“A few years back, I made the mistake of questioning my wife about what she was feeding our children. She immediately replied that if I was half as concerned about feeding my family as I was about serving my customers, I’d do a better job of helping her with menu ideas…” – John Besh
It is no surprise to me that John Besh’s latest cookbook, My Family Table: A Passionate Plea for Home Cooking, is nominated for a 2012 James Beard Foundation Award. This is an everyday kind of cookbook for everyday families. While Besh, owner of some of the best restaurants in Louisiana, isn’t encouraging his customers to stop making reservations, he’s determined to maintain the tradition of sharing simple, delicious, homemade meals with family. Chapters like “Sunday Supper”, “Breakfast with My Boys”, “Dinner from a Cast Iron Pot” and “School Nights” are filled with easy, mouth-watering menus.
Besides simply reading like a very engaging storybook, perhaps what’s most “user-friendly” about My Family Table is the fact that he includes basics such as: “Risotto of Almost Anything”, “Creamy Any Vegetable Soup”, “Simple Meat Ragout for Any Pasta” and “Warm Any Fruit Crumble.” I also love the fact that he not only gives a recipe—for instance, a meat roast—but he also recommends several options for serving any leftovers in a new, flavorful way. Busy with his restaurants most nights, he loves cooking good meals (especially roasts) on the weekend that his wife, Jenifer, can turn into simple suppers on weeknights for his four boys, Brendan, Luke, Jack and Drew.
Besh’s first book, My New Orleans (another favorite of mine), a tribute to his hometown and the food, traditions and people of Louisiana, was a James Beard Foundation cookbook award finalist and also won a 2010 International Association of Culinary Professionals award. Chef John Besh has racked up a number of awards since the opening of his restaurant, August, in New Orleans in 1998. Besh restaurants now include August, Besh Steak, Domenica, Lüke New Orleans, La Provence, Lüke San Antonio, Soda Shop, The American Sector and Borgne.
Having family in Abita Springs, LA, where Besh was once executive chef at Artesia, I have had an opportunity to spend time in New Orleans and have watched John Besh’s career with interest. I became a John Besh fan after watching a moving episode of “Iconoclasts” on the Sundance Channel featuring John Besh and Wynton Marsalis a couple of years after Hurricane Katrina. His flagship restaurant August was one of the first to reopen after the hurricane and he worked tirelessly helping his community heal and rebuild. Besh’s passion for all things Louisiana shows in everything he does and his enthusiasm for sourcing the best quality food available is contagious. I enjoyed one of the most memorable brunches of my life at a sunny table on a Sunday morning at Lüke New Orleans shortly after it opened.
Another thing about Chef Besh: he’s a really nice guy. For instance, when a friend and I wanted a recipe for greens to cook on New Year’s Day, along with his My New Orleans black-eyed peas, she sent him an email that he promptly answered with his recipe! I had the opportunity to meet him at Alabama Booksmith when he was there with one of his tow-headed sons to sign My Family Table. (They were on their way to go hunting and fishing at a nearby camp.)
I thanked him again for the greens recipe and bought a couple of cookbooks which he signed “God Bless Your Family Table.” I’ve tried a number of dishes from the book and have been pleased with every single one. I’ve shared a couple of my favorites below. The good news is I spoke with Jake Reiss at Alabama Booksmith recently and—if you hurry—he still has a few signed copies for sale. This book is a winner in my cookbook library and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it’s a James Beard winner as well.
P.S. Rumor has it John Besh will be one of four guest chefs from New Orleans participating in Birmingham Originals’ Break ’n Bread 2012 at Railroad Park on Sunday, October 14, from 1-5 p.m.
Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder: Serves 10-12
1 4-5 lb. pork shoulder
Freshly ground pepper
4 Sprigs fresh rosemary
3 Garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 Onions, chopped
1 Carrot, peeled and chopped
1 Celery stalk, chopped
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Season the shoulder liberally on all sides with salt and pepper. Truss the roast by tying one length of butcher’s string around the roast lengthwise and pulling taut. Then tie 4 shorter strings widthwise, each about an inch and a half apart.
2. Place the roast fat side up. With a paring knife, make many small cuts in the fat. Cut the rosemary sprigs into 1-inch pieces and insert a sprig halfway into every other cut. Slip the garlic slices into the remaining incisions.
3. Scatter the chopped onions, carrot and celery in the bottom of a heavy-bottomed roasting pan. Set the shoulder on top of the vegetables and add about ½ inch of water to the pan. Roast for 2 ½ hours, or until the pork registers an internal temperature of 155 degrees on a meat thermometer. Strain the vegetables and reserve with the pan juices for a future soup, or make a pan sauce.
“At our house, we slice and serve this pork roast with Olive-Oil Roasted Cauliflower and Provencal Stuffed Tomatoes,” according to Besh. “Once roasted, this pork turns into Jambalaya, Ragout of Pasta, and Easy Pork Grillades.” (All recipes are included in My Family Table.)
Lynn’s note: Leftovers at my house made great sandwiches on buns with our favorite barbecue sauce and coleslaw.
Basic Pan Sauce for All Roast Meats
2 T. fat from pan drippings
2 T. flour
½ Shallot, minced
Aromatic vegetables, strained
1 C. chicken or beef broth
1 sprig fresh thyme
Freshly ground pepper
1. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the fat. Stir in the flour and keep stirring for 3 minutes.
2. Add the shallot and stir for a couple of minutes. Stir in the aromatic vegetables for a minute more. Add the broth, stirring so that no lumps form. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low, add the thyme, salt, and pepper, and let the sauce simmer for a few more minutes.
Simple Meat Ragout for Any Pasta: Serves 8
2 T. olive oil
½ onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 C. roughly chopped Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder (or other cooked meat)
1 handful dried porcini mushrooms, rinsed
2 C. canned diced tomatoes
1 C. chicken broth
1 t. dried oregano
1 dash crushed red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. pasta
Parmesan cheese for shaving
1. In a medium heavy-bottomed pot, cook the olive oil and onions over high heat to caramelize the onions, stirring often. After about 5 minutes, add the garlic and cook a few minutes more, stirring. Stir in the meat, mushrooms, tomatoes and broth, and then add the oregano and red pepper. Bring to a gentle boil over high heat, and then quickly reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
2. While the ragout is simmering, cook your pasta. Drain and transfer to a serving dish and ladle the ragout over the pasta. Shave some Parmesan cheese over the top.
Lynn Kelsey Leishman
Follow me on twitter @lynnkleishman.com or email Lynn@hautepinkbham.com
Recipes reprinted by permission from Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC