Kitchen Scraps: a Humorous Illustrated Cookbook
By Pierre A. Lamielle
Published by Whitecap Books 2009, softcover, $29.95; 197 pages

Who knew cooking could be this much fun — or this funny.

From the teasing title — I overheard someone ask if the book was about composting — to the  whimsically hilarious illustrations and surprisingly sophisticated recipes (well, most of them are, but we can probably safely exclude blowtorch s’mores from this group), Pierre Lamielle’s first cookbook is a delight. Surreal Gourmet Bob Blumer is one of his heroes, so that gives you a hint of what’s to come.

Dudes —  in Lamielle’s tongue-in-cheek lexicon, I’m guessing it means someone hip, young and probably good-looking — who like their soup and sandwich with a little satire will immediately take to this book. Check this explanation in the recipe for Totally-Baked-Out-Of-Their-Minds Potatoes:

“Dude, the next time you and your couch potato buds decide to do some ‘baking,’ roll a fat batch of these sticky-icky-green stuffed baked potatoes. You can stash them in little baggies in your freezer for the next time you have the munchies.”

I knew Lamielle briefly some years ago when he worked on the graphics desk at The Province newspaper and we invariably talked food when we’d run into each other in the hall. So I knew he was a passionate foodie. From his work at the paper, I also knew he was a gifted illustrator. He seemed like a very nice young man but I didn’t know he had such a wickedly saucy sense of humour when it comes to food. There’s seduction food, a Roman orgy menu and a few dangerous characters lurking beneath the beets here. So yes, there’s a fair amount of nudge-nudge, wink-wink — no doubt aimed at the dudes mentioned earlier —so if that kind of stuff offends or puts you off, steer clear.

If you do, however, you’ll miss some fine recipes. Lamielle graduated from the French Culinary Institute in New York City, so he has the professional training to back up what he’s cooking. He is now established in Calgary where he began writing an illustrated food column for the Calgary Herald, which led to this book.

But back to saucy. I chortled and my husband guffawed as we leafed through the book, which is divided into sections entitled Food You Eat With a Spoon, Food You Eat With a Fork, Food You Eat With a Forkenknife and Food You Eat With a Hand. Each recipe is connected to an introduction or story where puns and fantasies fly like, well, peas whirling in a blender. Thus we have Give Whirled Peas a Chance (pge. 15), which shows a series of growling little characters from around the globe duking it out with each other. The recipe for Whirled Peas (a delicious-sounding minty, green-pea soup) on the next page has them joining hands and smiling, no doubt after having a bowl of the soup. So if you’re a grinch who flinches at puns and humorously silly anecdotes, well, you’ve been warned.

The recipes are mostly pretty simple and hidden beneath some of the long and sometimes obscure titles lie dishes that reflect a world (whirled?) menu: risottos, pestos, latkes, hollandaise, enchaladas, fish tacos, burritos, crepes and french onion soup. Lamielle offers lots of useful tips with each, from what to substitute if an ingredient he calls for isn’t available to variations for the same recipe to shopping tips.

Here’s Lamielle’s recipe for gnudis, tender little pasta dumplings that make their cousin, the gnocchi, seem coarse and homely by comparison. They’re relatively easy to prepare but take several days in the fridge to form, he says. You can make them with your own ricotta (recipe below), but use store-bought if time is short.

SAUCY NIBBLY GNUDI

Keep the sauces light and skimpy for this one, says Lamielle. “A little cream sauce or a dab of tomato sauce goes a long way and makes a nice complement to the gnudi. Make sure not to cover them completely or they just wouldn’t be gnudi.” This recipe includes a simple brown butter that is perfect for the dish.

10 oz. ricotta (recipe follows)
4 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated
1 egg
¼ tsp. salt
4 cups semolina flour
¼ cup butter
2 cloves garlic, smooshed
5 sage leaves
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 oz. Parmesan, grated
fresh-cracked pepper

In a bowl, mix together ricotta, parmesan, egg, and salt until smooth.

Fill a straight-sided dish with half the semolina flour. Place ricotta bowl next to semolina dish. Take a spoonful of the ricotta mixture and roll it in your palms to make a perfect ball. This is good practice for making snowballs. Place the balls in the bed of semolina flour with space between each ball.

When you are finished rolling all the ricotta balls, cover them with the remaining semolina flour, cover with plastic wrap, and place in the fridge for 48 to 72 hours. The semolina flour will extract he moisture from the ricotta and form it own natural pasta shell. The shell is delicate and requires gentle handling and cooking.

To cook, fill a pot with 2 inches of salty water and bring to a very gentle simmer. A rapid boil will tear the gnudi to shreds.

Carefully extract the tender little dumplings from their semolina nest and gingerly shake off the excess flour.

Get a frying pan over medium-low heat. To make a fake quickie brown-butter sauce, melt butter with the smooshed garlic and sage leaves. Just when the butter begins to brown, remove the pan from the heat and swirl in the balsamic vinegar.

Place a few gnudi in the gently simmering water and cook for 5 minutes. Remove them with a slotted spoon; don’t dump them into a strainer or they will fall apart. Place the gnudi directly on a warm plate.
The sage and garlic are certainly edible but they are mainly here for flavour, so avoid serving them on the gnudi.

Serve 8 gnudi per person. Drizzle generously with brown-butter sauce and top with a sprinkling of parmesan and cracked pepper.

Feeds 4 people, but expect to want to make them again immediately . . . oh wait, they take 2 days to make. Better make more next time.

RICOTTA CHEESE

Place 4 quarts/4 litres of whole milk in a large pot and bring to a light simmer (190°F). Add ¼ cup vinegar (plain white vinegar is the most neutral, but you can use any kind, and even lemon juice) and stir it once. Remove from heat and put a lid on it. Let sit for 1 hour.

Place a colander in a large bowl, and line the colander with a double layer of cheesecloth.

In the pot, the milk will have separated into cheese curds. Gently transfer curds to colander using a slotted spoon, making sure to get every last ricotta nugget.

Allow ricotta to drain for at least 1 hour or overnight in the fridge, depending on how firm and dry you want it.

Yields approximately 1 lb.

From Kitchen Scraps