The ingredient list for Pasta with Pesto alla Genovese in Christopher Kimball’s “Milk Street: The New Rules: Recipes That Will Change the Way You Cook” (Little, Brown, $35)” looks much like any other pesto recipe, except the basil is listed last, rather than first.
The authors explain why this seemingly small detail is significant. While studying traditional techniques in Genoa, Italy, they were struck by how much better the coarsely textured pestos ground with a mortar and pestle tasted compared to the smoother versions we’re used to in the U.S. Back at the Milk Street editorial offices and cooking school in Boston, they set out to reproduce those same results using the food processors home cooks here are comfortable with. The trick, they found, is to process the ingredients separately, then wait to the end to add the basil leaves pre-chopped with a knife.
“Stop Pureeing Your Pesto” is one of the 75 “new rules” for elevating everyday home cooking that form the backbone of the latest book by Christopher Kimball and his Milk Street team. Each rule is illustrated by a recipe or two featuring the global flavors and simple techniques that have earned the food media company’s magazines, radio shows, and books loyal followings.
Many of the “rules” may sound familiar. What’s new is the way they are presented — as the basis for a recipe rather than a footnote or afterthought. Steaming eggs instead of boiling them safeguards against rubbery whites and overdone yolks, as illustrated in Kerala-inspired Soft-Cooked Eggs with Coconut, Tomatoes and Spinach. Soaking garlic in lime juice softens its bite, a technique incorporated into Mexican Shrimp in Garlic Sauce.
Searing a meat dish such as Suya-Spiced Pan-Roasted Pork Tenderloins on the stovetop before finishing in the oven, the Milk Street crew claims, will brown the meat and heighten the flavors of the Nigerian-influenced coating. I tried it, and it worked great.
Rules don’t have to be rigid. If you follow the Milk Street playbook, it can give you the confidence to push beyond conventional wisdom that may be stifling your creativity.
Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.
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