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Cookbooks : Two Pioneering Palates

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TIMES DEPUTY FOOD EDITOR

Scanning the cookbook shelves at your local bookstore, you may wonder how there is a tree left on earth. Not only are hundreds of books published every year, it seems they immediately replace the hundreds that came out the year before, and will be immediately replaced by the hundreds that will come out next year.

In the cookbook world, where publishers spew forth recipe collections like so many heads of iceberg lettuce rolling off an assembly line, an author’s shelf life is approximately that of fresh fish.

At the risk of stretching a metaphor, the situation stinks.

Nowhere is this more noticeable than in the cases of Elizabeth David and Roy Andries de Groot. “Who?” some may ask. That’s the problem.

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David, who died two years ago, sold more than 2 million cookbooks and is frequently cited as one of the fundamental influences on modern cooking. And de Groot’s “Auberge of the Flowering Hearth,” which has been called “a masterpiece of contemporary food writing,” was published in 1973--hardly a relic by the standards of most types of publishing.

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Yet, of David’s nine cookbooks, only one is still in print in the United States--and that in a sadly inferior new version from a small press. (An American edition of her posthumous book on ices is due later this spring.) De Groot’s classic can only be found in paperback, and only in a few specialty shops.

David, a well-educated and well-traveled British aristocrat, published her first book, “A Book of Mediterranean Food,” in 1950. Part One of the essential David oeuvre followed rapidly: “French Country Cooking” in 1951; “Italian Food” in 1954; “Summer Food” in 1955; and “French Provincial Cooking” in 1960.

In postwar Britain, a bleak and gray land of rationing and food shortages, these books had an almost erotic effect--as if a shipment of dead-ripe tomatoes had suddenly showed up in Trafalgar square.

But David’s appeal goes beyond mere travelogue. Her recipes are scrupulously honest recreations of real cooking. No pandering to quick cooking or processed ingredients (to say nothing of nutritional nuttiness), an Elizabeth David recipe has about it a sense of one good cook telling another good cook how to create something really tasty.

There are many recipes for lamb daube , but how many still have you insert a sliver of herbed salt pork into each chunk of meat the way David does? It’s a small thing, but crucial to a deeply flavored, melting stew.

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What’s more, and something exceedingly rare among cookbook authors of that or any other era, her work is intellectually honest. David was one of the first writers to explore foreign cuisines not from the dining rooms of luxury hotels, but from primary sources--whether they were farmhouse kitchens or 15th Century manuscripts.

Eventually, it was this academic side of food writing that won out. After a 10-year pause during which she opened one of the first “gourmet” cookware chains, she returned to publishing in 1970 with “Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen,” which was followed in 1977 by “English Bread and Yeast Cookery”--books that remain standard references on those subjects.

DeGroot doesn’t cut quite such a monumental figure. Also a son of aristocracy (in his case, both Dutch and English), he came to the United States at the beginning of World War II after suffering injuries to both eyes during the London Blitz. These injuries would later result in total blindness and it was part of his mystique to travel everywhere accompanied by his guide dog, Nusta.

After bouncing around in the fields to which a gentleman of his era might find himself drawn--film, public relations, journalism--he published his first cookbook in 1956. It was, to say the least, an inauspicious beginning. In fact, it is doubtful that many copies of “How I Reduced on the New Rockefeller Diet” are still around. Nor is there much reason they should be (indeed, in later bibliographies in his own books, this title is omitted).

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But that was followed in 1966 by “Feasts for All Seasons,” a wholly wonderful, personal cookbook that is filled with sophisticated recipes and canny cooking tips. It was also a great door-opener. After its publication, he became a regular guest on “The Today Show” and a featured food writer for Esquire.

And, one suspects, that paved the way for the warm welcome he received at a tiny inn called L’Auberge de l’Atre Fleuri, hidden away in the isolated Alpine valley of La Grande Chartreuse.

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For that, we can all be thankful. Memorialized by him in “The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth,” it is, quite simply, the one perfect place each of us hopes to find in our travels. A Brigadoon with the singing and dancing replaced by splendid food and wine.

De Groot probably described it best in the preface to the Ecco Press paperback edition (the only one still in print):

“I found myself in the sun-splashed forest, surrounded, it seemed, by an orchestra of a thousand birds singing in harmony a hundred songs. The trees parted, as if they were a stage curtain, to bring me, for the first time into the extraordinary valley of La Grande Chartreuse. Within a few minutes, I was sitting at a perfectly laid table, with a snow-white cloth, the warm October sun reflected from the wine glasses, the porcelain plates and the silver in the garden of the Auberge of the Flowering Hearth. . . . A bright Alpine Crepy was poured, flashing in the sunlight. A plate was placed before me with a feather-light souffle of the local Alpine velvety rich Beaufort cheese, accented by farm butter churned this morning. My story had started. . . .”

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The owners, Vivette Artaud and Ray Girard, were both warm hostesses and splendid cooks. Their food was not the showman-like extravagance of the three-star kitchen, but simple stuff, prepared with careful attention to each detail.

Indeed, just once cook the marvelous gratin Dauphinois from de Groot’s “Auberge” and you’ll be converted. There are almost as many versions of this dish as there are cookbooks, but rarely do they offer the velvety creaminess and incredible depth of flavor of this one. And it’s really nothing more than potatoes, cream and garlic.

Another good example is de Groot’s pork braised in milk. Sound familiar? It should. It’s something like one of Marcella Hazan’s signature recipes, but it’s different in two crucial ways. First, de Groot uses a thick slice of pork leg to braise, which seems to take to the long cooking better than Hazan’s loin. More importantly, he stuffs the slice with a very French mixture of ham and onions sauteed in butter. The smokiness of the ham permeates the meat, making it a perfect foil for the rich creaminess of the sauce.

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Beyond the mere recipes, the book is a celebration of that imagined life that everyone who has ever worked in the kitchen is certain must exist somewhere--that place where we have nothing more to worry about but how to turn a perfect bounty into a great meal. It is, essentially, a cook’s pastoral, a romance, a dream.

And that is the reason it had such an impact on American cooks of a certain generation. Though Alice Waters may have named her restaurant Chez Panisse after a character in one of Marcel Pagnol’s Provencal comedies, it is clear that her kitchen has more to do with de Groot’s Auberge than Pagnol’s dock-side bar.

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Unfortunately, de Groot never again touched the heights of “Auberge.” He did a creditable job with “Revolutionizing French Cooking,” a 1976 book that managed to capture accurately the sensibilities and philosophies of the new wave of French cooking, yet somehow saddled it with the cumbersome tag “The New Low-High Cuisine.”

Still, the book gives insights into the kitchens of established kings such as Paul Bocuse, Alain Chapel, Paul Haeberlin, Jean and Pierre Troisgros and Roger Verge, as well as rising stars Georges Blanc, Michel Guerard and Marc Meneau (then two-stars) and Claude Darroze (then unstarred), at what was probably the most exciting time in French culinary history.

Granted, this is food of another era. If you’re obsessed by fat, calories and cholesterol, or if you need to have dinner on the table in half an hour, you’ll have to pick and choose very carefully. At the same time, if you rely on a recipe to give you exact measurements and precise instructions, you may find yourself a bit at sea.

This is particularly true of David. She has high expectations for readers and her attitude is that if you’re not up to them . . . well, that’s a pity. Although her prose doesn’t fit neatly into the terse recipe language used in most cookbooks, if you take the time to consider what she is saying, you can figure it out.

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But all of this is part of the books’ charm. These are languid recipes, full of dishes that may take a little more effort (and a bit more cream), but that pay off in the end.

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These recipes have been adapted to fit The Times style.

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The hint of lemon in the stuffing of these paupiettes is what lifts this recipe from “French Country Cooking” above the ordinary. Don’t roll the cutlets too tightly around the filling--the meat will become tough as the filling expands.

PAUPIETTES OF BEEF

2 onions, finely chopped

8 small button mushrooms, minced

3 slices bacon, minced

1 tablespoon bacon fat or olive oil

2 teaspoons finely chopped lemon zest

1 tablespoon bread crumbs

1/2 cup minced parsley

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

1 egg, beaten

1/2 pound beef cutlets, cut from round, about 8 pieces (called milanesas in Latino groceries)

1 teaspoon fresh thyme

Flour

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

In saute pan over medium heat, cook onions, mushrooms and bacon in bacon fat until onions are tender. Remove from heat. Add lemon zest, bread crumbs, parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Mix in egg.

Using rolling pin or meat pounder, lightly flatten each cutlet between sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap. Season each to taste with salt and pepper. Add fresh thyme. On each slice, place 1 heaping tablespoon onion mixture, roll up meat and secure with wood pick, or tie with kitchen string.

Roll each piece in flour. Cook in 2 tablespoons bacon fat or olive oil in skillet over medium heat until brown. Add water just to cover. Simmer very slowly 30 minutes. Add crushed garlic and mustard. Cook another 30 minutes. Sauce should be creamy and piquant and meat should pierce easily with small sharp knife. Makes 4 servings.

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Each serving contains about:

458 calories; 592 mg sodium; 110 mg cholesterol; 36 grams fat; 15 grams carbohydrates; 18 grams protein; 0.66 gram fiber.

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This, from “Auberge of the Flowering Hearth,” is a terrific, light, crisp tart. Notice the old-fashioned technique of smearing the dough across the pastry board using the heel of your hand. Called fraiser in French, it produces a tight, cookie-like rich crust that holds the liquid filling well.

LEMON CREAM TART FROM THE FLOWERING HEARTH (Tarte au Citron a l’Atre Fleuri)

French Short Crust Pastry

2 lemons

2 teaspoons arrowroot or cornstarch

2 tablespoons milk

2 large whole eggs

3 egg yolks

1/2 cup powdered sugar

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Roll out French Short Crust Pastry about 1/8 inch thick. Line lightly buttered 9- or 10-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Lightly score bottom of pie shell, line with foil, and fill with dried beans, rice, pennies or pie weights. Bake at 375 degrees 6 minutes. Remove weights and foil. Bake 5 to 7 minutes until tart lightly colors.

Meanwhile, prepare filling. Using potato peeler or zester, remove zest of 2 lemons. Chop finely and reserve in small bowl. Squeeze 2 lemons over zest. In another small bowl, blend arrowroot and milk and reserve.

In medium mixing bowl, beat whole eggs and yolks with whisk until frothy. Add powdered sugar and continue beating until smooth. Beat in lemon juice and zest, arrowroot mixture and melted butter.

Fill tart shell with mixture, reduce oven to 350 degrees and bake tart until set and top is faintly brown, about 25 to 35 minutes. Serve hot or cold. Makes 6 servings.

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Each serving contains about:

457 calories; 435 mg sodium; 300 mg cholesterol; 27 grams fat; 47 grams carbohydrates; 9 grams protein; 0.10 gram fiber.

French Short Crust Pastry

1 3/4 cups sifted flour

1 teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in small pieces

1 egg

Ice water

1/4 cup sugar

In bowl mix flour and salt. Pour into pile in center of heavy board. Make well in center of flour and put in butter, egg and 2/3 cup ice water with sugar dissolved in it. Quickly and lightly blend flour into butter and egg, rubbing between tips of fingers. As more liquid is needed, add teaspoon ice water, but keep to minimum. Dough should not be wet. As soon as dough will stick together, roll into ball and set aside.

For food processor method, in work bowl fitted with steel blade, combine flour, salt and sugar. Distribute pieces of butter over top and add egg yolk. Pulse until mixture forms cornmeal-like pieces. With motor running, slowly add ice water just until dough forms ball that holds together.

Clean and lightly flour heavy board and begin kneading by pushing and stretching dough into flat round using heel of hand. Roll up and stretch again. Repeat 3 times until dough is satiny. Roll dough into ball, wrap in wax paper or plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 3 hours. Makes 1 (9- or 10-inch) tart shell.

* Platter in lemon tart photo and platter in paupiettes of beef photo from Bristol Farms Cook ‘n’ Things, South Pasadena.

* To find cookbooks by Elizabeth David and Roy Andries de Groot, check used book stores. Also, the reprint of “Auberge of the Flowering Hearth” and the British editions of David’s books are available at Cook’s Library, 8373 W. Third St. in Los Angeles. For information, call (213) 655-3141.

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