|Atlantic Unbound's Review of Mediterranian Grains and Greens|
Table: Adventures in Grains and Greens
August 26, 1998
No one can sell a dish like Paula Wolfert. When she gets enthusiastic in a cooking class, her eyes widen, she leans forward so that her whole body is telling you how incomparable, how superb, how absolutely delicious what she is about to show you will be -- how once you taste the results you'll forget your troubles and march forward into the travails of life with renewed vigor.
She manages to convey this raw, lusty love of food in her writing, too, and has just published a new cookbook, Mediterranean Grains and Greens. Look at the introduction to a ratatouille that uses a quart of oil. Yes, I've given you all the bad news first. Wolfert promises that at the end you'll get most of it back to reuse for other vegetable dishes, and that the ratatouille itself will be so fabulous (as with "absolutely delicious," Wolfert is not shy about using "fabulous" -- she even puts it into the recipe's title) that you'll never return to making another kind. It takes a long time, and it uses up a lot of the late-summer vegetables that cooks will frantically be trying to showcase in the next few weeks.
Mediterranean Grains and Greens is the latest installment detailing Wolfert's food adventures around the shores of everyone's favorite food-inspiring sea. (To learn more about her and the many books she has written, which are the subject of a cult among food lovers and food writers, visit her new Web site.) I happen to have been along on one or two of these trips, and simply marvel at how much Wolfert gleaned and took home. We were slugs by comparison. (She has probably figured out how to cook slugs, too -- after all, the book includes a section on home-grown snails).
Of course, the focus is on many of the wild greens that have been used for millennia in the countries around the Mediterranean but are only now becoming available in this country -- unless you know how to recognize borage, Goldberger purslane, mallow, bladder campion, or Roman pimpernel in your own garden. Never fear. Wolfert gives more widely available substitutions for each green.
And, of course, her recipes are Paula Wolfert absolutely delicious. I'm very glad she has given me a way to serve "yard-long" beans, as she calls those intriguing but puzzling ropelike string beans I see at Asian markets, and that her way -- a peppery salad with chopped walnuts -- includes plain garden greens. And I'm grateful that she has solved the ageless stirring-of-polenta question. Double the time and cut out all the work, she says, and you'll have polenta that's "glossy, soft, tender, and fluffy, with the voluminous 'bosomy' quality a well-made polenta should have."
Who could resist a bosomy polenta? I can't, just as I can't resist following Paula on her tireless treks, which luckily enough I can do at my computer and at the stove.
-- Corby Kummer
|--From Corby's table at Corby Kummer's Table\The Atlantic Unbound--|
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