I have a new favorite cookbook.
When a publicist from Abrams Books contacted me to ask if I'd be interested in reviewing HAM: An Obsession with the Hindquarter, the new cookbook from Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, I leaped at the chance. You know I'm a friend of the pig. Well, I guess when you get down to it, I am an enemy of the pig, which is something I am occasionally racked with guilt about. But in any case, I said Yes please! and shortly later this stunning book arrived in the mail.
I spent a day or two pouring over it, ditching my Michael Connelly mystery and the Sunday Times for its elegant, matte pages. Periodically I would hold up a recipe or photo for the husband to admire.
"Doesn't that sound good?" I'd gush. "Doesn't that sound amazing?"
In addition to being straight-up gorgeous, the book is well-written, with enough details to provide substance but not so much that you feel bogged down. The writing style is funny and breezy.
Now, about the recipes. The way recipes are written in a cookbook is directly related to how much I want to cook from it. For example, I have Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food. Great book, in philosophy and method. But, I don't care for the way the recipes are written. She doesn't list the ingredients all at the top--instead she intersperses them throughout the directions. I don't like this format, as it makes it likely that I'll miss something for the grocery list. So, although in theory that book is good, I don't use it much.
HAM's recipe are written traditionally, with the ingredients listed at the top and the directions below, clear and concise. It also has groovy side notes, such as ways to "slash your grocery list" or ideas to "round out the menu": a recipe for roasted country ham suggests serving creamy jicama slaw and chile-braised black-eyes peas alongside. There's even a section on throwing a party around a ham (hey, why don't I have friends like this?), with the sides that would go best, like pickled cippolini and fig ginger jam. To drink at your ham party? Ginger pear cosmos and pomegranate caipirinha, of course.
But the real reason I love this cookbook is because I want to make almost all of the recipes. Such as: pork cracklings, ham and potato savory cakes, shirred eggs in prosciutto cups, and stewed mussels with jamon, serrano, chickpeas, and saffron. And perhaps as my last meal, as I'm sure that's what it would be, someone could make me the brie, grits, ham, and apple casserole.
But for my first attempt to cook from HAM, I decided to keep it basic: Ham-and-Corn Chowder.
This soup is divine. Creamy, rich, and full of salty ham and sweet corn, it's brightened by lemon zest, which is genius, and given earthiness by marjoram. But the real kicker is making the beurre manie and slowly thickening the soup with it at the very end. The result is a velvety, dreamy soup you simply want to inhale.
HAM is a winner and I highly recommend you check it out. And if you make that grits casserole, please invite me over.
from HAM: An Obsession with the Hindquarter
3 T. butter, two softened to room temperature and set aside
12 oz. smoked, wet-cured ham, chopped
3 c. fresh or frozen corn kernels (I used frozen)
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 medium Yukon Gold potato, chopped
2 t. minced fresh or 1 t. dried marjoram (I used dried)
1 t. finely grated lemon zest
1/2 t. celery seeds
1 c. dry white wine or vermouth (I used vermouth)
3 c. low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 c. heavy cream
1 t. salt or to taste (the cured ham is quite salty)
1 t. pepper
2 T. flour
1. Melt 1 T. unsoftened butter in a large soup pot or saucepan. Add chopped ham and cook, stirring often, until frizzling and quite fragrant, about 3 minutes.
2. Stir in the corn, onion, and potato. Cook, stirring often, for 3 more minutes.
3. Add marjoram, lemon zest, and celery seeds, and continue cooking for about 20 seconds. Pour in the broth and wine. As the soup comes to a simmer, use a wooden spoon to scrape any browned bits off the interior surfaces of the pot.
4. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until the potato bits are meltingly tender, about 45 minutes.
5. Stir in the cream, salt, and pepper. As everything simmers for a couple of minutes, use a fork to mash the flour with the 2 T. softened butter in a small bowl until the mixture is quite uniform. (This is the beurre manie.)
6. Stirring all the while, drop this butter mixture by dribs and drabs into the simmering soup, taking 6-8 additions to get the whole paste added and stirring well after each before adding the next. The whole process should take about 3 minutes. Taste for salt, add more if necessary, then dish it up.