cover image The Cook and the Gardener: A Year of Recipes and Notes from the French Countryside

The Cook and the Gardener: A Year of Recipes and Notes from the French Countryside

Amanda Hesser. W. W. Norton & Company, $35 (640pp) ISBN 978-0-393-04668-7

Readers who have been pining for a new literary cookbook need look no further. The cook of the title is the author, a staff reporter for the ""Dining In/Dining Out"" section of the New York Times. The gardener is a crusty, irascible French country gardener of considerable age and vast experience. Hesser met M. Milbert when she began cooking for Anne Willan, founder of the cooking school La Varenne, at Willan's estate in Burgundy, France, where Milbert and his wife were caretakers, a job they took on after selling their small farm. With respect and grace, Hesser describes her encounters with Milbert in his domain, the estate's one-acre garden, tracing four seasons' worth of interwoven gardening and cooking. Beginning in spring, Hesser makes use of what's freshest in such recipes as Early Carrots with Tarragon Beurre Blanc, Warm Roasted Shallots with Balsamic Vinegar and Braised Lamb with Garlic, Asparagus and Peas. Summer recipes range from Sauteed Duck with Artichokes to Zucchini-Lemon Soup, Striped Bass and Fennel and Seared Tomatoes with Olive Oil and Sage. In similar fashion, recipes for the fall and winter months make use of the seasons' offerings: Red Beets with Shallots and Sage, Pear-and-Almond Tart and White Sausages with Turnips and Butternut Squash. Like Milbert's approach to growing herbs, fruits and vegetables, Hesser's recipes follow the traditional French country techniques and are neither fussy nor marked by shortcuts. Seamlessly including basics--e.g., pastry doughs, stocks (one for each season), preserves and mayonnaises--in the introductions to the seasons, Hesser delivers a solid grounding for beginning cooks as well; or at least for those whose interest is in preparing food with fresh ingredients (and who don't need to learn how to cook broccoli, which apparently Milbert didn't grow). Hesser's voice, as she carefully earns Milbert's trust, becoming finally in his words, la petite jardiniere, is as sure and convincing as is her hand in the kitchen. Cooks who pick from Hesser's 200 month-by-month recipes will easily imagine themselves at least momentarily transported to the French countryside. (Mar.)