Louisiana-based chef John Besh recently saw publication of his third book, “Cooking from the Heart: My Favorite Lessons Learned Along the Way” (Andrews McMeel).
It’s an impressive volume, larded with 140 accessible recipes, page after page of stunning photos (375 in all) and an informative narrative that looks back on the well-traveled Besh’s experiences and mentors as he refined his craft.
A good example is Besh’s Potato-Leek Mezzalune appetizer or side dish recipe: Half-moon ravioli made from his Basic Potato Gnocchi dough (recipe below). Roll out the prepared dough into rounds and then fill the moon-shaped ravioli with the seasoned leek mixture. As an alternative, the chef suggests using as a filling mushrooms, squash, sauteed greens or cheese.
In its 11 chapters, the book concentrates on Lessons of the Hunt (country pate, duck confit); A Leaf of Lettuce (roasted brussels sprout salad, oak leaf salad with figs and ham); Curiosity and the Cook (roasted marrow bones with brioche; baeckeoffe: a meaty stew); and Vegetable Love (tomato and fresh cheese tartines, white asparagus with poached egg dressing) among others.
There also are several cooking lessons, from Basic Fond de Veau (a sauce described as the cook’s best friend) to A Proper Bouillabaisse to an unforgettable Apple and Pear Tart with Walnuts.
POTATO-LEEK MEZZALUNE(Makes about 25, serving 4)
1/4 cup olive oil2 leeks, washed and thinly slicedSaltFreshly ground black pepperBasic Potato Gnocchi (recipe follows)1/2 cup flour, plus more for rolling4 Tbl. butter
Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a bowl.
Prepare the Basic Potato Gnocchi dough through Step 2, adding an additional 1/2 cup flour to the dough. Mix until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Add a bit more flour if the dough seems too sticky to roll.
Divide the dough into 2 portions. On a lightly floured surface, roll each portion into a large, thin sheet. Cut 4-inch rounds from the dough with a cookie cutter or drinking glass. Gather the trimmed dough together and repeat until you’ve used all the dough.
To form the mezzalune, put a spoonful of the leeks into the center of one dough round. Fold into a half-moon and press the edges firmly with your fingers to seal. Repeat with the remaining dough rounds.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop in the mezzalune a few at a time. Once they have floated to the top, simmer for another 30 seconds. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. With a slotted spoon, drain and transfer the mezzalune to the skillet. Gently saute each side until golden brown. Season with salt and pepper.
BASIC POTATO GNOCCHI
1 lb. medium Yukon gold or yellow potatoes, peeled and quartered4 egg yolks1/2 cup flour, plus more for rollingPinch freshly ground nutmegSalt
(1) Put the potatoes in a large pot of cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes and, while they are still hot, pass throgh a food mill or potato ricer into a large bowl.
(2) Add the egg yolks, flour and nutmeg and season with salt. Working quickly and gently, combine the ingredients with your hands until the mixture forms a ball and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Add a bit more flour if the dough feels too sticky. [At this point revert to Potato-Leek Mezzalune recipe above]