Barbara Lynch‘s personal story is as important as her abilities to cook, especially in her new cookbook, Stir (Houghton Mifflin 2009) written with Joanne Smart. She spends several pages of the introduction describing her upbringing in working class South Boston and her discovery of her talent and passion in the kitchen in a home economics class in high school. It is a story that many chefs share. Hard work, dogged curiosity, and luck are the ingredients that have made many chefs great, in a time before TV careers and culinary school machines.
Despite my successes, I remember how starved I was for information as an aspiring chef, which is why I decided to finally write my own cookbook. You’ll note that the title is a verb. That’s because I want to inspire you to get moving. I want you to read my recipes, try them, and make them again. (p. xiv)
The subtitle, Mixing It Up In the Italian Tradition, is Barbara’s way of describing her Italian food, cooked with French technique and local ingredients. What she takes from Italy is primarily a simplicity and directness that means recipes are often very simple and well presented.
The Starters and Small Bites chapter shows off Barbara’s recipes perfectly. The first recipe for Baked Cheese and Tomatoes with Black Olive Crisps (pp. 5-6) is a simple dish of leftover cheese baked with whole, peeled tomatoes. In the photo by Deborah Jones, the tomatoes are still attached to their vines making for a lovely dish. The toasts have a simple tapenade of black olives and oil, a spread common anywhere in the Mediterranean, and especially good with ripe tomatoes and cheese. Other recipes are more sophisticated and yet the flavors are equally balanced. Butcher Shop Beef Tartare (p. 18) is simply hand cut beef cubes with traditional tartare ingredients like capers, cornichons, and mustard, along with Tomato Syrup (p. 19) and Truffle Aioli (p. 20). The elegant Tomato Tarte Tatin (pp. 26-29) is a tomato and onion upside down tart made with puff pastry is filled with a tomato confit and caramelized onions. She adds a fried basil leaf for added flavor. The step-by-step photos follow how to stack the layers of ingredients under the puff pastry and the finished tart.
Stir is a book full of recipes from pasta to seafood and meats that will beckon you to try them again and again. Barbara’s story is one that should motivate young people who want to pursue a career in the kitchen. This is an inspiring Italian cookbook.
(Photo of Barbara Lynch by Justin Ide)