The Spotted Pig’s April Bloomfield might not be the first chef you would think of when seeking tips for perfectly cooked carrots. But her cookbook, A Girl and Her Pig, released today with a cover that boasts a picture of a dead pig draped over Bloomfield’s neck, is surprisingly full of terrific recipes with vegetables as centerpieces.
In the introduction to the cookbook, Bloomfield describes herself as a fussy cook, and says that some of her fellow chefs call her cooking “anal rustic.” Her recipes are not complicated, but their every single step must be precisely executed and their ingredients top-notch to make them sing. So in order to get the full benefit of this cookbook, you have to become “anal,” too. With her tips on finding and preparing ingredients and recipe sidebars, Bloomfield tells you how to do that.
Before we even get to the actual recipes, we find a chapter entitled “My Fussy Recipes,” in which Bloomfield tells us how to shop for and cut vegetables, how not to go crazy over the precise amounts of ingredients in any recipe, and finally how to balance a dish’s elements and then arrange it on a plate for serving. Then she goes into detail about the 10 ingredients — including salt-packed anchovies, tomatoes, Maldon salt, and garlic — that are central to her cooking. Unlike in some cookbooks, there are no long odes to the beauty of these products or what they mean to the chef personally in A Girl and Her Pig; instead, Bloomfield uses the space to go into minute detail about choosing and preparing each one.
Like the ingredients list, the book’s recipe sidebars are helpful for the aspiring fussy home cook. Knowing how to clean ramps properly, tell when your fish is cooked, brine tongue, and smoke chilies is a good first step to achieving Bloomfield’s level of meticulousness in the kitchen. Though the best sidebar — which accompanies a recipe for asparagus with Parmesan pudding and prosciutto — called “When Basil Tastes Like Sausage,” is more than just instructional; it’s a revelation.
The basil-asparagus combination is one I learned at The River Cafe. Herbs don’t always act like you’d expect them to … Once you add the basil to the asparagus and it gets a bit crispy, it adds more than just that herbaceous flavor — it becomes meaty, almost porky. It’s an elusive miracle, though, that will escape you if you cook the basil too much or not enough.
Thankfully, recipes for whole suckling pig, sweetbreads, veal kidneys, and the deviled eggs served at the Spotted Pig are in there, too. But going through this cookbook, you end up getting more excited about farmers’ markets filling up with spring produce than trips to the butcher.