Daily Archives: June 10, 2012

186 Cookbooks: Maybe too authentic?

Mediterranean Grains and Greens by Paula Wolfert

A keeper? Not this one

Several years ago, I had lots of money and a fascination with “Mediterranean cuisine”. As a result, I bought a number of good cookbooks that I haven’t mentioned yet in this series – the old classic The Mediterranean Diet of course, and Mediterranean Street Food, and Trattoria, and A Taste of Ancient Rome.

And also I bought Mediterranean Grains and Greens. In fairness, the title gives you a pretty good idea of what most of the recipes emphasize. In additional fairness, Paula Wolfert typically focuses on painstakingly authentic and somewhat obscure recipes – and she stays true to herself in this cookbook.

So what’s the problem?

Well, I gave this one two chances. First, I tried Black and White Risotto – mostly because my store had some Tuscan kale (the “black” part – the rice, of course, is the “white”), and I wanted to branch out from spinach.

Later, I found out that the second half of the bunch of kale worked fine, sliced and stir-fried with the meat (or tofu) of your choice plus some soy sauce, as an Italian-Chinese vegetable. But in risotto? Well, no. It just didn’t taste very good. (And not that it matters, but the dish wasn’t really black and white – more of a dark pine green and cream.)

But Wolfert always sounds so sure of herself, so certain that her recipes are delicious! So I tried again. This time it was radicchio pasticcio – a sort of vegetarian lasagna (at least, it used lasagna noodles).

You slice the radicchio and fry it for a couple of minutes, make a plain old white sauce with flour, butter, and milk, add some grated parmesan and the radicchio, and layer the sauce mixture with lasagna noodles, then bake.


It wasn’t horrible, but it was duller than I expected – radicchio is bitter in salads, but cooking seems to tame the bitterness. Maybe too much. After the first bite or two, it needed more grated cheese to give it some flavor.

I may try one more of her ideas – a salad for which you slice various types of lettuce and greens very very thin and let them wilt a bit before adding a vinegar-and-oil dressing. But even if that turns out to be delicious, do I really need a whole cookbook to tell me how to make a salad? Not when I’m this short of shelf space, I don’t.

Maybe someone else will find these recipes delightful.