Meet & Eat: Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift of 'The Splendid Table'
Author's Note: To round out a wonderful week of recipes from The Splendid Table's How to Eat Weekends we sat down with two ladies who love to eat, Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift, the host and producer of one of our favorite public radio shows. We talked about eating, cooking, entertaining, cookbooks, and how much our attitudes toward food have evolved since the show's premier back in 1994. So without further ado, take it away, Lynne and Sally!
Your new cookbook is all about weekend cooking. How do your Saturdays and Sundays differ from Monday through Friday in the kitchen?
Lynne: Weekends are when I can make the time to shop where it's fun, maybe have a new adventure with friends in a neighborhood we've not been to. Wherever we are, we have the time to go with whatever happens. The process becomes the pleasure, not solely the outcome. We get so stuck on "the perfect meal." The trick is to enjoy the doing, not just the eating. And share it if you feel like it.
So usually the day starts with the farmers' market. The best part is taking that first cup of
coffee while I scan everything. Then I go after what looks good and riff from then on. Next it might be a new neighborhood, or an out of the way market where I don't speak the language.
By the time I'm back in the kitchen I figure with everything that's spread out, something
good will turn up. By around eight, people are hanging out, food is happening, the wine's good and the talk's even better.
Sally: I'm one of those people who starts thinking about what's for dinner before I am even out of bed. On a Tuesday morning my expectations are a little simpler than say on a Sunday, when I am heading to my farmer's market and can make a pit stop at the Korean supermarket on the way back. The possibilities are endless, and the only thing that slows me down is the room in my stomach.
How to Cook Weekends is set up for cooking for a crowd. Describe a perfect weekend get together:
Sally: I love nothing better than those afternoons when you have accidentally (!) bought too many eggplants or have left a market with an entire pork shoulder and you pick up the phone on the way home and start issuing invites. Admittedly, I have a rather well used speed-dial list—all friends who will show up in jeans with hair still mussed up from a Saturday nap. They are ready to come and pitch in. When that impromptu mix works it is utterly magical.
Lynne: Improvisation is my middle name and I'm a recovering perfectionist, so the table's set up when you come in (granted, it might be covered in comics from the Sunday papers and miss matched china—excellent ice breakers). And the kitchen will pass for clean, but please don't look at the floor. The food is what feels right for that moment. Friends come together pretty easily, but there's always the tweaking to be sure there's the great mixer, and the person who brings out the shy ones, and that one who can make anybody laugh. We have one house rule. Guests never do dishes.
A well stocked pantry is an integral part of a successful meal. Tell us about the ingredients that the two of you never go without:
Sally: I am never without fish sauce, Aleppo pepper, soy sauce, my homemade wine vinegar, (I live with a wine writer and so have lots of wine languishing), good olive oil, black beans, Israeli couscous and Twizzlers.
Lynne: I am trying to be sensible here. Let's see, my essentials are good olive oil, chickpeas, a variety of good vinegars, tomato paste, fish sauce, tamarind, hoisin sauce, Sriracha, Aleppo pepper, and good pastas.
Lynne is always giving wonderful, spur of the moment cooking advice on air which leads us to believe that the two of you are quite the intuitive cooks. What's your advice for those of us who are a bit less than confident when it comes to cooking without recipes?
Lynne: Let's settle one thing up front—nowhere is it written that everyone should cook. It is not a required life skill. Sure it would be fine if you could feed yourself because it gives you more control over your wallet, your health and could give you more enjoyment. But this is not essential, it is the reason for restaurants, the take out counter and the frozen food section. Some of us were meant to enjoy food, not cook it.
When it comes to cooking without recipes, trust your logic, your instincts and your common sense. And taste as you cook. With or without a recipe, the single most important thing you can do is organize. We tend to jump into an idea instead of thinking it out.
First, think out what you want to make step by step. Next, gather all the ingredients you think you will need. Then prep each one. Then start cooking, doing one step at a time. Taste as you go. If you don't like something, adjust it, or change it before going on. Before adding seasoning combinations, taste them together to see if they work. Finally, make sure you have an oven thermometer (most ovens' temperatures are off) and an instant reading thermometer for meats.
Sally: We are at the tipping point of giving cooking too much power these days. It's no different than trying something new at the gym or picking up a book on a topic you wouldn't normally read. If it doesn't work, what do you? Try something new, right? We need to remember put things in proper perspective. If the pasta doesn't work, you can eat toast. Sometimes it's as simple as that.
The Splendid Table does a fantastic job keeping up with the best and newest cookbooks. What are some of the fall titles that you are most looking forward to? And what are some of your most beloved, stained and tattered cookbooks?
Lynne: Paul Wolfert is coming out with a big book on Moroccan food. Considering she was the first American to bring us this cuisine back in the 70s, I'm looking forward to this one. Paula's food is impeccable. We just interviewed Stefan Gates about his new The Extraordinary Cookbook. You have to see this. There will be many more, but you'll just have to listen in to hear the finds. As for the treasures, Paula's work, Diana Kennedy's books always, Gary Nabhan's works, Barbara Tropp's wonderful book on Chinese food has never been topped. Elizabeth Andoh writing on Japan and Ken Hom on China as well as Andreas Viedstadt's Kitchen of Light.
Sally: The most stained books on my shelf are Lynne's The Splendid Table, Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone, which is hands down my go—to general reference cookbook, Claudia Roden's The New Book Of Middle Eastern Food and Diana Kennedy's From My Mexican Kitchen. I pretty much cover all the bases with that collection.
The two of you began The Splendid Table well before our current fascination with the world of food. How have you seen interest in eating and cooking evolve over the years and what are your predictions for what's to come?
Lynne: We are all seeing food through new eyes. It's not about cooking any more. Perhaps it's clearer to say cooking is more than it has ever been because now we're learning that what is in our pots and on our plates has stories to tell.
We've tried to tell those stories over these years. But what thrills me is the new curiosity we've developed. Now we want to know more. Yes, we're silly, stupid and arrogant sometimes, but we care more now about every aspect of what makes up what we eat.
So what have we seen? We have seen a great shift in awareness and in questioning the why's and the how's of what we eat. We've been privileged to see America come into it's own as a food nation.
Sally: Over two decades, we've gone from having to explain what sustainable and organic meant every time we talked about it on the air, to now feeling shame if something isn't sustainable and organic. We are too extreme. It's wonderful that we are beginning to build and appreciate a real food heritage in this country but can't we just be a little less dogmatic?