*Mediterranean Summer*, by David Shalleck and Erol Munoz

Recommended without reservation.  I devoured it.  Shalleck’s story — it looks like Munoz was just writing help — got me ready to cook in the new growing season.

The first chapter is brutal.  The author details a series of his failures in the cooking world.  Most times I find confessional-type writing annoying.  In this case I appreciated the author’s honesty.

There is some practical information in the book.  I’m not spoiling anything by reporting that the author takes a chef job on a yacht.  In describing his preparations, the author discusses his equipment and pantry choices.  The process of setting up the kitchen is a great read.  I found the pantry list on 53 and 54 to be extremely useful, especially since I like to cook Italian food.

My favorite sections of the book are those in which he discusses his menu decisions.  The only reason I wished he wrote about them more is that I enjoyed reading them all.  He provides more than enough examples of his thought process to help the reader understand the nuts and bolts of cooking regionally.  They make me want to travel to the Philippines to learn about the regional cooking my parents grew up with.

Though most of the cooking is Italian, he hooked me by describing his first menu for a I may have been hooked by his first cooking adventure on the yacht, for a visit to Cannes:

I thought of a grand aioli, a Provençal dish made with poached salt cod and periwinkles served with an assortment of cooked, usually boiled, vegetables and aioli — a heady garlic mayonnaise.  It’s a pretty rustic dish, so I decided to do a slight variation.  I’d make the aioli much more subtle by using the young green garlic before the bulb starts to form, thrice blanched, and local extra virgin olive oil.  Any by making it a day ahead would give the flavors a chance to fully bloom.  In lieu of the cod and snails, I could poach some nice fish fillets like grondin, a popular rockfish found in the Mediterranean, along with some shrimp.  Then I’d arrange small new potatoes, tender leeks, green beans, and a few hard-cooked eggs for tradition around a bowl of the aioli.  I’d offer another platter with sliced tomatoes and a cluster of lightly dressed field greens.  To finish, tart and juicy strawberries, crunchy red deep red cherries, calisson — a Provençal confection made with almond paste — and maybe some madeleines, too (p. 68).

One unexpected thought prompted by the book was on how restaurant dining can become even more educational.  Instead of thinking of thinking of ethnic cuisines as monolithic, this includes the familiar European cuisines, I’m going to try to connect dishes on menus of restaurants I’m going to eat at to the regions they originate from.  In general I like to make restaurant eating an educational experience.  The book provided another way for me to try to do this.

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