Jean-Georges Vongerichten's 'Home Cooking With Jean-Georges'

Jean-Georges Vongerichten's 'Home Cooking With Jean-Georges'
butternut squash with balsamic and chile panko crumbs from the book "Home Cooking With Jean-Georges." (Anne Cusack, Los Angeles Times)

Most chef cookbooks fall into one of two categories. They're either faithful replications of what is served at their restaurants or they're what chefs imagine people at home might serve their families (they're not really sure because they rarely cook at home since they're, well, at work). Jean-Georges Vongerichten's "Home Cooking With Jean-Georges" is a notable exception.

This is a terrific book, full of exactly the kinds of recipes I want from a master chef. There's no special equipment, no exotic ingredients, no long, elaborate preparations. Instead, there are creative, practical dishes that are well within the technical grasp of almost any cook. Oddly, since he runs restaurants in more than a dozen countries, Vongerichten actually seems to spend considerable time cooking at home.

The book is full of little tricks and surprising turns. Some of them are so simple I found myself face-palming: "Why didn't I ever think of that?" I love mustard greens beyond all reason, but it never occurred to me to add butter to the blanching water. The resulting dish is so simple and takes no more than 5 minutes to make, but the flavor is magnificent (and it's even better with a final touch of mustard oil, as he recommends).

And boiling butternut squash? It sounds like it would be watery and pallid. But not when you cook the squash whole, as Vongerichten does. Though the squash lacks that round, caramelized sweetness you get from roasting, the flavor is clean and pure. And topping the coarse puree with a crisp layer of spicy bread crumbs and the squash's toasted seeds adds just the right textural and flavor complexity.

This is one chef's book I'm looking forward to cooking all the way through.

"Home Cooking With Jean-Georges" by Jean-Georges Vongerichten with Genevieve Ko, Clarkson Potter, $40.

Butternut squash with balsamic and chile panko crumbs

Total time: 1 1/2 hours

Servings: 8

Note: Adapted from Jean-Georges Vongerichten's "Home Cooking With Jean-Georges."

1 butternut squash (about 1 1/2 pounds)

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 cup panko crumbs

1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

1/2 teaspoon crushed red chile flakes

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1. Bring a large stockpot of water to a boil. Add the whole squash and cook, partially covered, until tender, about 45 minutes (a knife will pierce the flesh very easily). Drain, cool slightly, then remove and discard the stem and peel. Reserve the seeds, removing and discarding the strings.

2. Transfer the flesh to a large serving dish and mash with a fork into an even layer. Drizzle the vinegar and 2 tablespoons of the oil over the squash, and season with a generous pinch each of salt and pepper.

3. Heat 3 tablespoons of the squash seeds in a large skillet over medium-low heat until dry. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and a pinch of salt and toast, tossing occasionally. When the seeds begin to pop, partially cover the pan. Continue toasting until golden brown, about 3 minutes, then transfer to a plate.

4. In the same skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat, then toss in the crumbs. When well coated, stir in the thyme, chile and one-fourth teaspoon salt. Toast, tossing occasionally, until golden brown and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese and toasted seeds.

5. Spread the crumb mixture over the squash in an even layer and serve immediately.

Each serving: 143 calories; 1 gram protein; 14 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 9 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 2 mg cholesterol; 2 grams sugar; 179 mg sodium.