When cooking, follow three rules: Simplify, use what you have on hand, and preserve an element of surprise. So urges five-time James Beard award winner, Dorie Greenspan, in Everyday Dorie, her 13th cookbook, out next week. Greenspan, an untrained chef, has cooked alongside and written with some of the greats of French American cuisine — like Julia Child, Daniel Boulud, Pierre Hermé. She spoke to The Nosher in advance of her book’s publication about her Jewish childhood in Brooklyn and how her earliest memories influenced her love of cooking and baking.
Did your mother cook?
No! But her mother was a wonderful home baker and I have inherited my grandmother’s love of the kitchen and baking. My Russian-born grandmother would show up at our home with shoe boxes, lined in waxed paper, and filled with apple cake and buttery sugar cookies. To this day, my strongest food memories are of those cookies. My husband and son love them. And they are the base for myriad other cookies that I bake.
So, why do you cook?
Food brought people around our table. At my mother-in-law’s home in Brooklyn, Friday night dinner would start with six people and end with 12, as friends and family stopped in to sit, talk, and reminisce. When I married — I was only 19, a junior at Brooklyn College! — I wanted evenings like that. And so I began to cook and bake. Those unstructured evenings in my mother-in-law’s home inspired my cooking and my style.
What was the greatest surprise in your food career?
That I had a food career at all. My mother didn’t cook and I wasn’t much of an eater. I was a skinny little girl, and picky about food. I trained as a gerontologist. But food — preparing it, writing about it, creating new ways of cooking it — called me. And my mother never got over the surprise of it all, Dorie as a chef!
What is your favorite recipe in this book?
I love them all! Hey, I wrote them and I chose them. But I would have to confess that one of my favorites is the oven-charred tomato-stuffed peppers. This recipe encapsulates the spirit of how I think of food — it is easy, carefully constructed, and beautiful to look at, and it is filled with surprise ingredients. Under the cherry tomatoes that fill the cavity of the red and yellow bell peppers are anchovies, bread crumbs, and lemon zest. People love it. And nobody ever guesses that there are anchovies layered between the tomatoes and peppers.
Is there a food dish that you ate when you were young that brings you back?
Stuffed cabbage! Jewish recipes are family recipes and in our family, Aunt Pearl was the gold standard. My mother-in-law always said that Aunt Pearl’s stuffed cabbage was better. I remember that it was cooked on top of the stove, not in the oven like mine is, and it was sweeter than other family versions of it. But Aunt Pearl didn’t share her recipe! My mother-in-law’s secret ingredient for her version of the dish was ketchup. And so I use ketchup in my stuffed cabbage, too.
You are best known as a French baker and chef. Do your Jewish Brooklyn roots peak through in Everyday Dorie?
Look at the cover of this book. The photo you see may look like a quiche — but it’s not. It’s a deconstructed bagel, lox, and cream cheese. The dish — which I call the Lower East Side brunch tart — was inspired by the bagel sandwiches at Russ & Daughters. In my tart, I replaced the bagel with a buttery crust that is filled with dabs of cream cheese, capers, smoked salmon, thinly-sliced red onion, and fresh dill. The ingredients are randomly placed within the shell so that you get a slice of tomato in one bite, and smoked salmon or dill in the next. Each bite is different. Each bite contains a surprise. Each bite makes you look forward to the next.
And as a Brooklyn girl, what is your favorite bagel?
When I was a girl, there was a bagel store in Midwood on Avenue J between East 14th and East 15th Street. I remember pulling off little pieces of those hot bagels. They were plain. They were hot. They were chewy. And they were divine. Every bagel I have ever eaten comes up short in comparison.