Regarding the ever-present stacks of cookbooks around the apartment, my mother joked to me on Sunday that I should open a library. She’s probably right. I don’t think that a week goes by that I don’t* receive at least one new cookbook and I hardly know where to dive in. And don’t get me wrong, I too swoon over the currently in-demand aesthetic of vertically oriented, dimly lit photos of reclaimed weathered barnwood tables boasting sauce splatters and variations on kale on matte pages bound in jacketless books. It’s just that they’re all starting to jumble together.
But it makes it that much more exciting when one arrives in which it’s so obvious that every single recipe in it has been so carefully considered and executed in a way that clears its throat and announces Here is something new. Now, I’m not going to pretend that I’m a neutral observer of Tara O’Brady’s career. I’ve loved her Seven Spoons blog from the beginning, with its unique blend of Canadian, Irish, English, Northern and Southern Indian influences, all modernized with seasonal produce. And I’ve always wondered when she’d write a cookbook, but I’m starting to think that this, too, might be one of the quiet attributes of the best cookbooks: the wait for it felt like forever. The book does not disappoint. Yes, the pages are matte, the backgrounds are concrete and marble slab (but swoonishly so), the food looks farmers market-fresh but you won’t even be two recipes into the Lunch section — Fattoush with Fava Beans and Labneh! Messy Bistro Salad with Spanish-Fried Egg and Crispy Capers! — before realizing that this book is teeming with just the kind of inspiration we all need. What, that didn’t tempt you? How about Baked Eggs, North Indian-Style or Hummus with White Miso? And guys, I haven’t even left the Lunch chapter yet. There are six others.
The recipes are inspiring in a very specific, homespun way, clearly the product of years of honed repetition at a family table. While it was hard to choose where to begin, we couldn’t resist the idea of Mushrooms and Greens with Toast, which feels like a cross between a rustic casserole and a skillet of torn-up grilled cheese and butter-seared vegetables that could not be easier to make in that tiny margin of time between realizing dinner has yet to make itself and a small exhausted person returning from soccer practice with expectations of sustenance. You get the feeling the author has been there; Tara wants you to tear everything up by hand (she thinks many mushrooms “look best when spared the blade”). She doesn’t expect you to crank up the broiler just to finish the dish with melted cheese (you just put a lid on the pot and let the heat do its thing). Serving instructions? “Hand out forks, then bring the pan to the table.” What she doesn’t say is “Repeat again tomorrow,” but we most certainly will.
* despite repeated pleas to not send me comped stuff, trusting that if I’m excited enough about a cookbook to want it, I don’t mind paying for it, which serves the added bonus of keeping this apartment from the next Hoarders casting call
One year ago: Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp Bars
Two years ago: Japanese Vegetable Pancakes
Three years ago: Warm Crisp and a Little Melty Salad Croutons
Four years ago: Leek Toasts with Blue Cheese
Five years ago: Spring Asparagus Pancetta Hash and Pecan Cornmeal Butter Cake
Six years ago: Endive and Celery Salad with Fennel Vinaigrette and Rhubarb Cobbler
Seven years ago: Martha’s Macaroni and Cheese
Eight years ago: Pickled Garlicky Red Peppers and Raspberry-Topped Lemon Muffins
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Sticky Toffee Pudding and Pickled Cabbage Salad
1.5 Years Ago: Perfect Uncluttered Chicken Stock and Cranberry Orange Breakfast Buns
2.5 Years Ago: Baked Pumpkin and Sour Cream Puddings
3.5 Years Ago: Granola-Crusted Nuts
Mushrooms and Greens with Toast
Adapted just a little from Tara O’Brady’s Seven Spoons Cookbook
I resisted, for once, but I think this would be lovely with some crispy eggs on top. But I’d otherwise consider this a one-pan meal. No, a one-pan miracle. For mushrooms, O’Brady suggests chanterelles, shiitake and oyster mushrooms and I admit I got carried away, buying a few fancy ones (a trumpet mushroom too!) along with creminis, but you could make this entirely with small white or brown mushroom and it would still be delicious. For the greens, kale, chard, spinach or nettles are suggested; I use lancinato kale leaves. And for a cheese, it really doesn’t matter what you use, only that you like it and it likes to melt. Chèvre, mozzarella, burrata, taleggio and fontina are all “fair game,” she writes. I went with a soft, melty fontina and it was perfect here. I used the bread I’m most obsessed with, massive whole wheat sourdough loaves that you can buy in quarters at Balthazar’s bakery on Spring Street or in Englewood, NJ or at any outlet of the Le Pain Quotidien chain, but of course any bread you enjoy eating will work well here too.
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 pounds mixed mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and torn into bite size pieces (see suggestions above)
2 thick slices bread from a large, crusty loaf (I’d use 4 from a smaller loaf)
2 cloves garlic or 1 shallot, minced
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar, or more to taste (I used 2)
1 fresh red chile, stemmed, seeded and minced or red pepper flakes, to taste
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 ounces chopped fresh greens (see suggestions above)
8 ounces of a good melting cheese, thickly sliced (suggestions above)
Melt 2 tablespoons butter and olive oil together in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. One fully hot, add mushrooms to pan and cook, stirring regularly, until they’ve released their water and started to turn golden brown, about 8 minutes.
Meanwhile, grill or toast your bread.
One the mushrooms have a nice color on them, add the garlic or shallots and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Drizzle with vinegar, most of the chile or chile flakes, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Add the greens; pretty much any kind aside from baby spinach will benefit from about 5 to 8 minutes cooking time, just until collapsed. If you’re me, you’ll add 1 more tablespoon vinegar for brightness at this point. Stir in remaining tablespoon butter and adjust seasonings to taste. Rip bread into irregular croutons and push them into the sauteed vegetables. Lay pieces of cheese atop everything. Turn the heat down to medium low, place a lid on the pan and let the cheese melt, which will take 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the pan and the kind of cheese you used.
Sprinkle with remaining chile, “hand out forks, then bring the the pan to the table.”