A Texas Book Festival Trio
Sweet Myrtle & Bitter Honey: The Mediterranean Flavors of Sardiniaby Efisio Farris
Rizzoli, 272 pp., $39.95
Chef Efisio Farris of Houston's famed Arcodoro and Pomodoro in Dallas is a native-born Sardinian and the island's most ardent culinary ambassador. Sardinia is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean; it's the namesake of sardines, worshipped for its pecorino cheeses and artisanal olive oils, and known for its rustic and robust cuisine based on the bounty of the land.
In Sweet Myrtle & Bitter Honey, Farris vividly reveals his homeland's cuisine through 125 simple and logically written recipes, reinforced with 150 stunning color photographs. The recipe headnotes brilliantly serve as family memoir and historical narrative. Through sidebars we learn of Sardinia's unique ingredients, such as Pecorino Sardo (ewe's-milk cheese), pane carasau (flatbread), fregula (couscouslike pasta), and their famous bitter honey.
When you start to cook the delicious food found within, the genius of this unknown cuisine reveals itself. Imagine calamari with artichokes, or a salad of arugula, watermelon, ricotta, and walnuts. Picture a dish of lamb prosciutto, dandelion, figs, and pecorino cheese; gnocchi with lamb ragù; or grilled sweetbreads with blackberries. Imagine a whole sea bass baked on a bed of potatoes and rosemary, with sides of fava beans with peppermint and cauliflower with olives. Top it all off with tartlets of sweet cheese and saffron and a glass of limoncello.
After feasting from Farris' Sweet Myrtle & Bitter Honey, any thought of conventional Italian food flies out the window, and you're left with a true taste of Sardinia's fiercely independent culture and magical cuisine. – Mick Vann
Saturday, Nov. 3, 10am, cooking tent
The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry: Love, Laughter, and Tears at the WOrld's MOst Famous Cooking Schoolby Kathleen Flinn
Viking, 274 pp., $24.95
People always have and always will run away to join the circus. Perhaps not the literal circus of clowns and acrobats but any circus with allure and glamour that calls one away from a predictable and traditional life. In Kathleen Flinn's case, her circus was Le Cordon Bleu, the venerable Parisian cooking school.
At 36, Flinn found herself gainfully and painfully employed as a executive in the behemoth world of software engineering. Unfulfilled but well-compensated and well-traveled (she officed in London), she was a Francophile and foodie who kept an ad for a French cooking school taped to the wall of her cubicle. The toque-topped woman in the Gourmet ad became a reality when she was abruptly cut loose from her detested job. At the urging of her then-boyfriend, Flinn doffed her suits and bid farewell to the corporate world and donned an apron and headed to Paris for the world's most famous institute de cuisine.
The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry is an homage to the love and passion in which Flinn immersed herself during her year in Paris with her fiancé and later husband. The experience of the school with all its exacting chefs and tearful missteps dovetails nicely with the passionate romance that comes to full bloom in Paris. Flinn is also an experienced and skillful writer, providing an engaging window into her year of living deliciously. The romance of living in Paris with the love of one's life pursuing a long-held dream is pretty good stuff to work with. Because no matter where your own private circus lies, it's always cause for cheering when someone runs to join it. – Barbara Chisholm
Saturday, Nov. 3, 3:30pm, cooking tent
Cheese, Glorious Cheese! More Than 75 Tempting Recipes for Cheese Lovers Everywhereby Paula Lambert
Simon & Schuster, 208 pp., $26.95
Most Central Texas foodies should know Paula Lambert, founder of the Mozzarella Co. in Dallas and one of the state's premier cheese-makers. For those who are not familiar with Lambert and her fabulous cheeses, this book is a perfect introduction. Cheese, Glorious Cheese! presents a compilation of Lambert's favorite recipes using cheese as the main ingredient or as an accent to simple, straightforward recipes. From appetizers to desserts, the book tantalizes the reader with many ways to incorporate cheese into everyday meals, all in good taste and moderation.
The eclectic recipes range from a luscious butternut squash bisque with Gorgonzola cream and chipotle mascarpone to Mexican ham and cheese tortas to gingery pear cheesecake. They are preceded by a short introduction with anecdotes of friends and travel to give it an even more personal touch: an homage to Julia Child's scrambled eggs in the form of a croissant sandwich; reminiscences of Italy through a friend's lemon risotto; the true story of Maytag blue cheese. Many of them are achievable from ingredients readily available in the pantry. A can of tomatoes, sliced sourdough, and the last of my eggplant crop yielded a delicious eggplant strata with herbed goat cheese that was ready in a heartbeat. For next summer, I have my eye on the watermelon and feta salad with mint.
What I particularly like about Lambert's writing is the flexibility of the recipes. While she strives to educate and introduce various cheeses that may be unknown to the average cook, she also offers alternatives and substitutions that work just as well, as she encourages the reader's creativity. – Claudia Alarcón
Sunday, Nov. 4, 2pm, cooking tent
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