When this cookbook found its way into my hands, I was intrigued. Not only by the beautiful photograph of fiddleheads and perfectly charred steak on the cover but by the seemingly oxymoronic title: Brooklyn Rustic. Rustic isn’t an adjective I’d use to describe the borough, having been for extensive visits in the past. In fact, I wasn’t terribly convinced until I began reading Bryan Calvert’s essays and seeing apparent bucolic threads woven throughout the recipes in the book. It wasn’t just the John Muir and Julia Child quotes inscribed throughout; Calvert’s collection is one that clearly reflects his time spent in the woods around a campfire, chasing the taste of a mug of venison stew following a hike along the AT. Yet, each dish is also an urbane showcase, poised on white plates with edges wiped clean.
As I was reading the recipes section by section, I can honestly say I was inspired by most for their finessed familiarity. There were a handful of ingredients a reader might have a hard time finding like hijiki, sunchokes, and kohlrabi, but largely, the book delivered on the promise of recipes built on easy-to-find, staple ingredients.
Some of the recipes that excited me included Cipollini Onion Brûlée; Jerked Butternut Squash; Heirloom Tomatoes with Gin, Feta, and Dill; Goat Cheese and Beet Dumplings; and Sauteed Shrimp in Harissa Broth. That gives you a pretty good snapshot of the recipes within and their promise to help cooks experience wonder in good food guided by simple, high quality ingredients and cooking techniques.
A perfect example of this philosophy was the one recipe I tested from the book, a Tomato and Gruyere Tart. The foundation was a 6 ingredient savory crust layered with tangy mustard, sweet sautéed shallots, bright heirloom tomatoes, and creamy gruyere. As an aside: traditional tomato pie (Bisquick, tomatoes, basil, and I’m sure mayo is thrown in for good measure) is one of my all-time favorite summer foods. Calvert’s recipe blew the traditional pie out of the water.
The narrative throughout Brooklyn Rustic is one best summed up by a quote from The Slow Food Movement included in the “Perfect Ripeness” essay within: “May suitable doses of guaranteed sensual pleasure and slow, long-lasting enjoyments preserve us from the contagion of the multitude who mistake frenzy for efficiency.” It’s Calvert’s strategy to take ingredients away from a plate rather than adding them, and making an ordinary meal unforgettable through the art of simplicity.
Interested in experiencing the book yourself? Find it at Little, Brown and Company.