26 September 2011

Cooking Dinner

Full Disclosure: The author's sent me a copy of their book. My gentle readers might think this happens a lot. Well, much to my chagrin it does not happen nearly enough! Seriously all you editors out there at Clarkson Potter and Chronicle, send us your books... sorry, I digress... Generally, however, we are kind of the low-girl-on-the-totem-pole. Cookbook writers, like everyone else who publishes, get a really small budget to market their books. They make a big list and then they get a dozen books to send out, so of course, they go to big media outlets. While we are often asked it we will review a book, we often fail to make the final cut. So when Rima Barkett and Claudia Pruett asked if I wanted a review copy, I said yes, but didn't really expect to make the cut. So imagine my surprise when a big fat envelope arrived with a shiny copy of their book, Cooking Dinner.

I love cookbooks that advocate family dinner. As a child in Alabama, everyone in the family had Sunday dinner together whether you wanted to or not! I learned to cook, not from the thousand cookbooks that line my walls, but at the elbows of the women in my life. Cooking, like reading, is something one needs to actually see being done.

Cooking Dinner: Simple Italian Family Recipes Everyone Can Make are just that: simple recipes that you can make with your kids in tow and feed to everyone in the family and all those people who happen to be hanging around the house when dinner is served. The recipes are full of flavor while maintaining a simple kitchen-friendly vibe.

One of the nicest features of the cookbook is the addition of info bubbles beside the recipes. They offer info, tips and a helping hand. The helping hand feature is aimed at the kids in your kitchen, but if you cook, you know there is always someone coming in and asking, "Can I help?" The helping hand feature gives an efficient and easy answer to satisfy even the biggest helping hand.

Writing a cookbook just wasn't enough for Barkett and Pruett. The pair has a website, A Tavola Together, which is chocked full of tips, recipes, shopping lists and more to keep the family in the kitchen.

My favorite recipe from the book is the penne with asparagus. I love both penne and asparagus, and when you add cream and cheese how could you go wrong?

Penne with Asparagus

1 pound penne pasta
1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, peeled & chopped fine, about 1 cup
2 pounds asparagus, rinsed and cut into 1/2 pieces
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Dash freshly ground pepper
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over low to medium heat. Add onion saute until translucent, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot over high heat. When the water is boiling, add 2 tablespoons salt and penne pasta. Reduce heat to medium-high and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally.

Add asparagus, salt and pepper to the onions. continue cooking, stirring occasionally. After 5 minutes, add cream and cook two more minutes.

Meanwhile, pour hot water into a serving bowl and let stand. This is an important step which serves to warm the bowl.

When the penne are 3 minute from being done, transfer them to the sauce in the skillet using a slotted spoon. Add about 1/3 cup of the cooing water and cook for a few more minutes over medium heat, stirring often and adding more water if necessary. he pasta will finish cooking in the sauce. Taste and adjust salt and pepper. Stir in 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese.

When the penne are ready, pour out the water and dry the serving bowl. Transfer penne to the bowl. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese and serve.

The tip for this recipe: Slice the asparagus in the diagonal to match the shape of the peen pasta.

The helping hand: Young children can help rinse the asparagus. Older ones can grate the Parmesan.

If you are looking for a way to get the whole family into the kitchen, grab a copy of Cooking Dinner and get in there and cook dinner.

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