Every so often, a cookbook comes along that combines inspiration and usefulness.
I can think of many that inspire, ones created by genius chefs from small corners of the gastronomic globe. And, of course, most cookbooks that find a spot on my shelf could be counted as useful.
But Bernadette Wörndl’s “Fruit: Recipes that Celebrate Nature” falls firmly between these categories, and I found myself desperately attracted to it.
Both photography and design are eye-catching, and the Chez Panisse-trained Wörndl styles her plates in a homey way, even in their cool atmospheric light. Her recipes rest in a specific time and place — the seasons in Austria. She encourages us to bend her recipes to do the same for us, celebrating our own seasons in the Northwest. That’s something perfectly useful for me in winter seasons, when I’m considering which holiday plates to add to the menu — and when I like to get creative.
Arranged by fruit, the cookbook offers 120 delicately balanced dishes that push the boundaries of our use of fruit in our cooking.
Blackberries marry with porcinis in a tagliatelle dish, or with duck breast and chard. There’s a cozy blackberry cobbler, too, smothered in homemade vanilla ice cream. Blueberries partner with rabbit cooked with dijon and with cherries in clafoutis (a French dessert). Other dishes pair blueberries with nettle greens, peaches, burrata and mint.
Wörndl’s dedication to using fruit “ripe from the tree/bush/shrub/vine” is honorable and delicious, but what about practicality? I’m a mom who will take the kids to forage for berries and nettles, but I’m also just that, a mom. I have laundry piles, homework to help with, weeds in the lawn, schedules to juggle and meals to provide. I don’t always do “in season.”
But I aspire to use local and fresh foods as often as I can. I enjoy working within the confines of my weekly delivery from Klesick Family Farm in Snohomish, and Wörndl’s cookbook inspires taking my fruit farther than the tabletop bowl.
You’ll need to get creative with swapping things out in this book. The zander can be substituted with sea bass, Austrian-specific spices can be Googled and mimicked, and “homemade” pasta or vanilla ice cream can shamelessly be bought at the store.
The spirit of this beautiful collection can touch the plate, if it’s only to inspire you to cook with market pears or plums from a neighbor’s yard.
Tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms in blackberries
Fresh porcinis, if you can find them, have a short lifespan. While they’re not as deeply earthy as porcinis, I used a blend of petite shiitake and maitake mushrooms along with a few reconstituted porcinis. Austrian bread spices, I had to Google. I chose a blend of caraway, fennel, anise and coriander. This recipe includes making your own tagliatelle. (“We have a pasta machine!” reminds my husband.) While I decided to use my favorite dried pasta — Jovial gluten-free — I’ve included the pasta recipe as intended. Bonus points for making it fresh. Just be be sure to post a pic on social media of your epicurean achievement set in silvery Northwest winter light.
For the pasta dough:
2⅓ cups “00” pasta flour
3 whole eggs or 5 egg yolks
1 tablespoon water
For the porcini and blackberries:
7 ounces fresh porcini mushrooms
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra to serve
2 thyme sprigs
salt, to taste
2 small red onions
1 garlic clove
½ teaspoon bread spices (see note)
2 cups blackberries
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
grated Parmesan, to serve
For the pasta dough, heap the flour onto a clean work surface, make a well in the middle and add the eggs or egg yolks and water. Gently whisk the eggs and water with a fork then, little by little, mix in the flour from the edges until you have a rough though. Knead with your hands for 8-10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 20 minutes.
Roll the dough out as thinly as possible, either on a floured work surface using a rolling pin or with a pasta machine. Dust both sides of the dough well with flour, then roll the dough up loosely and slice into tagliatelle strips. Leave the tagliatelle to dry a little on a baking sheet dusted with flour, loosening the strips up now and then to ensure they don’t stick together.
Clean the mushrooms and cut in half or slice them depending on their size. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a frying pan and add the mushrooms and thyme. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms are browned, then season lightly with salt. Remove from the pan and set aside. Peel and thinly slice the onions and garlic. Heat the remaining olive oil, then fry the onion and garlic for 3-5 minutes, stirring. Add the bread spices and mushrooms, along with any residual liquid. To finish, stir in the blackberries and season with salt and pepper.
Cook the tagliatelle for less than 1 minute in simmering salted water, then drain, reserving a few spoonfuls of the cooking water. Return the tagliatelle to the pan and add the cooking water and mushroom and berry mixture. Stir well to combine, drizzle with extra olive oil and serve with Parmesan.
Ginger and pear cake with coffee cream
This is the perfect winter dessert. I plan to take it to Thanksgiving dinner. It pairs well with a dark coffee and warm candle glow. Please forgive odd measurement amounts; conversions aren’t always a clean swap. Fresh ginger can lose its potency in baking, hence the large amount. If you prefer even more ginger flavor, try adding a bit of ground ginger to the mix. For stronger coffee flavor, grind the beans.
For the coffee cream:
½ cup coffee beans
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
7 ounces heavy whipping cream
For the cake:
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons molasses
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons cooking oil
¼ cup fresh ginger
¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon hot water
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
3-5 small pears
For the coffee cream, mix all ingredients together and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight for the flavors to infuse.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. For the cake, combine the sugar, molasses and oil in a large bowl. Lightly beat the eggs and stir into the sugar and oil mixture. Peel the ginger and finally grate or very finely chop. In a small bowl, mix the hot water with the baking powder. Sift the flour and cinnamon into another bowl. Stir in all the cake ingredients, except the pears, and leave to rest for 10 minutes.
Line a large loaf tin with baking paper. Add the cake mixture and insert the whole pears. Bake for 1 to 1½ hours, until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool, then remove from the tin.
Strain the cream, whip until thick and serve with the cake.
—Recipes reprinted from “Fruit” by Bernadette Wörndl with permission from Smith Street Books.
“Fruit: Recipes that Celebrate Nature”
By Bernadette Wörndl
Smith Street Books. 240 pages. $40.
Who should buy this? Fruit lovers. Anyone who loves pouring over a pretty cookbook and tabbing pages like mad.