A few weeks ago, I was browsing around Left Bank Books, one of my favorite bookstores in St. Louis, when I stumbled upon “The Forest Feast Mediterranean” cookbook. I’d never heard of Erin Gleeson or her “Forest Feast” series, but when I started paging through her cookbook, I immediately fell in love.
“The Forest Feast Mediterranean” is based on Gleeson’s travels through Spain, France, and Italy. I’ve been to the latter two countries and I’ve always wanted to visit Spain, so reading the cookbook felt a little like going abroad again. Gleeson is an artist and she illustrates her own books. The watercolor illustrations were bright and vibrant, and made the experience of reading the book even more enjoyable.
To be honest, I decided to buy the cookbook because when I opened it to a page with a recipe for salad with goat cheese phyllo puffs and figs. It sounded so good that I felt like I had to make it right then and there. Then I paged through the book more and I realized that I wanted to make most of the recipes. This is what is known in food blogger language as true love with a cookbook.
I had a “Julie & Julia” moment when I decided to cook my way through the cookbook. But unlike the movie, I wanted to skip around and cook recipes based on my preferences. Also, I might not make a few. I like most of the ideas and ingredients in the book, but there’s a whole section on party snacks, which I probably won’t use for a while. Although as I’m typing this, making cheese and almond-stuffed figs and eating them all myself sounds really good.
I’ll detail some of my experiences cooking from the book here. Look out for more installments of this mini-series over the next few weeks.
To start, I made lemony pasta fagioli (pictured above). As Gleeson writes in the cookbook, pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans) is a common dish in Italy. However, I hardly ever cook the two together. I decided to try out the combination and see what actual lemons would taste like in a pasta dish. I’ve included lemon juice in a sauce, but I’ve never sautéed lemon and put it in pasta, like Gleeson’s recipe calls for.
When you’re making this pasta, it’s very important not to sub noodles. It calls for orecchiette, and they’re the perfect vehicle for everything else in the dish. They soak up flavor, balance the beans in texture and shape, *and* they’re perfect for collecting grated Parmesan. If you can’t find orecchiette, I guess you could use another small noodle. I don’t think it would be as good, though.
At the end of the recipe, Gleeson says you could add chili oil and sautéed greens to the finished dish. I had some Swiss chard to use up, and some Aleppo chili flakes on the counter, so I decided to toss those in. It was a wise decision; the dish went up a level in terms of heartiness and flavor. The chiles gave it a kick, and the greens made it feel more nutritious.
Overall, this was a good recipe to start with. It’s the perfect amount of hearty and light, with bright, fresh ingredients that evoke summer. I don’t know about you, but I need a lot of citrus when the weather gets cold and the temperature drops 40 degrees overnight.
Now I’m thinking about other pasta and beans combinations. Stay tuned for some original recipes soon.
Here’s a song to get you started on your lemony pasta fagioli journey. The band sounds a lot like one of my favorite bands, Phoenix.