by Kate Heyhoe
Whether you're setting an Easter table or packing a picnic feast, it's hard to beat the simple combination of spring vegetables and homemade breads. Mother Nature's proud offspring—tender artichokes, pale green lettuces, and sweet Vidalia onions—practically burst from the earth this time of year, with flavors so perfect a cook needs but a light hand when serving them.
A plate of fresh-picked vegetables, delicately seasoned and coupled with the sometimes dense, sometimes airy texture of crusty hand-made breads, are all I need for a satisfyingly indulgent meal. On the other hand, for heartier fare, a robust leg of lamb or an aromatic bean and herb soup become classic ensemble players when accompanied by sides of crisp spring vegetables and aromatic breads.
Recently, two cookbooks arrived in the mail that have inspired my spring table. Mary Ann Esposito's What You Knead takes the mystery out of Italian bread making. She provides three simple yeast doughs and then turns them into dozens of other breads and desserts. Her recipes come from her Italian heritage, watching her nonna make them by memory, a new batch of bread each day; and from her travels to Italy, where customers line up at the panificios each morning for loaves of semolina and other breads integral to their daily meals. Don't miss her mushroom-shaped rolls—fanciful breads ideal for an Easter spread. (Despite my appreciation of tradition, I have to admit that I am pleased she also includes methods for making her doughs in a stand mixer, having just received my first KitchenAid. Her recipes and the machine make an awesome couple.)
It seems to me that cookbook sequels are much more successful than movie sequels, which rarely if ever surpass their original version. More Cooking Secrets of the CIA brings out the best in nature's bounty, introducing even more sumptuous recipes than its best-selling predecessor, Cooking Secrets of the CIA. But these recipes are not frivolous: they maintain the integrity of the foods and their flavors, adding ingredients only when they truly enhance the dish and not just for creative license. The treatments of the vegetables are especially pleasing, which is why I selected them to accompany the simple, rustic breads of Italy.
Together, these books create meals that celebrate the joyous season of spring, appreciating the clean, pure taste of nature's ingredients without garishly overpowering them. I hope you enjoy this sunny sampler and seek out these books for more of the same throughout the year. And by the way, both of these books are companion books to their own PBS series of the same name. Look for the series on your local PBS station.
What You Knead, by Mary Ann Esposito
More Cooking Secrets of the CIA,
from the Culinary Institute of America
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