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Food for Thought

Desert Island Cookbook

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Judson Kniffen
Theater Director
New York City

Cookbook: Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells.

Why do you like it?: On my desert island there is room for lemon tart, potato and celery root gratin, leek terrine with truffles, and oxtail stew. And despite not knowing her personally, being stuck on a desert island with Patricia Wells very well might be my idea of heaven. In Bistro Cookingher recipes range from a ten minute sauté to a three day stew. The ingredients are simple and affordable. I trust each recipe to the letter. Never has she let me down. I bought the book for the desert chapter – it still has the best chocolate mousse, tarts, and poached pears ever – but quickly devoured the chapters on meats and even salads! There is also a chapter on pastry dough and stocks, which I find invaluable.

When not cooking the recipes, I find myself rereading the introductions. Wells makes each recipe personal with a story about the Parisian bistro it is from, the Provencal neighbor who taught it to her, etc. She has a respect for ingredients and traditional French cuisine that makes for a wonderful read, and the most delicious dishes.

Poires au Vin Rouge (Pears in Red Wine)
adapted from Patricia Wells’ Bistro Cooking.

Bold, beautiful, vermillion red pears, infused with a spicy, fruity sauce make one of the simplest and yet most impressive desserts. Make these a day in advance, to allow the pears to soak up all of the fragrant, spicy sauce. And use rather green, or unripe pears, or they will fall apart as they cook.

4 large or 6 very small pears, peeled with stems intact (I use red pears)
½ cup vanilla sugar
1 bottle fruity red wine, such as a good Beaujolais
½ cup crème de cassis
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 sprig of summer savory or rosemary
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
4 whole cloves
4 black peppercorns

In a deep nonreactive saucepan that will hold all the pears snugly, combine all of the ingredients. Cover and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Turn the pears from time to time, so they are evenly coated. Simmer until the pears are cooked through, about 30 minutes.
Remove from the heat; allow to cool. Transfer the pears and liquid to a serving dish. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours before serving.

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