Talking food with Ruth Reichl: Author, critic and culinary personality coming to Boise

doland@idahostatesman.comOctober 16, 2013 

  • ‘EATING OUR WORDS’ WITH RUTH REICHL

    7:30 p.m. Oct. 16 at Morrison Center, 2201 Cesar Chavez Lane, Boise. Tickets are $20-$55. Boise State Tickets, 426-1110.

  • JIM LAHEY’S NO-KNEAD BREAD

    Prep time: About 1-1/2 hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ for rising. Yield: One 1-1/4 pound loaf. The secret ingredient in this bread recipe is time. The longer rise results in a richer bread, but you need the patience and the schedule to do it.

    3 cups bread flour, more for dusting

    1/4 teaspoon instant yeast

    1-1/4 teaspoons salt

    Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed for dusting

    1-1/3 cups cool water

    In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and yeast. Add the water and, using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, about 30 seconds.

    Make sure it’s sticky to the touch; if it’s not, mix in another tablespoon or two of water. Cover the bowl with a plate, tea towel, or plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature (about 72 degrees), out of direct sunlight, until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled in size. This will take a minimum of 12 hours and (my preference) up to 18 hours. This slow rise — fermentation — is the key to flavor.

    When the first fermentation is complete, generously dust a work surface with flour. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the dough onto the board in one piece. When you begin to pull the dough away from the bowl, it will cling in long, thin strands (this is the developed gluten), and it will be quite loose and sticky — do not add more flour. Use lightly floured hands or a spatula to lift the edges of the dough in toward the center. Nudge and tuck in the edges of the dough to make it round.

    Place a cotton or linen tea towel (not terry cloth), or a large cloth napkin on your work surface and generously dust the cloth with wheat bran, cornmeal or flour. Gently lift the dough onto the towel, seam side down. If the dough is tacky, dust the top lightly.

    Cover the dough gently with the cloth and place in a warm, draft free spot and let rise for 1 to 2 hours until it is almost doubled. If you gently poke it with your finger, making an indentation about 1/4 inch deep, it should hold the impression. If not, let it rise for another 15 minutes.

    Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 475 degrees, with a rack in the lower third position, and place a covered 4- to 5-quart heavy pot in the center.

    Carefully remove the preheated pot from the oven and uncover it. Unfold the tea towel, lightly dust the dough with flour or bran, lift up the dough, either on the towel or in your hand, and quickly but gently invert it into the pot, seam side up.

    Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and continue baking until the bread is a deep chestnut color but not burnt, 15 to 30 minutes more. Use a heatproof spatula or pot holders to carefully lift the bread out of the pot and place it on a rack to cool thoroughly. Don’t slice or tear into it until it has cooled, which usually takes at least an hour.

    Reprinted from “My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method” (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., $19.96) by Jim Lahey with Rick Flaste.

    RUTH REICHL'S SPAGHETTI CARBONARA

    Serves 3.

    1 pound spaghetti

    1/4 to 1/2 pound thickly sliced good quality bacon

    2 cloves garlic, peeled

    2 large eggs

    Black pepper

    1/2 cup grated Parmigiano cheese, plus extra for the table

    Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. When it is boiling, throw the spaghetti in. Most dried spaghetti takes 9 to 10 minutes to cook,and you can make the sauce in that time.

    Cut the bacon crosswise into pieces about 1/2 inch wide. Put them in a skillet and cook for 2 minutes, until fat begins to render. Add the whole cloves of garlic and cook another 5 minutes, until the edges of the bacon just begin to get crisp.

    Do not overcook; if they get too crisp they won’t meld with the pasta. Meanwhile, break the eggs into the bowl you will serve the pasta in, and beat them with a fork. Add some grindings of pepper.

    Remove the garlic from the bacon pan. If the fat looks like too much for you, discard some; you’re going to toss the bacon with most of the fat into the pasta. When the pasta is cooked, drain it and immediately throw it into the beaten eggs. Mix thoroughly. The heat of the spaghetti will cook the eggs and turn them into a sauce. Add the bacon with its fat, toss again, add cheese and serve.

Ruth Reichl — one of the most noted food writers and culinary memoirists in the country — wonders how she got here.

It wasn’t too long ago when the genre of food writing didn’t really exist. When she published what is still her most successful book “Tender at the Bone,” a memoir about her mother and food, “No one knew what to do with it,” she says.

Was it a cookbook or a memoir? How could it be both? Well, it could and with it, Reichl helped create this genre of culinary writing that now is entering what she calls its “Golden Age.”

“What has happened is the landscape has changed,” she says. Reichl has been an architect of that changing landscape through her extensive personal foodie history. As chef at the Bay Area’s restaurant Swallow in the 1970s, she helped start the Berkeley food revolution that became the seed of today’s Farm to Fork movement.

She served as restaurant critic for the Los Angeles Times and New York Times in the 1980s and ’90s and helmed Gourmet magazine for a decade before it shuttered in 2009. Now, she is a judge on Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters” reality competition show and is the editor of The Modern Library Food Series and editorial advisor for GiltTaste.com.

Her passion for food writing began in 1972, with “Mmmmmmm: A Feastiary.” Since then, she has authored four best-selling memoirs, including “Tender at the Bone,” and “The Gourmet Cookbook.” Her first novel, “Delicious!” is due out from Random House in May and she has another memoir in the works.

Reichl continues to explore the cultural underpinnings of this food-culture phenomenon, that’s all happening at a time when people aren’t cooking. Reichl will discuss that in her Readings & Conversations appearance.

Q: You once said your mother’s terrible cooking taught you how to taste. How do you approach tasting?

A: The most important part of tasting is being mindful. Most of us eat without thinking. We eat with our minds more than anything. That’s how the industrial food companies have gotten us to get so fat, because we eat without stopping and considering our food.

We’re starting to understand that a huge part of flavor comes from aroma. Smell is the only sense that isn’t mediated. When you touch something the nerves transmit the sensation to the brain. When you smell something it’s direct (the receptors for scent are open in the brain at the top of the nasal cavity).

So, smell before you put it into your mouth. Start to think about what it tastes like. How does it feel in my mouth? Does it remind me of anything? When you do that, it’s game over.

You know, people are always accusingly asking, ‘why aren’t you fat.’ It’s because I take the time to eat slowly.

That’s when your body will tell you when you’ve had enough. So, when you enjoy the food, pay attention to it, it rewards you in many ways.

Q: I know you like to cook. What are your essential kitchen ingredients?

A: First I’m huge believer in ordinary people NOT trying to cook like a chef. No ridiculously complex dishes that are set up to disappoint you. I’m actually writing a cookbook about the pleasure of cooking. So, the recipes I cook are pretty simple.

I always have the ingredients on hand to make spaghetti alla carbonara.

Eggs, bacon, garlic, Parmesan cheese, butter, lemons — I use lots of lemons — pasta. Also, rice. I keep my bones and make my own stock, so I have a freezer full. With that I can pretty much make anything.

I love to make pies. I love the process of cutting the dough and feeling the butter in my hands —feeling the flour and butter come together. It’s such a pleasure.

And I have to admit I love carbs. If I only had one thing to eat it would be bread and butter.

I love the Jim Lahey no-knead bread recipe. It’s so easy — you get is a classic Italian crusty dough with a lot of big holes in it. I make it every few days. (Find the recipes in the box above.)

Q: We’re running a contest for people who want to win tickets in which they describe their most memorable meal. So, I think it’s only fair that you do the same. What’s your most memorable meal?

A: On my first honeymoon in Crete, we walked up the mountain and came to this little stone hut sitting on a beautiful hillside. An old woman came out with bread she had baked and olive oil made from the olives on her trees. She brought out goat cheese she had made and picked some oregano and snipped it into the oil. Then she said she was going fishing, so we ate bread, olives and cheese until she returned with two fish. She lit a fire and we had that with some wild greens gathered from the hill. For dessert we had fresh yogurt and nuts.

This was the first time I had a meal that was completely of a place and a moment, and completely irreplaceable. I thought, “this is what food is.”

This was when American food was just supermarket food. You couldn’t even get decent olive oil. It was a terrible time for American food, but I saw what food could be. We used to be a nation of farmers. Why are we eating at McDonalds getting fat, when we could have this? It captured my attention.

Dana Oland: 377-6442, Twitter: @IDS_DanaOland

RUTH REICHL’S SPAGHETTI CARBONARA

Serves 3.

1 pound spaghetti

1/4 to 1/2 pound thickly sliced good quality bacon

2 cloves garlic, peeled

2 large eggs

Black pepper

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano cheese, plus extra for the table

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. When it is boiling, throw the spaghetti in. Most dried spaghetti takes 9 to 10 minutes to cook,and you can make the sauce in that time.

Cut the bacon crosswise into pieces about 1/2 inch wide. Put them in a skillet and cook for 2 minutes, until fat begins to render. Add the whole cloves of garlic and cook another 5 minutes, until the edges of the bacon just begin to get crisp.

Do not overcook; if they get too crisp they won’t meld with the pasta. Meanwhile, break the eggs into the bowl you will serve the pasta in, and beat them with a fork. Add some grindings of pepper.

Remove the garlic from the bacon pan. If the fat looks like too much for you, discard some; you’re going to toss the bacon with most of the fat into the pasta. When the pasta is cooked, drain it and immediately throw it into the beaten eggs. Mix thoroughly. The heat of the spaghetti will cook the eggs and turn them into a sauce. Add the bacon with its fat, toss again, add cheese and serve.

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