'Homemade kitchen' — the joy of cooking at home

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Cookbook author, blogger and cheesemaking dynamo Alana Chernila is not going to judge you for your food choices. Sure, she's focused on quality food and the joy of cooking at home — but she and her husband are also road food connoisseurs.

In a world of dietary restrictions and long food-politic think pieces, ideas about what's best to eat "can really end up stressing us out," she said. "There are things that are delicious and fun to do that don't end up fitting into all these rules; enjoying those treats, and creating celebration and fun around food, is really what's most important to me."

Chernila, a Berkshire native who lives in Great Barrington, Mass., presents that philosophy in her new book, "The Homemade Kitchen: Recipes for Cooking with Pleasure."

Each chapter presents one idea about food: "Do Your Best, and Then Let Go" touches on the stultifying topic of what and what not to eat (spoiler: it's OK to just do what works for you); "Feed Yourself" is a chapter of simple, nutritious recipes; "Don't Be Afraid of Food" urges the reader to think about "the constant intertwining of food and weight loss and for helping our children to grow up in a world where they feel good about their bodies," Chernila writes in her blog, "Eating From the Ground Up."

At 320 pages, you'll find recipes that run the gamut. A simple roasted butternut squash pasta is reprinted here. Almost all the ingredients are baked together, said Chernila, so you can just toss them with some pasta at the end, creating a season-appropriate savory dinner.

Chernila has always been interested in food — her grandparents owned the Turning Point Inn, which they ran as a vegetarian bed and breakfast, so she grew up watching and participating in the workings of feeding guests. "Then I had my children — and my own experience in the kitchen really just came out of finding myself as a young mother," she said.

Among other jobs, she worked at Indian Line Farm as a way to supplement her family's CSA share; other CSA customers would ask her what to do with their vegetables, and she found that she deeply loved talking to people about recipes and food. Her blog followed that ah-ha moment: "I found that whereas I had always been a writer, it made everything flow when I had the window of food to think about," she said.

Later, she sold her first book, "The Homemade Pantry," to Clarkson Potter; "The Homemade Kitchen," is her second, and she's just sold a third. She now focuses on her blog, on her books, and on leading cheesemaking workshops with fellow author Margaret Roach. "

You never know when a career will happen," she said.

Butternut squash pasta with bacon and sage brown butter

Serves 4, with leftovers

The browned butter and roasted vegetables make this special, but roasting everything in the oven at once makes it easy to prepare.

Ingredients:

1 small butternut squash, (1 to 1½ pounds) seeded, peeled, and cut into 1-inch cubes

1 medium onion, cut into ½-inch wedges

1½ tablespoons olive oil

½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the pasta water

4 ounces sliced bacon

1 pound store-bought bowtie pasta or 1¼ pounds homemade

4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks

10 fresh sage leaves

½ cup finely grated

Parmesan cheese

Freshly ground pepper

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 425°F. In a large bowl, toss the squash and onion with the olive oil and salt.

Spread on a parchment-lined baking sheet and roast in the upper half of the oven until the squash is tender and the onions are golden, 30 to 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, lay the bacon on another baking sheet. Bake until crispy, about 18 minutes. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate.

While the bacon and vegetables cook, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until tender, 7 to 10 minutes for dried, or 2 minutes for fresh. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water, drain and rinse the pasta, and transfer it to a large serving bowl.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly, keeping a close eye on the color of the butter. When the foam subsides and the butter turns slightly brown, add the sage leaves. Remove from heat and as soon as the sage leaves start to curl, transfer them to the plate with the bacon.

Add the squash and onions to the pasta, then pour the butter over the bowl, tossing to coat the pasta and vegetables. Crumble the bacon over the pasta and top with the crispy sage leaves and the cheese.

Pour enough pasta water over the cheese to create a light sauce. Finish with a bit more salt and lots of freshly ground pepper.

Upcoming

Book signings

Great Barrington: 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17, Berkshire Fermentation Festival, Great Barrington Fairgrounds

West Stockbridge: 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 18, Book Launch Party, Six Depot Cafe

Hillsdale, N.Y.: 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 14, The Home Chef, Route 23

Pittsfield: Saturday, Nov. 21, Dory & Ginger, North Street

Great Barrington: Saturday, Dec. 12, OneMercantile

Visit www.eatingfromthegroundup.com for more information

Book details: "Eating From the Ground Up: Recipes for Cooking with Pleasure," Clarkson, Potter, October 2015, 320 pages; $13.99 on Amazon.


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