Weir Cooking: Recipes From the Wine Country

Mini-Review

Weir Cooking: Recipes From the Wine Country

by Joanne Weir

TimeLife Books, 208 pp., $27.50

In her latest book, Weir Cooking: Recipes From the Wine Country, the companion book to her successful PBS series, Joanne Weir characterizes wine country cooking as a lifestyle, one that is rooted "in the slow lane with all the right priorities." I like that. Talking about "wine country cooking" in this way appeals to me so much more than Weir's earlier explanation of wine country cuisine as "new Mediterranean," which sounds so old and tired it makes me want to scream. For Weir, the "right priorities" of wine country cooking include taking time to savor homegrown vegetables or a glass of wine, spending the whole afternoon cooking and chatting with family and friends, and indulging in extended outdoor dinners. Easy enough. What's best, Weir's invitingly colorful book goes on to teach you just exactly how to do this.

Divided by subject, such as "The Olive Harvest," "The Meat of the Matter," and "Gathering From the Garden," Weir Cooking contains dozens of recipes that entice you to set up shop in the kitchen, cuddle up to "real" (all-natural, straightforward, earthy) ingredients, and spend hours massaging them into terrific, convivial dishes that just won't seem right if they aren't shared. Weir's techniques, for the most part, are accessible to even the most novice of cooks, and the recipes' results make you shine like a pro. Add to this the short sidebars crammed with interesting anecdotes and useful information, and you've got a winner cookbook -- one that you'll find yourself turning to often, even if it's only for a single dish, if not an entire meal.

Thanks to Weir's recent appearance at the Central Market Cooking School, I had the opportunity to sample several of her dishes, recipes she prepared mostly from her You Say Tomato (Broadway Books, $15 paper) cookbook, a softcover tribute to this versatile fruit/vegetable. An absolute dynamo in the kitchen who talks as fast as she cuts and stirs, Weir whipped up crostini, risotto, a red bell pepper lamb stew, an unbelievably buttery tomato/cheese galette, and a uniquely delicious, salad-topped cheese pizza. In my opinion, Weir's most memorable dishes were the easiest to make: the tart, tomato-y crostini and the crisp, refreshing pizza.

Weir is big on pizza. In Weir Cooking, she presents seven pizza recipes in addition to an inspiring list of 24 pizza ideas, ranging from the rather run-of-the-mill colored bell peppers, sausage, and cherry tomatoes to the simple but brilliant combination of roasted onions, gorgonzola, and sage. Weir also talks about topping pizzas with fresh salads, admittedly an out-of-the-ordinary way to serve pizzas, but one that makes so much sense, since salad and pizza are such a classic combination. All you die-hard Texans out there think about the snappy flavor of fresh cilantro dressed with several squeezes of lime. Now imagine this mound of fiesty herbs piled generously atop a warm cheese pizza dotted with a rainbow of bell peppers and jalapeños. Or think Italian, and entertain the idea of a flatleaf parsley salad tossed with shaved Parmigiano and a lemon juice-based vinaigrette tossed on top of the same cheese (fontina and mozzarella) pizza.

It's recipes like these that set Weir and her "wine country" apart. Mediterranean food has been done -- and done well -- for centuries. Weir offers a novel approach to this type of cooking without complicating it. In fact, in many cases she simplifies it. Take her idea of serving warmed, seasoned olives for a change. Or her much welcome trick for keeping risotto creamy without keeping yourself tied to the stove. (You'll have to get the book for this one.) As I think Weir would hope, al fresco meals are easy to imagine as you flip through the pages of Weir Cooking. What this talented chef and author might not know is that Austin, Texas, is about as ideal a place to prepare her "wine country" cuisine as you could find anywhere in world.

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