Olives and Oranges? What kind of name is that for a cookbook? Yeah, that was my first reaction. While it clearly was not love at first sight, Olives and Oranges by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox has most definitely stolen my foodie heart. Why? I could say that it’s because all of the recipes I’ve made (and I've made lots already) have far exceeded my expectations. And while that's true, the reality is that I was in love with this cookbook before I ever cooked a thing. Sara Jenkins seduced me to love her food with words and recipes that have elevated Mediterranean food from a rarity to a staple in my life.
Sara Jenkins is an American who grew up in the Mediterranean. Thanks to a “gypsy-style” childhood and a food focused mother, Sara explored the food and flavors of Italy, Spain, Lebanon, France and Cyprus at a young age. She had Escargot in Paris at age 4. Sara is now a Chef in New York City and the impact of her childhood is clear. In Olives and Oranges, she presents Mediterranean inspired recipes. But Olives and Oranges is much more than a collection of recipes. Sara talks to us throughout the book. She tells us about aspects of her childhood, she tells us about Mediterranean food, and she tells about the recipes - how she chooses the ingredients, how to prepare the ingredients and how to adapt the recipes to other more seasonally available recipes if need be. She’s not lecturing and she’s not forcing a lifestyle on us – instead she’s simply sharing in her own wonderful voice and food.
And what food it is. The flavor combinations are not something that would immediately come to mind. Penne pasta with Zucchini and Mint? If you’ve still got extra zucchini you need to try this. Grilled Skirt Steak with Cucumber and Avocado Salad – again not a typical combination but a great result. The recipes are also amazingly simple to prepare, yet produce complex flavor combinations that will have you craving for more. For example, the Spaghettini with Burst Cherry Tomatoes recipe below is the first recipe I made from this book. As you can see it is a simple dish, but you’ll find that one bite of this dish will transform you from your dinner table to the Mediterranean and you’ll be craving more pints of cherry tomatoes to make this again and again. I’ve made it several times and would gladly make it again - except that I want to try all of the other recipes in Olives and Oranges too!
Spaghettini with Burst Cherry Tomatoes
From Olives and Oranges by Sara Jenkins, Houghton Mifflin 2008
Quick-Cook Recipe / Makes 4 Servings
This is the sauce to make during the hot, muggy days of summer, when local farmstands are overflowing with ripe cherry tomatoes. As the tomatoes lightly brown in olive oil in a hot skillet, their skins burst and their juices caramelize, giving this quick sauce a depth that one usually encounters only in slowercooked versions. I like to use a mix of varieties and colors, though my absolute favorite is the small, intensely flavorful currant tomato.
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 pints mixed heirloom cherry tomatoes, currant tomatoes, and grape tomatoes
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1 pound spaghettini or spaghetti
- 1/3 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
- 1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- Coarsely ground black pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until very hot but not smoking. Add half of tomatoes, sprinkle with salt, and cook, tossing occasionally, until tomatoes start to blister and collapse, about 3 minutes. Add remaining tomatoes and cook, tossing once, for 2 minutes more.
With a wooden spoon, push tomatoes to one side of pan to make room for garlic. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 3 to 4 minutes, then stir gently to mix garlic and tomatoes together. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally and gently pressing tomatoes to release juices, until all tomatoes have collapsed and sauce is juicy and thick, about 4 minutes more. Remove from heat.
Cook pasta until al dente. Meanwhile, gently reheat sauce. Drain pasta and immediately toss with sauce and basil. Add 3/4 cup of cheese and toss; add remaining 3/4 cup cheese and toss again. Season with pepper and serve at once.
About Olives and Oranges
By the time she was a teenager, Sara Jenkins had lived all over the Mediterranean. Learning at the elbows of grandmothers and chefs from Tuscany to Beirut, she gained an easy familiarity with the region's cuisines and their principles. In Olives and Oranges, this accomplished cook, who is "inspired by tradition but never limited by it" (New York Times), shows how an understanding of flavor can produce great dishes from even the most humble ingredients. The recipes are startlingly simple, but each one has a unique touch.
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Disclosure: Review copies of books discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or publishers.