Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Marcelle Bienvenu’s new batch of recipes makes alfresco fantastic. By Anna Purdy

                                                                   Photo by Robin May

Anybody who recommends “a splash of brandy to bring along” to pour over fruit is my kind of person. When it comes from Marcelle Bienvenu, author of Who’s Your Mama, Are You Catholic, and Can You Make a Roux? and co-author of several of Emeril Lagasse’s cookbooks, it sounds downright like a papal bull.

As it happens, Miss Marcelle does know my mama — they grew up together in St. Martinville. I got to talk to her about her newest book, No Baloney on My Boat, a celebration of casual, al fresco dining done with creativity and panache.

“I didn’t have any formal training. I just started cooking,” says Bienvenu, a testament to how learning by doing is the key. Her interest in cooking started in childhood, taking her to such gastronomic palaces as Brennan’s and Commander’s Palace in New Orleans. She began writing her column, “Cooking Creole,” for The Times-Picayune in 1984. During the week she stays in Thibodaux to teach at Nicholls State University. “They asked me if I could teach. I said, ‘Well, I guess I can try that!’” Bienvenu has gone on to teach hundreds of students how to cook not just professionally but with heart. “I’ve learned how to give tests by text message,” she says. “The students think I’m real cool for that.”

The recipes in No Baloney on My Boat are truly easy. While this book is marketed for those who entertain outdoors, be it a boat, a patio or a camp, it is also ideal for the kitchen novice. The Bacon Cheese Bread is simple, and virtually every ingredient is something you already have on hand. You can substitute sausage or a veggie for bacon and change out the cheddar cheese with pepper jack. The recipes are neither crowded on the page nor would they be hard to make in a rocking boat. There are no photographs of the dishes, but frankly that often leads to disappointment — people spend so much time focusing on making sure the dish looks the same and not enough time focusing on the craft or its taste.

No Baloney on my Boat has a prologue broken into three sections: why Bienvenu wrote the book, including stories about dad taking her and her siblings fishing; how to surmise what meals you can make with the provisions and space you are provided; and food safety, which includes carrying as much ice as possible, among other tips. The recipes are then broken down into Breakfast, Appetizers & Snacks, Sandwiches, Soups/Sides/Salads, Main Courses and Desserts. Very easily contained in a small book — small enough to carry in a decently sized purse or to fit into the glove box of my car — while still easy enough to read on the page.

I happen to have a soft spot for gazpacho, having spent long hours with my mother canning it as a child after another garden haul. The gazpacho we know today is thought to have come from the Andalusian region in the south of Spain. There are as many variations as there are vegetables and fruits, and as such now the term gazpacho has almost become a synonym for a cold soup. Gazpacho is popular in the summer months and traditionally was the lunch peasants brought into the field. It’s astoundingly healthy for you as well.

Keep in mind that any of these vegetables can be eliminated if allergies or personal tastes are to be considered.

“I sometimes add a splash of ice cold vodka when serving and call it my Bloody Mary soup,” Bienvenu says.

1 (46 oz.) can tomato juice
4 large ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 medium-size green bell pepper, chopped
2 ribs of celery, chopped
1 medium-size sweet onion (such as Vidalia or a Bermuda), chopped
3 T chopped green onions
1 medium-size cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
1/2 t minced garlic
1 T finely chopped fresh basil leaves
1 T finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 t salt (more or less, to taste)
1/4 t fresh ground black pepper (more or less, to taste)
2 T extra-virgin olive oil (optional)
1 T red wine vinegar
1 T fresh lime juice
2 t Worcestershire sauce
1/4 t Tabasco (more of less, to taste)
Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and stir to mix. Spices can be added or subtracted. Also bear in mind that if you do use a food processor to puree the mix, it will foam up a little and have a bit of a different texture. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least four hours before serving.

If you want to impress people, you can whip up the Italian classic linguine with clam sauce in minutes. Bienvenu’s is called Linguine with Peppery White Clam Sauce. “If your vessel has a butane cook-top, make this for a quick supper,” she recommends.

1/4 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed or minced
1/4 t crushed dried red pepper or a pinch of cayenne
1 (10 1/2-ounce) can chopped clams with juice
1 pound linguine
1/4 cup pasta cooking liquid [reserve that amount of water before you drain the pasta]
3 T fresh lemon juice
2 T chopped fresh parsley
Coarsely ground black pepper
Heat the oil in a skillet over low heat. Stir in the garlic and cook, stirring, over low heat for about two minutes (do not brown). Add the red pepper or cayenne and cook, stirring, for one minute. Add the claims with their juice and simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes. Cook the linguine until tender, then drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid. Toss the linguine with the clam sauce, pasta cooking liquid, lemon juice and parsley. Sprinkle with black pepper. Serve immediately.

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