By Jennifer McLagan
Ten Speed Press; $29.99
Some of the recipes in Jennifer McLagan’s newest book sound like dares: Tobacco Panna Cotta, for example, and Cardoon and Bitter Leaf Salad. But McLagan, whose previous books Bones and Fat delved deep into outlier ingredients, does a great job of explaining why many of us embrace such bitter foods. Maybe not tobacco, but certainly grapefruit and Brussels sprouts and endive and beer. Seems that once we learn that certain bitter foods won’t kill us and that some, like dark chocolate, bitter alcohols, and coffee, actually excite our nervous system, we develop a taste for bitter. And a good thing, too, as many of the compounds that cause bitter flavors also have health benefits. As for cooking, McLagan notes the need for bitter flavors to balance sweet and rich ingredients. Acknowledging that the experience of bitter is subjective (and explaining the science behind why that’s so), McLagan progresses from least bitter ingredients (chicories, olive oil, walnuts) to the most bitter (bitter almonds, fenugreek, and the aforementioned tobacco). I implied at the start that some recipes don’t exactly make the mouth water, but many do, including Dandelion Salad with Hot Bacon and Mustard Dressing, Campari-Glazed Veal Chops, and Caramel Ice Cream. In other words, dinner.
Horseradish and Avocado Quenelles, p. 129 Mash avocado, mix in horseradish, and shape into quenelles for an elegant side. The avocado is a great vehicle for carrying the bitter root’s flavor. Try them alongside grilled shrimp.
Radicchio and Gorgonzola Pasta Sauce, p. 30 Bitter radicchio complements creamy gorgonzola in this colorful sauce. Delicious over pasta, it would go well with steak, too.
Photos by Aya Brackett