My introduction to the Rodale family came through the stack of Organic Gardening magazines beside my Dad’s favourite chair. What I learned from them has guided the way I eat and shop, and the choices I make in my backyard gardening experiments.
I was happy to discover that Rodale’s food philosophy is much like my own, emphasizing a variety of fresh, seasonal foods in preparations that are weeknight easy and full of flavour. On the weekends, I may take the time to learn new techniques, prepare an elaborate meal, or take on a multi-day baking project, but for the rest of the week I want food that is as simple to prepare as it is tempting to eat. What I don’t want are “15 minute meals” that rely on processed food or skimp on taste.
It’s that middle ground that Maria Rodale is passionate about sharing. Her cookbook is like a peek into her kitchen’s handwritten recipe books and card files. These are the recipes that her kids ask for, or have developed themselves. They’re recipes collected from extended family, memorable restaurant meals, travel, and house guests. They’re the recipes that add up to an everyday life that’s full of meals made from scratch.
She’s pared down her recipes to the essentials, both in ingredient and technique, to make them accessible to new cooks and attractive to busy ones. From the sampling I’ve done so far, this method hasn’t sacrificed flavour or healthy ingredients. Her homemade cracker recipe is a perfect example of this – finding only complicated, time-consuming recipes online, she developed her own version that captured the taste and crunch she wanted, simply and quickly. It’s a basic recipe that’s good just as it is, or can be used as a canvas for any flavour you crave. I took one of Rodale’s variation suggestions and sprinkled za’atar on mine. They’ll be great in soup, but I’m also enjoying snacking on them right out of the tin I’ve stored them in.
Her food is rooted in her Midwestern upbringing, but it’s also firmly planted in the 21st Century. There are classic American recipes like glazed ham or chicken noodle soup, alongside recipes that make use of today’s global palette of ingredients, like Vietnamese rice paper rolls or quinoa kale, and sunflower seed salad. The salad was the first recipe I tried when the book arrived and it’s perfect for lunchboxes or a buffet side dish.
It’s also one of the recipes in the book that accommodates gluten-free and vegan/vegetarian eaters, in a book that doesn’t exclusively cater to either. That’s another aspect of this cookbook that reflects the way I cook – I’m a gluten-loving omnivore, but many of the people in my life eat differently than I do and I’ve grown accustomed to cooking for a variety of food needs. Scratch is full of recipes that easily accommodate these diets, without resort to specialty ingredients or complicated substitutions.
Another recipe that is naturally vegan and gluten-free is Rodale’s Tomato, Chickpea, and Rice Soup, which the publishers have been kind enough to allow me to share with you.
TOMATO, CHICKPEA, AND RICE SOUP
My yoga teacher, Holly, taught me how to make this soup, and it’s delicious. She based it on a Marcella Hazan recipe she found online, but of course we modified and simplified it a bit. We made it on a cold winter’s day, and it was the most heartwarming, soul-satisfying soup you can imagine. Don’t worry about the amount of oil, it gives the soup a lovely richness. Feel free to add more stock if you prefer a thinner soup.
Serves 4 to 6
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 can (14 ounces) whole peeled tomatoes
- Leaves from a few sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped
- 2 cans (14 ounces each) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 4 cups vegetable stock or chicken stock, store-bought or homemade (page 111)
- Crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup Arborio rice
- Grated Romano cheese, for serving
- In a soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the whole cloves of garlic and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes, or until golden.
- Carefully add the tomatoes and lightly mash them with a potato masher to break them down a little. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes.
- Add the rosemary and chickpeas, increase the heat to medium, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Add 1 cup of the stock, the pepper flakes (if using), and salt and black pepper to taste. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Ladle two-thirds of the soup, including the garlic, into a blender and process until smooth.*
- Return the puree to the pan with the remaining 3 cups stock and bring to a boil. Add the rice, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, until the rice is cooked. Divide among bowls and pass grated Romano at the table.
* This step is totally optional, but results in a lovely thick, smooth soup.
There aren’t very many ingredients in this soup, but it’s full of flavour. Simmering the tomatoes in garlic-infused olive oil brings back a bit of summer to them and partially pureeing the soup makes it as silky as though it were made with cream. I garnished mine with garlicky breadcrumbs, as I had them on hand, but it would have been just as delicious without any garnish at all. That said, it would be fantastic with the grated Romano called for in the recipe, too.
This recipe is easy enough for a beginner, but appealing to experienced cooks – so many of us would reach for short grain rice when making soup, but Arborio rice makes it so much richer and more filling. There are other recipes that are geared toward novices, like Rodale’s simple grilled cheese, but I keep dipping into this book for gems like her celery with brown butter and toasted almonds. It helped me to happily eat down my overabundance of celery this fall.
Scratch is the perfect cookbook to give to a young adult striking out on their own or even a teenager who wants to learn their way around the kitchen. But it’s also a lifesaver for busy working adults who are disenchanted with recipes that promise speed, while sacrificing quality and flavour. And for those of us who want to eat healthy whole foods, but are uninterested in the latest food fads and unafraid of a little bit of everything in moderation, this book is on point.
Rodale’s go to cookbook was the Joy of Cooking and she’s produced a contemporary book in the same spirit – one that can guide you from novice to experienced home cook, while remaining a resource for years to come.
Gift Giver’s Guide: For the weeknight chef, the family feeder, the kitchen novice, and the organic eater.
Come back next week for a review of a book that will turn you into a confident crafter of all things baked.
*This giveaway is open to residents of Canada. You must have a Canadian mailing address. The winner will be required to answer the following skill testing question: 15 X 12 =_____ This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook. We hereby release Facebook of any liability. Winner(s) will be contacted by email within 48 hours after the giveaway ends. Entrants must provide a valid email address where they can be reached. Each of the winners must respond to the email announcing their win within 48 hours, or another winner will be chosen. No purchase of any product is required. If you have any additional questions – feel free to send us an email! You can find links to the rest of my Holiday Cookbook Review Series giveaways here. They’re all open until December 22nd.