'Swoon-worthy cooking': Anna Barnett reviews Cook Beautiful by Athena Calderone
Cook Beautiful is Athena Calderone's artfully curated seasonal cookery book. Creator of the hugely successful website ‘Eyeswoon' that covers everything worthy of a swoon, from interior inspiration through to homewares, travel, recipes, fashion and much much more.
Athena Calderone is a seasoned pro when it comes to throwing the perfect get together with an aesthetic that's bound to seduce you like it did me. Cook Beautiful is a feast for the eyes in every sense and what’s more there are plenty of tips to help you with things like choosing your china and laying the table.
Through Athena’s know how and creativity, each dish is turned into a mouthwatering masterpiece no matter how simple. The book covers every season: there’s balmy summer evening spreads alongside the most beautiful beach picnics which will make you immediately want to head somewhere hot. There’s autumnal table settings and richly decorated outdoor gatherings. Athena’s book will not only guide you through the next time you host but will also ensure you Cook Beautiful every step of the way.
I talked to the cookbook author to find out more:
Where’s home for you?
I live in Brooklyn, New York in the most charming tree-lined street, in a historic townhouse in Cobble Hill.
What inspired you to write the book?
Cook Beautiful encompasses all of my various lifestyle pursuits – food, design, art, music, seasonality, and entertaining. I love to create beauty, whether that is by building flavour and layering textures as I manipulate high quality seasonal ingredients, sharing an elegantly-presented plate of food, or designing a stunning tablescape or environment. I yearned for a place I could share my overlapping passions with a level of permanence – something that would live on forever as well as capture this very magical moment in time. I have learned so much over the years as I honed my skills and gained insight from the incredible food community – tips on elevating the presentation of our food, or the importance of eating locally and seasonally. I wanted to pass along all that I have experienced, to spread inspiration. A cookbook allowed me to share my love of cooking and capturing beauty. These pursuits, both in the kitchen and in the creative direction through styling, composition, and storytelling, are all forms of artistic expression for me.
What's your recipe from the book and why?
I really love the stewed pork with autumn-abundant squash and a vibrant and textural gremolata of walnuts, parsley, and pomegranates. This delicious dish is a perfect example of a meal that is elevated both in taste and in presentation by a beautiful finishing sauce.
If we're looking for a quick mid-week, no-fuss dinner which recipe should we head to?
A whole roasted chicken is the perfect no-fuss, one-pot meal.
Here is her recipe for Whole Roasted Chicken with Sumac, Roasted Vegetables and Sesame Labneh:
Ingredients (serves 2 to 3)
1 (4-pound/1.8 kg) chicken
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and softened
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus extra for seasoning
3 teaspoons sumac, divided, plus more for serving
3 lemons, halved
3 heads garlic, halved
4 carrots, peeled and quartered
4 small Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and quartered (about 1½ pounds/680 g)
2 small yellow onions, quartered
½ cup (120 ml) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Freshly cracked pepper
1 cup (240 ml) labne or full-fat Greek yogurt
Toasted sesame seeds, for serving
Flaky sea salt, for serving
Place the chicken in a large roasting pan | Using your fingers, gently separate the skin from the flesh across the breasts and drumsticks | Rub the butter between the skin and the flesh. Rub the salt and 2 teaspoons of the sumac all over the chicken | If time permits, refrigerate the chicken, uncovered, for at least 6 hours and up to overnight.
Preheat the oven to 425ºF (220˚C) | Squeeze half of one lemon over the chicken and place it inside the cavity along with a half head of garlic | Scatter the carrots, potatoes, onions, and remaining lemons and garlic around the chicken | Drizzle the vegetables and chicken with the ½ cup (120 ml) oil | Sprinkle the vegetables with the remaining 1 teaspoon sumac and season with salt and pepper, tossing until the vegetables are evenly coated | Roast, tossing the vegetables occasionally, until the chicken and vegetables are deep golden and cooked through and the chicken registers 165°F (72˚C) in the thickest part of the thigh, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Allow the chicken to rest for 10 minutes before carving.
Drizzle the labneh with oil and sprinkle it with the sesame seeds, some pepper, sumac, and flaky sea salt. Serve it alongside the chicken.
SWOON TIP: Roasting a gorgeously golden chicken isn’t difficult, but it does help to think ahead. Chilling the bird, uncovered, for at least six hours dries out its surface, allowing the skin to caramelize and crisp up beautifully in the oven.
What's your ultimate dinner party dinner dish - failsafe and impressive?
I love the whole roasted and citrus and herbed stuffed fish encased in salt for winter. It is impressive-looking but can be prepared in advance and later popped into the oven on a sheet pan. I am a big advocate of zippy and vibrant herb finishing sauces and the salsa verde is one I make on repeat for fish, chicken, steak, you name it.
What's your to die for dessert, and why?
Well, the butterscotch pot de crème with salted tahini caramel sauce is sinfully delicious. But my go-to is likely the hazelnut pear tart – it continually blows people away with the honey crème fraiche base and simple, press-in French crust. I have been making it for well over 15 years now.
Which chefs excite you?
Missy Robbins, Dan Kluger, Ignacio Mattos.
What cookery books do you always reach for from the shelf?
I love Ottolenghi and I also love the Gjelina cookbook.
Who should people buy your book?
Anyone who loves to cook seasonally and also appreciates visual presentation. First and foremost, I strive to create a delicious plate of food that shocks the palate with bold flavour. But I’m not gonna lie – I love to make things look beautiful, too. My approach is rooted in simplicity, and while aesthetics are paramount, so is accessibility.
While developing recipes for Cook Beautiful, I wanted to unite my overlapping passions of food and design. With a background in interiors, visual presentation plays an integral role in everything I do – particularly how I style and plate food. I decided to pair each recipe with a tip that improves both the flavour and the overall beauty of a dish. This arsenal of easy tricks makes food both delicious and a feast for the eyes.
After all, our eyes are what first lure us into a plate of food. I believe flavour and beauty, taste and visuals are always working in tandem with technique. Below, I've gathered some examples.
What’s next for you?
I have a second book to write — this one will be design and décor focused. And have a fun TV show concept in the works combining both food and entertaining.
You can purchase Cook Beautiful HERE. All the images are from Cook Beautiful by Athena Colderone, published by ABRAMS c2017