A cookbook should make you want to cook. It should entice you into the kitchen with fresh ideas for ingredients you love, or intriguing ideas for things that are new to you. Or it may present old favorites in a way that makes you want to cook them all over again.
Emeril Lagasse, he of BAM! and Cajun New Orleans cooking, has a new book, Farm to Fork: Cooking Local, Cooking Fresh, and honestly, this book makes me want to cook in all of those ways.
To be honest, I don't cook much out of cookbooks any more. I get a lot of them to read and review, and they all have good things and tiresome things about them. And I am not a follower of much food TV; I haven't seen any of Emeril's TV work in years. So this book seemed like it might be just one more celebrity cookbook, well-packaged and pretty, but ultimately not that interesting.
Well, I was wrong. It might just be my own tastes, or the fact that we are about to tip into the summer season (this is a very good cookbook for summertime), but I was totally won over by this book. It is just full of things I would like to cook. Emeril takes that familiar, rather worn concept of "farm to fork," cooking along with the produce and the seasons, and puts a slight Southern twist on it. He brings his own favorites to the table, along with lots of farm-fresh produce. And the results are just yummy.
There are simple, basic things that are nevertheless very seductive, like fresh ricotta and homemade mozzarella. There are Southern sweets like buttermilk candy and triple-chocolate pecan fudge. He moves through the farm, offering just a few good recipes for each section: the herb garden, eggs and dairy, leafy greens, the orchard, and cole crops such as broccoli and cabbage.
One of the most interesting parts was his focus on the "three sisters," of corn, beans, and squash. Here the recipes are things such as Corn, Tomato, and Lobster Salad, Toasted Garlic Romano Beans, Braised Pinto Beans, and Pattypan Squash with Bacon, Caramelized Onions, and Cheddar.
He also adds a section in the back with some preserves and pickles, like watermelon rind sweet pickles and homemade hot sauce.
Overall, this book has been a treat to read. There are many photos, although not one for every recipe, and they are bright and appetizing. The recipes themselves are all relatively simple and homey, not too fussy, and yet fresh and appealing. The Green Onion Spoonbread pictured above is a good example; it's rather indulgent and homey, and yet full of garden-fresh green onions. It's classic American food, but fresh and direct from the garden. This time of year, that's how I like to eat.
I'll share a recipe from this book a little later today. For now, two thumbs up for this new one from Emeril! It comes out on Tuesday, and I'm looking forward to cooking my way through this in the company of my garden this summer.
• Find it: Farm to Fork: Cooking Local, Cooking Fresh by Emeril Lagasse, published by HarperStudio, June 2010. $16.50 at Amazon.
(Images: Steven Freeman/HarperStudio)