Ruth Reichl, former editor of Gourmet magazine and the once venerated NYT’s food writer and restaurant critic, was in town today touting her latest book: My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life.
I’d read one of her earlier books, Garlic and Sapphires, and wrote a post about the woman, who rattled ritzy New York maître d’s by showing up in various disguises to see how real restaurant customers were treated.
So why did Reichl throw in the tea towel as a food critic? “I really wanted to go home and cook for my family,” she once told an interviewer. “I don’t think there’s one thing more important you can do for your kids than have family dinner.”
The St. Louis event was sponsored by Sauce Magazine, Left Bank Books, and Herbie’s Vintage ’72, and included a lunch at Herbie’s and dinner at Kingside Diner. My friend Anne and I got tickets to the lunch that featured a 3-course meal inspired by recipes in My Kitchen Years.
The starter was a Purslane and Watercress Salad with Stuffed Tomatoes. Those who keep up with their greens know that purslane is a weed, albeit a ancient one packed with Vitamin C. Medieval cooks and gardeners called it Elizabethan Salad Herb. As a bonus, the wild ground cover was believed to offer protection from evil spirits—always a nice safety feature to have built into one’s diet.
Ruth calls the Stuffed Tomatoes a “forgiving recipe,” one that can include such things as tomato pulp, parsley, garlic, anchovy, basil, black olives, bread crumbs and/or a bit of Parmesan cheese. Can be baked or not.
The second course was Pork and Tomatillo Stew. The spicy, Mexican-style stew is loaded with onions, black beans and tomatillos. It’s traditionally served at harvest time, a true south-of-the-border comfort food. We rounded out the meal with a Cherry Crostada, a rustic, tart like dessert, reduced to individual proportions.
In her interview-style presentation, Reichl said that too often recipes are simply “marching orders,” with the cook having no part. “In the kitchen you need to take chances, try new ingredients and colorful combinations,” she said.
Reichl observed that cooking is easier today, because we have access to so many more foods than we once did: goat cheese, olive oil, good breads. She also noted that it’s easier to find farm fresh items in the U.S. because we have better access to local markets than most large European cities.
Reichl’s favorite cookbook is one from Marcella Hazan, the maven of Italian cooking that I posted about recently. When asked about her favorite kitchen staples, she listed lemons first, and such things a miso, Shriracha, anchovies, garlic, and ginger. Then with a smile, she added, “And, of course, butter.”