Chef Myra Kornfeld and poet Stephen Massimilla have put together a luscious cookbook illustrating how poetry, prose and food have been inspirational throughout history.
The 500-page book, “Cooking With the Muse: A Sumptuous Gathering of Seasonal Recipes, Culinary Poetry and Literary Fare,” is divided by seasons. It pairs 150 recipes with culinary poems, essays and historic anecdotes.
Massimilla provides a few stanzas from Book IX of Homer’s “The Odyssey” to accompany a recipe for Mediterranean Cauliflower-Kale Roast with Feta. He recounts how the cheese, which dates back to 8th century B.C., was originally aged and brined to keep it from spoiling in Greek’s hot, arid climate. The way it was made, he says, has changed very little since Odysseus entered Polyphemus’ cave.
In the recipe for Corn Pudding “Soufflé,” the authors include John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem “Barbara Frietchie” as a preface to the simple recipe.
They end the recipe with a recommendation for cooking fresh corn by Mark Twain, who very much enjoyed his meals.
“Corn doesn’t hang on to its sugar long after it has been picked,” Massimilla writes. “The saying goes that you should put up a pot of hot water before you stroll out to the cornfield prepared to run back on the double. Mark Twain upped the challenge when he recommended carrying the boiling water to the garden to catch the corn with all its sweetness the moment it leaves the vine.”
The following recipes are from “Cooking with the Muse.”
Mediterranean Cauliflower-Kale Roast with Feta
Serves 4 to 6.
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3/4 pound curly kale, stemmed and torn into bite-size pieces
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup Kalamata olives, chopped and pitted
1 tablespoon capers, drained, rinsed and chopped
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons oregano
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 ounces feta cheese (preferably from sheep’s milk), crumbled
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Have ready a parchment paper-covered baking sheet.
In one bowl, toss the cauliflower with 2 tablespoons of the oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Spread the cauliflower on the baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes, turning once halfway through.
In another bowl, toss the kale with 1 tablespoon oil. Massage the oil into the leaves so each leaf is lightly coated. Sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon salt.
Roast the cauliflower for 30 minutes, then add the kale to the baking sheet. Return it to the oven and roast for an additional 10-15 minutes, until the cauliflower is browned and the kale is crispy. Remove from the oven.
Warm the remaining tablespoon of oil with the butter in a large skillet until the butter melts. Add the garlic, olives and capers and cook for a minute or two, until fragrant. Stir in the cauliflower and kale, the water and the oregano. Combine thoroughly. Stir in the lemon juice and a sprinkling of pepper.
Serve hot, with feta scattered on top.
Chocolate Tart with Salt and Caramelized Pecans
Makes one 9-inch tart.
For the pecans:
1 cup pecans
1/3 cup maple sugar, Sucanat sugar, Rapadura sugar or coconut sugar
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional
1 large egg white
For the crust:
Oil and coconut flour, for preparing the pan
2 cups unsweetened coconut, dried and shredded
3 tablespoons granulated natural sugar (such as maple or Sucanat)
1 teaspoon orange zest
2 tablespoons coconut oil
2 large egg whites
For the filling:
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
2 tablespoons maple sugar
Pinch of salt
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1 large egg, lightly beaten
For the garnish:
Fleur de sel (French sea salt) or other large-flake sea salt
Position one rack in the middle of the oven and another in the lower third. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Have ready two parchment paper-covered baking sheets.
To make the pecans, toss the pecans, sugar, salt and cayenne, if using, in a medium bowl. Stir in the egg white to combine. Spread on one of the baking sheets. Bake on the middle rack until the sugar has clumped on the nuts and the mixture looks sandy and dry, 25 to 30 minutes. Stir every 8 minutes or so during the baking so that pecans caramelize evenly.
Let cool for a few minutes, transfer to a bowl and break up the clumps into small pieces. (The pecans can be stored at room temperature for up to a month.)
While the pecans are baking, make the crust. Oil and flour a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. In a medium bowl, combine the coconut, sugar and orange zest. Work in the coconut oil with your fingers until everything is moistened evenly.
In a small bowl, whip the egg whites until frothy. Stir into the coconut mixture. Press the dough into the prepared tart pan. (Use a piece of plastic wrap between your hand and the dough to make pressing in the crust easier.) Give an extra press at the juncture where the sides meet the bottom, so you don’t have a triangular-shaped thick wedge of crust in the corners.
Place the tart pan on the other baking sheet. Bake the crust on the lower rack until it is a deep golden brown, about 15 minutes, checking after 10.
While the crust is baking, make the filling. In a small saucepan, bring the coconut milk, sugar and salt to a simmer. Remove from the heat, add the chocolate and stir with a whisk until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Cover to keep warm.
Just before the crust is ready, whisk the egg thoroughly into the chocolate. Pour the filling into the hot crust. Return the tart (still on the baking sheet) to the oven. Bake until the filling is set around the edges, 10 to 15 minutes. The filling should still jiggle a little in the center when you nudge the pan. Set on a rack to cool.
Unmold the tart and serve at room temperature or slightly chilled. Before serving, sprinkle a light dusting of flaky salt and the pecan clusters over the tart. Alternatively, serve each piece with a light dusting of coarse salt, then sprinkle the top with the caramelized pecans.
Cook’s note: The tart may be refrigerated for up to three days.