LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
Cooking on hot summer days tends to be something we either do outside, or try not to do at all. But at the same time, we are in the season of wonderful food. And if you're lucky enough to live near farm stands in the country or farmers markets in the city, real tomatoes, fresh corn and new potatoes are all around. For inspiration, I get out a worn, stained paperback book written by an Englishwoman, Elizabeth David, in the 1950s. It's called "Summer Cooking."
The point of the book is maximum enjoyment, she writes, of the produce which grows in the summer season. And it could be any kind of super-fresh treat. Elizabeth David, in the introduction to the book, mentions a few heads of purple sprouting broccoli or a pound of tender, little string beans, cooked for just seven minutes to be eaten cold as a separate course, with an olive oil and lemon dressing - but quickly, almost before they have cooled. That's just about as detailed as "Summer Cooking" recipes get.
To talk about "Summer Cooking" and Elizabeth David, we reached out to Sophie Grigson. She is a cookbook writer herself. She's also a food and travel television star and a newspaper writer. Welcome to the program.
SOPHIE GRIGSON: It's a pleasure to be here.
WERTHEIMER: Now, you wrote to us that you chose an Elizabeth David recipe for your wedding breakfast. Tell us about that.
GRIGSON: Yeah. Well, it's a wonderful recipe, very simple as many of the best recipes are. It's called pepperoni al tiamontase(ph). Tiamontase is peppers. It is peppers that have been halved lengthwise. You keep the stalk on if you can. And you pop into each half a few quarters of tomatoes, some sliced garlic, chopped anchovy and a generous drizzle of good olive oil. A little salt, a little pepper, and you pop in a hot oven and roast it for about half an hour or 20 minutes, half an hour. Then you serve them at room temperature.
I quite often put a piece of fresh buffalo mozzarella in each pepper, after it's cooked but before it's served. Sometimes I add the basil. You know, you can really play with it. But as long as you don't make it too complex, I think that will be a great mistake.
WERTHEIMER: Let's just talk for a minute about Elizabeth David and especially about the book "Summer Cooking." I think that it is a classic. That's how I think of it - fun to read and fun to cook from, fun to sort of use for ideas. Do you think that book stands the test of time? I mean as a professional cook, what do you think?
GRIGSON: Oh, I think totally. Chefs, food writers and cooks right across the world, I think, still refer back to all of Elizabeth David's books - "Summer Cooking," "Mediterranean Cooking," "Italian Cooking" - because there's an authority there and a clarity. You know, Elizabeth David, she writes very clearly. She's quite sharp. Sometimes it reads a little old-fashioned but there is that clarity, and that absolute certainty that this is a recipe that will taste fantastic.
WERTHEIMER: I noticed reading your recipes that you sort of take the leaf from Ms. David's book, in that you also have a simple style; few ingredients, about five or six lines of instructions. You have a recipe for me Cool Ginger Chicken. So could you just tell us about it?
GRIGSON: This is a Chinese recipe. It is a poached chicken recipe. It's very - I mean, it's just perfect for summer's day. We often think that if, you know, you have to shove a chicken, you know, you just slide into the oven and roast it. But if you want to eat chicken when it's cold, and you want it to be moist and full of flavor, it's a much more successful way of cooking, is to poach it.
And the great thing about poaching, you put few herbs in the water with a whole chicken and a few spices, maybe some pepper. The great thing is you end out with two-in-one: you have a chicken and you have fantastic stock for no extra effort. And if you poach chicken, it stays moist and full of flavor. And it's great for salads.
Then just finish up with a lot of ginger, a lot of spring onions whizzed up with some oil. And you just spoon that over and let it absorb the flavors. And there it is, ready to eat.
WERTHEIMER: Well, now like many Americans who dip into English cookery books, I have always been fascinated by summer pudding - which is featured in Elizabeth David's book. I guess you could say that it's a version of bread pudding that's made with lightly cooked raspberries and red currants - and red currants in her version. I've never actually made it.
GRIGSON: You haven't made it? Oh, my great gosh. Go out, get lots and lots of nice summer fruit and make it immediately. I think it's one of the all time great, great puddings. But, I mean, you have to have good bread and you have to have good fruit.
WERTHEIMER: What you do is you pour the lightly stewed red fruit into a bowl that has been lined with bread. Elizabeth David says a souffle dish will work. And then you put bread on top of it, weight down a little bit and put it in the fridge. And you reserve juice in her version; it's for making patches, on those parts that don't turn properly red from the juice soaking through.
GRIGSON: I do have one tip. When you make your pudding, you cook the fruit with sugar until it lots of juices run - that's the whole point. And when I'm putting my bread into the pudding basin - sort of line the pudding basin - I dipped one side of the bread into the juices before I line the basin - the outer side. That means you get an even color when you turn it out.
WERTHEIMER: And people really do this in England, right? You're telling me that really happens?
GRIGSON: Oh, my God. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes, all the time. It is a major, major pudding. We have this really strong image of British summer, which is something that we haven't really had this year. We've had a miserable summer this year. But we have this image of the rather bucolic summer, sitting outside in the garden. And summer pudding is part - and cricket matches; lovely, lovely idea. And summer pudding is an essential part of that image.
WERTHEIMER: Sophie Grigson's newest cookery book is called "Spices." Sophie Grigson, thank you so much for joining us
GRIGSON: It's been a total pleasure. Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF A SONG, "EVERYBODY'S TALKIN' 'BOUT CHICKEN AND RICE")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) Everybody is talking about chicken and rice. All those dishes are mighty nice. Gather around you girls and listen to me, I want to tell you about my baby's recipe...
WERTHEIMER: You can find a recipe for Sophie's Cool Ginger Chicken on WEEKEND EDITION's Facebook page.
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.