On a typical day, my e-mail box is crowded with worthless cyberjunk. On a good day, it contains a little kernel of discovery and leads me somewhere memorable.
A recent e-mail with an intriguing return address (firstname.lastname@example.org) led me to Charles A. Bellissino and his massive compendium, The Encyclopedia of Sauces for Your Pasta, touted by the author as "the greatest collection of pasta sauces ever in one book." I replied immediately, and Mr. Bellissino graciously sent me a copy of his massive volume. The pages are not numbered, but I'm guessing 800, and the range of sauces is mind-blowing. Twice in the past few weeks I've found myself with limited groceries and no time, and have pulled out Bellissino's book for a quick pasta sauce recipe. Both times, the results were delightful. A bag of frozen peas turned into a warm, comforting dish, and mint and basil from my garden helped to form a delicious fresh mint and tomato sauce with sauted walnuts -- a pasta sauce that quickly became one of my all-time favorites.
Another day, another e-mail, another cookbook discovery. This time an e-mail from Atlanta's Hill Street Press led me to their Web site (www.hillstreetpress.com) and to Bevelyn Blair's extraordinary collection, Everyday Cakes. Ms. Blair, whose photo on the cover looks remarkably like the 1960s-version Betty Crocker, has arranged some 500 cake recipes in alphabetical order, starting with almond and ending with zucchini, and includes useful baking tips. Apples gathered from beneath my tree out front were used in Blair's fabulous Apple Snack Cake (flavored with butterscotch morsels) and a bag of frozen, overripe mashed bananas that had languished in my freezer for several weeks were turned into Blair's moist, spongy Banana Nut Cake. In both instances, I did not correct for altitude and the cakes turned out perfectly -- a sign of a superior recipe.
You won't likely see either of these books on your neighborhood bookstore's shelves unless you request they be ordered. But be sure to see them, either on the Web or by ordering a copy. Both are excellent, encyclopedic additions to any ardent cook's collection.
Here are some sample recipes to whet your appetite.
Charles A. Bellissino's Peas and Bacon Sauce for pasta
6 slices cured bacon, minced
3 onions, finely chopped
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil (or use 1/2 butter)
1 pound fresh peas or 1 10 oz. package frozen small peas
4 slices proscuitto, julienned
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Saute the bacon, onions and celery in the olive oil for five minutes or until done. Add peas, proscuitto, parsley, salt and pepper. Cook for an additional five minutes. Add broth, partially cover pan and simmer until peas are tender and most of the broth has evaporated, about 10 to 15 minutes. Sprinkle the grated cheese over cooked, drained pasta. Toss to coat. Pour sauce over pasta. Toss again, serve.
Bevelyn Blair's Banana Nut Cake
1/2 cup butter
1-1/2 cups sugar
3 egg yolks
1 cup mashed bananas
1/4 cup boiling water
1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda, dissolved in 1/4 cup buttermilk
3 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon salt
Cream butter and sugar; add egg yolk and mashed bananas. If adding nuts, in separate bowl, pour water over pecans; set aside. Add lemon juice to banana mixture. Sift flour and baking powder together and add to batter alternately with buttermilk and soda mixture. Add pecans. Beat egg whites with salt until stiff peaks form. Fold in egg whites. Bake in two 9-inch layer cake pans or a 9" x 13" sheetcake pan at 300 for 30 to 35 minutes.
Spread with Browned Butter Frosting
Browned Butter Frosting
1/4 cup butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 cups (1 lb.) confectioners sugar
1/3 to 1/2 cup hot cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Brown butter in heavy saucepan; add salt. Blend in confectioners sugar alternately with hot cream. Add vanilla extract. Beat until creamy.