Arthur Schwartz is a man who knows what good food is. For many years he was the restaurant critic for the New York Daily News. Today he has a website, The Food Maven, makes television and radio appearances, and teaches and lectures about food and food writing. He is the author of seven cookbooks; two of his earlier cookbooks are the subject of this post.
What To Cook When You Think There’s Nothing in the House To Eat and Soup Suppers differ from the four Schwartz cookbooks that come after them: these two are inexpensive, non-glossy cookbooks featuring recipes with no exotic ingredients or techniques; the later cookbooks target a more upscale market. Everything that I have tried from these two cookbooks has been good, and often much better than just good.
The subtitle of What To Cook When You Think There’s Nothing in the House To Eat says it all. This is basically a pantry cookbook, with the pantry augmented by a few readily available fresh ingredients. There are some incredibly simple recipes herein, such as scrambled eggs, ants on a log, and a rather intriguing recipe for prunes in red wine (cover prunes with red wine, and keep it going for months on end, adding prunes and wine as needed; Arthur warns us to keep the prunes fully covered lest they develop a “hideous green mold”) . There are more substantial recipes also, many reflecting Arthur’s interest in Jewish and Italian foods. This is a book begging to be cooked from; longing to have its pages splashed with sauces. It would make an excellent first cookbook for a young person; it would also be a good cookbook for a cooking vacation: a vacation in which one has access to a kitchen, but wants to spend minimal time in that kitchen.
“Carrots with Cumin” (page 75) can be served cold as a salad or hot as a side dish. This is a Morrocan-like carrot dish, in which cooked carrots are flavored with cumin and garlic, and tossed with olive oil and vinegar or lemon juice. I would have preferred my carrots slightly less cooked than Arthur’s 8 minutes of simmering, but that is just my preference.
“Salad Olivier” (page 166) is Arthur’s version of Russian salad without any beets. It consists of potatoes, pickles, peas, hard boiled eggs, dill, onions, and olives combined with mayonnaise. I used only half the amount of mayonnaise as in the original recipe, which was quite enough. I also used fresh dill instead of dried dill, although I do have a certain fondness for dried dill, finding it different from and not necessarily inferior to fresh dill.
We all have certain expectations when confronting anything called “Greek Salad”: feta cheese and olives, certainly; cucumber, tomatoes, and little hot pickled peppers, most likely. Arthur’s version (page 89) omits the cucumber and tomatoes (although at the end of the recipe he suggests adding these ingredients; I assume these ingredients did not fit in with the “nothing in the house to eat theme”). He uses iceberg lettuce (all too often unjustly maligned), feta, olives, anchovies (!), marinated artichoke hearts, and capers; the dressing is an oil and vinegar dressing with garlic. I love salads like this, and I liked the anchovies, an ingredient I do not usually put in salads. As is apparent in the picture, I added tomatoes and cucumber.
Although I spent more than half my life not going near sauerkraut, it is now a food that I like very much. I have never made any, and until I do, there is good sauerkraut that can be bought. Given this fondness for sauerkraut, “Sauerkraut Potato Cakes with Dill” (page 232) was a recipe that I could not resist. These cakes are just mashed potatoes and sauerkraut mixed together, coated in crumbs, and fried. They were quite tasty, but might have been better with some sort of sauce or condiment. I ate the leftovers with a store-bought wasabi sauce which was quite delicious.
“Zarela’s Home-Style Hominy” (page 150), a recipe from Zarela Martinez, could not be simpler. After cooking onion and garlic in a little oil, you add a large can of tomatoes , some oregano and chili powder, and a 16-ounce can of hominy. Zarela recommends serving this with scrambled eggs. Quick pantry meals do not get much quicker or tastier than this. [Go to the recipe.]
“Vegetarian Mushroom and Barley Pilaf” (page 170) is a solid version of mushroom barley soup. Arthur uses only dried mushrooms (again, the “nothing in the house to eat” theme). This dish was hot and filling, but not particularly exciting. I think it would have been better if, instead of just the mushroom soaking liquid, I had added some Better than Bullion paste.
Hot apple crisp with vanilla ice cream is amongst the very best non-chocolate desserts. The crisp part of Arthur’s apple crisp (page 21) is heavy on the oatmeal. There is also a lot of sugar in the topping: one cup, which makes up for the mere two tablespoons of sugar in the filling. This recipe will not replace my usual apple crisp recipe, but it was still very good.
In Soup Suppers Arthur continues to provide straight-forward, good-tasting recipes, this time with a focus on soups, and with less reluctance to use more varied ingredients. The soups are grouped according to their main ingredient or characteristic. Even after omitting the meat, chicken, and fish soups, there are still plenty of soups for the vegetarian, and some of the meat soups are adaptable for vegetarians (e.g., vegetarian sausage instead of non-vegetarian sausage). The accompaniments (breads, salads, and desserts) are almost exclusively vegetarian. I have been cooking soups from this cookbook for the last twenty years. I think of all my soup cookbooks, this one is my favorite.
“Potato, Onion, and Tomato Soup” (page 36) is not an exciting recipe; it is, after all, just potatoes, onions, and tomatoes. However, there are days when a hot, unexciting soup is exactly what is needed; there have been many such days this winter. Arthur suggests adding sausage as a variation; there are good vegetarian sausages out there that could be a good addition.
“Genoese Minestrone with Pesto” (page 43) is a thick green soup. It makes a nice change from the usual tomato based minestrone that I make. The ingredients are onions, garlic, cabbage, cannellini beans (which I could not find and so used limas), potatoes, frozen spinach, and arborio rice to thicken the soup. Arthur’s pesto is a cheeseless pesto, although he recommends topping the hot soup with cheese.
There was no way I was going to serve “Cold Roasted Garlic Soup” (p[age 148) cold, given the difficult winter which still has us in its grips. This soup might have been just fine cold, but it was amazing hot. It is a simple soup: lots and lots of roasted garlic, with leeks and potatoes cooked in a good broth and finished with cream. I only made half the recipe because I got tired of separating and peeling the garlic cloves, but I should have made the whole recipe. I used perhaps more dill than the recipe suggested, but I like dill. [Go to the recipe.]
“Roumanian Eggplant Salad” (page 185) is a standard preparation: the eggplant is roasted, then its flesh is combined with olive oil and lemon juice, garlic, onion, green pepper, and olives. Instead of green pepper, I used jarred roasted red peppers. Arthur does not mention that it might be a good idea to prick the eggplant all over with a fork before roasting it; eggplants can explode in an oven without this treatment.
“Walnut Onion Muffins” (page 166) were very good fresh, but their appeal declined significantly day by day. The flavors in these muffins were onion, Parmesan, and walnuts. The batter was very thick, and never spread out in the mini-muffin pans. The resulting mini-muffin was more like a nano-scone (although not the sort of scone that I like to eat in the morning).
Adapted from Arthur Schwartz, What To Cook When You Think There’s Nothing in the House To Eat
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon oregano
2 tablespoons ancho chili powder
1 16-ounce can hominy, drained
Heat some olive oil in a large pan and add the onion. After the onion has cooked a little while, add the garlic and cook, stirring, for a few more minutes. Drain the tomatoes, saving the liquid. Add the drained tomatoes, salt, oregano, and chili powder. Add the hominy and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until everything is hot. Add some of the reserved tomato liquid if you think the dish is too dry. Try serving this with scrambled eggs (a suggestion I have yet to take).
Adapted from Arthur Schwartz, Soup Suppers
4 heads of garlic
4 cups vegetable broth
¾ cup heavy cream
Separate the garlic into cloves and peel the cloves. Toss the garlic in a little bit of olive oil and roast in a 325º oven until the garlic starts to brown, about 30 minutes. Do not let the garlic burn!
Peel the potatoes and cut them into small chunks; remove most of the green part from the leeks, clean them, and chop them up. Simmer the potatoes and leeks in the vegetable broth until done, about 30 minutes.
Add the roasted garlic, cream, and a handful of dill (how much depends on how much you like dill) to the potatoes and leeks. Add salt and pepper to taste. Purée with an immersion blender or otherwise. Serve hot or cold.