Most of the books I read, including those that are about food, come from the library. In Maine, we have a wonderful interlibrary loan system, and this gives me access to a wide range of books. As a rule, I can return the books after having read them and not long to own them. At least not too much. But every once in a while a book comes along that I feel I simply must have, and An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler is one of those books. If I don’t receive it for Christmas, then I will order it after the holidays.
In the introduction to An Everlasting Meal, Adler pays tribute to the late, great M. F. K. Fisher and her book How to Cook a Wolf, which “is not a cookbook or a memoir or a story about one person or one thing. It is a book about cooking defiantly, amid the mess of war and the pains of a bare pantry.” (How to Cook a Wolf was published in 1942.) Adler writes “I love that book. I have modeled this one on it.”
I, too, love How to Cook a Wolf. Indeed, I own a copy. Given that Adler is such a fine writer and has such a feel for how various food can be combined, it’s no wonder that I love her book, too. While there are recipes in An Everlasting Meal, Adler’s focus is more on the philosophy of food and eating. In the wrong hands, a book like this could have been as dry as Melba toast. But An Everlasting Meal was most definitely in the right hands, and after I read the book, I felt as though my cooking horizons had been expanded. I have begun looking at food in a new way, seeing the myriad possibilities in simple, humble ingredients that are often thrown away.
The subtitle of this book is Cooking with Economy and Grace, and Adler means business. She believes that every bit of food from a plant or animal should be used (hence, Economy) to prepare meals that are not only nutritious but also satisfying and good (hence, Grace). Radish greens, parsley stems, celery leaves, the water from cooking pasta and vegetables, bacon fat, chicken fat, and chicken bones all can and should be used—not necessarily together, of course. This is the way our grandmothers and great-grandmothers cooked in a time when they had to raise much of their own food and were therefore ever so careful about using it all. As the population of our planet has just reached 7 billion, this advice to use everything and waste nothing could not be more timely.
Not surprisingly, Adler is big fan of broth, which can come from either animal or vegetable, with a bit of doctoring up by way of onion or garlic and herbs and spices. And into the broth can go a variety of food, either specially cooked for the broth or left over from another meal.
Greatly inspired by Adler, I considered a pasta dish I made a couple of nights ago. Along with the pasta there was red peppers, broccoli, toasted almonds, garlic, feta cheese, sage, and olive oil. There were leftovers, but not enough for a really satisfying meal for two, at least not for my husband, Clif. Keeping Adler’s advice in mind, I had saved some of the pasta water, which I had used to moisten the original dish. I also had two cups of turkey stock in my freezer. (I am beginning to consider homemade turkey or chicken stock liquid gold. The boxed stuff just can’t compare with it.) So, I thought, why not add the leftover pasta to the broth along with a cup of the pasta water to stretch things out?
This is just what I did, and in the oven, we toasted homemade bread with olive oil to go with the soup.
“What do you think?” I asked Clif.
“Great!” he replied.
I must admit, the soup was pretty good. What a way to use leftovers!
Using Adler as my guide, I am thinking ahead to other combinations, such as a soup made with the water broccoli is cooked in. Naturally, this soup would include broccoli as well as onion and garlic or both. Some potatoes to thicken it? After simmering the broccoli and potato water with onion and garlic, I would add some cooked potatoes and broccoli to the broth and blend them with my immersion blender. I would also save chunks of potato and broccoli to add afterward. A bit of grated cheddar cheese would be good, too. Maybe some rosemary.
I’ll let you know how this soup turns out.
In the meantime, you might want to add An Everlasting Meal to your own Christmas list.