Thursday, March 20, 2008

Second Chances and Hidden Treasures

I am a big fan of used books, especially used cookbooks. First of all, they are much more affordable than new cookbooks, which often cost more than $30 these days. As much as I may want them, I cannot afford every new cookbook that comes along. Once a book is published though, it can disappear from bookshelves before I get a chance to buy it. And, of course, some books do not come to my attention until I find reference to them, long after they have gone out of print.

Thank goodness for Amazon! When they added used books to their Internet bookstore, a whole new world opened up for me. There is something intriguing about getting a book that someone else used before me. I love to find older books and first editions, especially from authors I consider to be collectible -- like an autographed, first-edition Julia Child. Those are hard to find though. But even when there is not much price difference between old and new editions, I still prefer the used book.

As I thumb through a used book for the first time, I always look for signs of recipes the previous owner may have tried. Does the book fall open to a certain page? Are there any sauce smudges or telltale splatters on the pages? I wonder why this book is in my kitchen now, instead of the one where it started out? I long for the pages to speak to me. Usually though, my second-chance cookbook offers up a stony silence to my questions.

Today I was examining a recently purchased used book for inspiration while writing my column. Cucina Simpatica is a cookbook that should have been in my collection a long time ago, but in 1991 my mind was elsewhere, I guess. The famed Al Forno restaurant was on the leading edge of wood-burning oven and open flame grilling back in the 80's and inspired the cookbook ten years later. During that decade, I was on the road, both literally and foodwise, somewhere between eastern North Carolina barbecue, ragin' Cajun flavors, nouvelle California cuisine, and sophisticated southern fare in Atlanta. Providence, RI was a little off my beaten path.

Now that I am back and re-settled "somewhere in the middle" -- of the country and the latest food trends -- I find myself rebelling against the current low-carb revolution and hungering for (the occasional) pasta and pizza, with their ooey-gooey cheesy charm. And, by some stroke of incredible good fortune, I have my very own wood-fired brick oven!! We've mastered homemade pizza in our brick oven, and even made some respectable artisan bread, but the Al Forno recipes are here to tempt us with new brick oven experiences. I really needed Cucina Simpatica in my collection. Thanks Amazon!

Finally, though, a used cookbook actually spoke to me and Cucina Simpatica divulged some secrets of its former life. As I thumbed through the pages, I was rewarded with not one, but two hidden recipes. The previous owner was a newspaper recipe clipper! From Thursday, January 23, 1992 was a copy of one of a Pierre Franey's, 60-Minute Gourmet columns. Someone thought the recipe for Shrimp and Pasta Medley sounded good. I wonder if the book's previous owner ever tried it?

The other find between the pages was a recipe for "Sunny Vinaigrette," which sounds quite tasty, either as a salad dressing or as a marinade, as suggested. I think I'll make some tomorrow, just so I know the recipe was not clipped in vain, all those years ago. I'll probably even make that pasta dish, too. Why not? Everyone deserves a second chance.

(from the newspaper clipping long-ago hidden in a used cookbook)
6 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/4 c. water
1/4 c. finely chopped sun-dried tomato
2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 large cloves garlic, pressed
dash of cracked black pepper
or red pepper flakes (optional)
1 1/2 c. olive oil

In a 1-quart bowl, mix all ingredients except oil. Whisk in oil to blend thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate in a non-corrosive container up to 1 month. Bring to room temperature and whisk or shake before using.

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