Cooking From My New England Roots
By Matt Jennings (Artisan Books; $35)
Like Matt Jennings, chef/owner of Townsman, a New England brasserie in Boston, I’m from the Northeast, so his debut cookbook feels like home to me. Just his introduction, in which he describes his love for New England, made me yearn for my own favorite childhood experience of digging for clams at low tide, elbow deep in wet sand. His recipes reflect a simple Yankee attitude: Use the best local ingredients to create dishes that reflect the season, and waste nothing.
Unlike some chef-written books, which are filled with complicated recipes and subrecipes, the ones I tried from Homegrown were easy to follow and a breeze to prepare. They were also delicious. The organization of the recipes, however, is not intuitive—they are divided among five sections: Dairy, Ocean, Farm, Garden and Orchard, and Forest—but it works for me with each conjuring a specific image of place.
The variety of recipes Jennings offers is also stunning, from gnocchi, dumplings, and pickles to ice cream and whoopie pies. He gives you his mother’s version of clam chowder as well as his own (complete with squid and seaweed). There’s also Roasted Leg of Lamb with Blueberry Chermoula, and a Garden and Orchard Feast featuring Red Flannel Hash and an array of vegetable-laden dishes. Jennings’ knowledge of ingredients is vast. This is evident as he occasionally uses the unconventional to boost the flavor of some of the most classic preparations, like adding doenjang (Korean soybean paste) to his recipe for Boston Brown Bread and garnishing Coconut Tapioca with Miso Peanuts. Clearly with some of these recipes, Jennings ventures beyond his New England roots, yet somehow stays firmly grounded in them, a delicate balance he pulls off with panache throughout this delightful book.