Cookbooks are love stories. Big, tasty, epic love stories. Not Colin Firth "I love you just the way you are" kind of love stories. Cookbooks (at least my favourite ones) are life-changing, how-to books. They're cultural touchstones as well as personal journals; richly imbued with intimate details about food and family. They just need to be read with an open heart and appetite to be fully appreciated. Otherwise, they're a random collection of recipes by a stranger. And who wants that? Not me. We (and definitely I) want recipes that are grounded to a sense of people and place.
I'm a late and reluctant convert to Giada de Laurentiis. I didn't feel the love. I was not swayed by her cooking show, her enviable California kitchen or her strangely fascinating talent for eating her food without smudging her lipstick nor eating utensils (Honest, watch the show. It's mesmerizing.). It's chick lit meets food tv.
I liked her previous cookbooks (Everyday Italian, Giada's Kitchen, Giada's Family Dinners, Giada at Home, Everyday Pasta) well enough. They were all brimming with Italian comfort food classics; all gorgeously photographed. Certainly, lots of other people loved her and her mini food/publishing empire. But still I resisted. I understood her appeal but no siree, she's not for me. I even made this butternut squash and beef recipe from book #4 and loved it.
It finally occurred to me: Even though her food and recipes were full of big flavours, she didn't appeal to me as a home cook. Everything looked and felt too pat, too perfect, too scripted. We were food frenemies. All that changed with her latest cookbook, Weeknights with Giada. It's her sixth cookbook and life has changed: she's a new mother and her approach to cooking and food has changed. Gone are the days when she would (and could) spend hours in the kitchen preparing for a big meal. This is a pared down, reprioritized Giada.
Cooking is still about pleasure and bringing close friends and family together – but there's a more relaxed and playful approach to her meals. This is weeknight cooking at its best: creative, practical, easy and uncompromisingly delicious. There's an entire chapter devoted to breakfast for dinner because both her husband and Jade (her toddler) adore breakfast. And many of the recipes are constructed in layers with lots of options for fussy eaters, little tummies or portable options (picnics and potlucks).
Finally, this is the Giada de Larentiis cookbook I've been waiting for and I'm thrilled that her publisher, Clarkson Potter, let us share two of her recipes with you.
Crispy Breakfast Pita
6 (6-inch) pita breads
Extra-virgin olive oil
6 large eggs
3/4 cup (6 ounces) mascarpone cheese
Grated zest of 1/2 large lemon
Kosher salt and freshly ground
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 packed cups (3 ounces) arugula or baby spinach
8 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto
Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat or preheat a gas or charcoal grill. Brush each side of the pita breads with ½ teaspoon olive oil and grill for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until crisp. Remove from the grill and cool slightly. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Crack the eggs directly into the pan and cook until the egg whites are set, 2 to 3 minutes. Combine the mascarpone cheese, lemon zest, ½ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper in a small bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk together 3 tablespoons olive oil, the lemon juice, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper until smooth.
Add the arugula and toss until coated. Spread each pita with 2 tablespoons of the mascarpone mixture.
Divide the prosciutto on top. Divide the arugula and mound on top of the prosciutto. Carefully place a fried egg on top of each pita. Season the eggs with a pinch of salt and pepper, and serve.
Wagon Wheel Pasta with Pancetta and Peas
Serves 4 to 6
1 pound wagon wheel-shaped pasta (rotelle)
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
8 ounces pancetta, finely diced (about 2 ¼ cups)
2 large or 4 small shallots, chopped
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 cups (5 ounces) sugar snap peas, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups (9 ounces) shelled edamame beans
1 cup frozen petite peas, thawed
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and reserve about 1 cup of the pasta water.
In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring frequently, until golden and crisp, 6 to 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the pancetta and drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Add the shallots to the pan and cook until soft, 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the broth and scrape up the browned bits that cling to the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Stir in the snap peas and simmer for 2 minutes, until tender. Add the pasta, cooked pancetta, edamame, petite peas, Parmesan cheese, the remaining ¼ cup olive oil, the salt, pepper, and mint. Toss until coated, adding the reserved pasta water, 1 tablespoon at a time, as needed to loosen the sauce.
Transfer to a bowl and serve.
Excerpted from Weeknights with Giada by Giada De Laurentiis Copyright © 2012 by Giada De Laurentiis. Photographs copyright © 2012 by Amy Neunsinger. Excerpted by permission of Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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