What are cookbooks for? As someone who writes them, it is tempting to say “to teach us to cook” and “to guide us through many delicious meals year in and year out.”
But, honestly, that’s not the best role for one of the best-selling categories of books. There are books, of course, that will teach you to cook and there are certainly books, lots of them, that will teach you a specific cuisine, all about a specific ingredient, or how to cook in virtually any style you can imagine, from gluten-free and vegan to organic and paleo.
The only thing that surprises me when I survey the nearly countless cookbooks released each season is that there has never been one devoted to an all-chocolate diet.
The most useful contribution cookbooks make to our lives in the kitchen, at least to me, is inspiration. Curling up with a cookbook as one would with a novel or memoir can result in an infusion of inspiration and energy, which is just what I felt when I snuggled into a chair with “From A Breton Garden: The Vegetable Cookery of Josephine Araldo” by Robert Reynolds and Araldo (Addison-Wesley Aris Books, 1990).
Reynolds owned Le Trou in San Francisco, where he was also the restaurant’s chef. He studied with Madeleine Kamman in Annecy, France, opened a cooking school in Portland, Oregon, that his students run today, and mentored for a time with Josephine Araldo, who was born in Brittany in 1897.
Araldo cooked in private homes in San Francisco from 1924 through the 1960s. After she retired, she wrote two collections of recipes and continued to teach both at her home and in Reynolds’ San Francisco restaurant.
In 1990, Reynolds and Araldo collaborated on a beautiful book that gathered together her traditional and innovative vegetable recipes. It is this book — both its recipes and the stories of their collaboration — that provided the inspiration I sought when I perused the cookbooks shelved in every room of my home.
All of today’s recipes are adapted from “From a Breton Garden.”
Cherries, in part because of their high acidity, work beautifully in savory dishes. In this recipe, I recommend using basil if you don’t have tarragon as it is quite delicious with both green beans and cherries and is often more readily available locally.
Green Beans with Cherries
4 tablespoons butter, plus more as needed
1 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into thin diagonal slices
— Kosher salt
¼ pound ripe cherries, pitted and quartered
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon or basil
1 garlic clove, minced
— Black pepper in a mill
Put the butter into a sauté pan, with the stove set at medium heat, add the green beans, and toss gently to coat them in butter. Season with salt, cover and reduce heat to low; cook until just tender, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Uncover the pan, add the cherries and heat through.
Tip the beans and cherries into a serving bowl. Add the parsley, tarragon or basil, and the garlic and toss gently. Correct for salt, season with several turns of black pepper, and enjoy right away.