The Bon Appetit Cookbook, By Barbara Fairchild, Wiley, 816 pp., $34.95
There's a new addition to the category of doorstop cookbooks -- which includes the venerable ``Joy of Cooking" and the timeless ``The Gourmet Cookbook." Bon Appetit bills itself as ``America's favorite food and entertaining magazine " and is celebrating its 50th birthday with the 800-page ``The Bon Appetit Cookbook" containing some 1,200 recipes. It tips the scales at 4 1/2 pounds. That's about the same weight as a roasting chicken (for which there are half a dozen recipes).
If I had to sum up the ``Bon Appetit" approach, it's this: simplify, multiply, and serve. Most of the recipes feed a gluttonous family of four well; many will serve twice that number. For a week while testing this cookbook, our refrigerator brimmed with leftovers, only a fraction of which could be dispatched the next day at lunchtime.
Barbara Fairchild, editor of both the magazine and the cookbook (this was the successful marketing plan of ``The Gourmet Cookbook") emphasizes classic formulations. If six roast-chicken recipes seems like a lot, consider the 10 recipes for burgers, or 15 for pizza. This is not the place to go if you want to find out what to do with quail or salsify. But if what you're after is making a leg of lamb, whipping up mashed potatoes, or producing a gingerbread, you're in business.
The book does best with tried-and-true ingredient pairings, especially those available fresh in local markets. Corn, tomato , and basil salad is bright and sweet, underlined and focused with a dark note of balsamic vinegar. A chowder pulled out all the stops. Crab and corn chowder with bacon and chanterelle mushrooms is a luscious, textured soup with much body, depth, and interest.
Although cooking times and temperatures are generally accurate, some recipes can err on the soupy side. A case in point is spicy sauteed fish with olives and cherry tomatoes. Though robustly flavored, the tomato-olive sauce was so wet there seemed to have been little point in sauteing the fish for a nice crisp exterior. Cider-brined pork chops with creamed leeks and apples did not seem to benefit from brining -- the saturated chops took twice as long as recommended to cook, and the cider flavor was weak at best. But the creamed leeks and apples were delectable enough to eat on their own.
``Bon Appetit" makes a concerted effort to keep ingredient lists short, and its compromises are usually sensible ones. Although it would have benefited from a basic grounding in garlic and cumin, spicy lamb stew with apricots and cardamom was sweetly fruity and satisfying. The dominant note of lemon in lemon-pistachio pilaf was assertive to a fault. Tortelloni with mushroom-sage sauce had a sharp, woodsy appeal, though I would have moderated the sage's single-minded punch by substituting in some thyme.
Most of the vegetables maximize flavor with a few ingredients and quick cooking. Broccolini paired with hazelnut butter was a good match, the nuts mellowing the broccolini's bitter undertones. Green beans with walnuts, lemon, and parsley came together in a flash, the textures and flavors variegated and complementary.
The volume's desserts offer plenty of chocolate. Easily assembled raspberry-topped chocolate tartlets with pecan crusts boasted chocolate; the raspberries and pecans receded into the background. And chocolate, almond, and dried cranberry biscotti provided an efficient way to get by between more serious bouts of dessert-making.
It's impossible not to compare ``Bon Appetit" with 2004's ``The Gourmet Cookbook," published with the sort of fanfare generally reserved for the opening of white truffle season in Italy. The ``Gourmet" book, with its spacious design and upfront cooking times, is more user-friendly (I would gladly have sacrificed the pastel-hued color inserts in ``Bon Appetit" for a couple of ``Gourmet" grosgrain ribbons to hold my place while flipping between recipes); and ``Gourmet" is arguably more adventurous.
But ``Bon Appetit" has a cover-the-bases approach, which is appealing in its own right. Put another way: For some of us, 10 recipes for burgers is just a good place to start.