Over the last few weekends, I’ve been trying something new to help me experience the flavors of the season or to use up extra produce: consulting a bible. This particular bible is The Flavor Bible , by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg*.
After a short introduction into how we taste and how chefs create successful flavor combination, the book lists ingredients alphabetically, with each ingredient followed by notes about its season, taste, “flavor weight,” volume, typical preparation techniques, and by a list of compatible flavors. For example, the flavor list for bell peppers begins with “anchovies, anise, arugula, bacon, BASIL, bay leaf, …” (ingredients in bold or caps are especially recommended). In info boxes near some ingredient headings you’ll find comments from great chefs about the item and example dishes using the item.
It’s proving to be a useful tool for kitchen improvisations. The other night, for example, I had a leek and some pieces of winter squash that I wanted to use up. For the sake of simplicity, I settled on a soup. I sweated the leek in some oil for a few minutes, then added the squash, thyme and water. When the squash was tender, I blended it until smooth. That’s an OK soup, but a little dull, so I consulted the winter squash entry in the Flavor Bible and chose apple and Gruyere as flavor boosts, cutting them into 5-10 mm dice and dropping the cubes into the hot soup just before serving. The Gruyere was a great success, holding its shape** in the thick orange soup and bringing its rich, sometimes pungent flavor in bursts. The apple was less successful, as the flavor didn’t come through as much as I’d like (perhaps a different variety would have been better). A recipe that approximates what I made is at the bottom of the post.
Another Flavor Bible experiment was less successful, in which I combined roasted rutabaga and cooked white beans with an herb-mustard vinaigrette (mustard and rutabaga were a recommended pairing). The flavors were too muted and I couldn’t decide whether it should be a hot dish or room temperature one.If you enjoy experimenting in the kitchen or need new ideas about what to do with the farmers market seasonal bounty, it’s a great book to have around.
Recipe: Squash Soup with Gruyere and Apple
Cooking oil or butter
1 leek, washed thoroughly, quartered, and sliced
2 cups roughly chopped winter squash (like butternut or kabocha)
A few cups of water or stock
Salt and pepper to taste
Diced Gruyere cheese, 5 mm on a side
Diced apple, 1 cm on a side
Heat the oil over medium heat. Add the sliced leek, stir and cook for a few minutes, covered.
Add the squash pieces and thyme and cook uncovered for a few minutes, stirring frequently.
Pour in the water (or stock), raise the heat, bring to a boil, then cook, covered, over medium-low heat until the squash is tender.
Puree with an immersion blender or in a blender (being careful about blending a hot liquid).
Add salt and pepper to taste.
To serve, ladle the soup into a bowl and top with a spoonful each of diced cheese and apple.
* I’ve often wondered whether someone has written – or is working on – “The Bible Bible,” a tome that catalogs the myriad “bibles” that are in print. My cookbook shelf now has three bibles: The Flavor Bible and Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Pie and Pastry Bible and Cake Bible (she is also the author of The Bread Bible).
** The cheese near the rind of most aged cheeses is drier and ‘heartier’ than the center, so for this garnish it might make sense to used edge pieces instead of middle pieces.