Cookbook review: Tricks to make a simple dish stand out

"Food52 Big Little Recipes: Good Food with Minimal Ingredients and Maximal Flavor" by Emma Laperruque (Ten Speed, $24.99)

Credit: Handout

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"Food52 Big Little Recipes: Good Food with Minimal Ingredients and Maximal Flavor" by Emma Laperruque (Ten Speed, $24.99)

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

‘Food52 Big Little Recipes: Good Food with Minimal Ingredients and Maximal Flavor’ by Emma Laperruque (Ten Speed, $24.99)

It’s comforting having a well-stocked spice rack and condiment selection to give a boring dish a boost. But relying too heavily on them won’t make you a better cook, and could even inhibit your creativity.

In the introduction to “Food52 Big Little Recipes: Good Food with Minimal Ingredients and Maximal Flavor” (Ten Speed, $24.99), Emma Laperruque quotes the legendary Italian cookbook author Marcella Hazan, who used to tell her students: “What you leave out is just as important as what you leave in.”

That advice underscores the premise of Laperruque’s cookbook, which is inspired by the column she writes for the Food52 website.

Aside from the obvious advantages of adopting a less-is-more culinary mindset — fewer trips to the grocery store, shorter prep and clean-up times, reduced waste — Laperruque shows how stripping a recipe down to its essence can lead to exciting revelations that can be applied to future kitchen situations.

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Crunchy-shell Cauliflower Tacos involves blitzing a whole head of cauliflower in the food processor to the consistency of ground beef, tossing it with a little oil and plenty of chili powder, then crisping the mixture in a hot oven before tucking the savory nuggets into tortilla shells with grated pepper jack cheese and lettuce.

I also followed her instructions for making meatballs with ground lamb and water-soaked breadcrumbs (to ensure extra juiciness), which I paired with fresh basil and yogurt puree and rounds of zucchini browned in the meat drippings. The result: a flavor-loaded meal-in-one dish made with only five main ingredients.

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Other tricks I’m intrigued to try: boiling corn cobs for “the corniest creamed corn” to toss with rigatoni; employing tahini to make flourless, eggless oatmeal cookies; blending minced dill pickle and a splash of brine with mayo into a lightning-fast salad dressing.

“Minimalist cooking is all about healthy skepticism,” she writes. “Do I really need four different herbs as a garnish? Probably not. If I’m out of vegetable stock, will water do the job just as well? You bet.”

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.

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