, for example, humble and inexpensive chicken thighs get a grand mustard sauce. She also always gives credit to others, and dear Anna Pump is mentioned numerous times in this book, for teaching her how to make homemade vanilla extract and for being the inspiration for a baked spinach and zucchini dish. Actually, the recipe in the Loaves and Fishes Cookbook is almost identical to Ina’s and they are both excellent.

In Anna Pump’s introduction, she says, “I love simple foods as well as grand,” and you will find all of those in this book, from soufflés and beef filet to cod fritters and kohlrabi. If you are a fan of the Loaves and Fishes takeout shop in Sagaponack, you will find these same recipes still being served 34 years later: fresh peas with dill, gravlax, frozen dessert mousses, and the famous lobster salad. The anecdotes, helpful hints, and recipes make me miss Anna, and make me want to get into the kitchen. As The Philadelphia Inquirer said in its review 34 years ago, this book “blends the poetry of good food with the practicality of the kitchen.”

“The Loaves and Fishes Cookbook” reprint is available at the Loaves and Fishes Cookshop in Bridgehampton and online at loavesandfishes.us.

“Cook Like a Pro” teaches you just that, with sections divided into categories like “Taste Like a Pro,” “Season Like a Pro,” and “Plate Like a Pro.” This book, along with the retro re-issued “Loaves and Fishes Cookbook,” really makes you want to get into the kitchen and have some fun. And then invite everyone to your table to share that fun and good food.

I’m sure “The Clean Plate” has its value for those who feel the need to cleanse and detox and cook for one and take supplements, but now I’m wondering if it should really be included in a roundup of local cookbooks? Perhaps it would be better suited in the self-help section of a bookstore? Regardless, I learned a lot from all three books.

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The book covers for "The Loaves and Fishes Cookbook" and "The Clean Plate"