Serious home cooks may turn up their noses at a cookbook based on a television show. But to do so with “Treme: Stories and Recipes from the Heart of New Orleans” would risk missing a gem.
The cookbook based on the critically acclaimed HBO series is written by Lolis Eric Elie, who will be in Chapel Hill Sunday night for an informal book party at Crook’s Corner. Elie is a former writer on “Treme,” which chronicles the lives of a handful of New Orleans residents who struggle to rebuild their homes and their lives after Hurricane Katrina. HBO will begin airing the final five-episode season in December.
Music and food are central themes in the show, developed by Eric Overmeyer and David Simon, who also created “The Wire.” “Treme” is filled with guest appearances and recurring roles by a who’s who in the chefs’ world, including David Chang, Eric Ripert, Emeril Lagasse, Wylie Dufrense, Tom Colicchio and too many more to name. (One of the main characters is a chef who goes to New York to work after the storm, which only increased the chef spotting on the show.)
“Food is very much a main character,” said Elie, the cookbook’s author, in an interview Monday.
Elie, a New Orleans native, has serious food credentials before becoming a television writer. He is the author of “Smokestack Lightning: Adventures in the Heart of Barbecue Country,” and co-produced and wrote a documentary based on that book. He also was an editor of “Cornbread Nation 2: The United States of Barbeque,” a food writing anthology. For 14 years, Elie was a columnist with the New Orleans’ Times-Picayune.
Despite his expertise in New Orleans foodways, Elie said he wasn’t sure that he had a cookbook in him.
But when the show’s executive producer came to him with the idea, Elie said he saw it as an opportunity to highlight New Orleans’ food traditions that have not received much national attention, such as the history of the po’ boy sandwich, the name of which dates to a streetcar workers’ strike in 1929.
The 240-page book is an odd read, as most cookbooks are when they’re based on fictional television shows.
Elie writes in the voice of the characters, sharing their personal histories and recipes culled from story lines or handed down in the character’s families. (Yes, character Janette Desautel’s crawfish ravioli is among the recipes.)
But there are other recipes tucked inside its pages: a few from Elie’s mother and grandmother, from restaurants that have closed since Katrina, and many shared by New Orleans’ chefs, such as John Besh, Donald Link and Susan Spicer.
The cookbook also intersperses essays on topics such as how bread pudding became identified with New Orleans and the diversity of Louisiana’s oyster farmers, many of whom are black, Croatian, Vietnamese and Cambodian. There’s even an interview with New Orleans musician Kermit Ruffins on his family’s food traditions.
“I’ve been writing about food for certainly about 15 years or so,” Elie said. “I didn’t want to put out a cookbook that I didn’t think was worthy as a stand-alone cookbook.”
Don’t worry, Elie, you didn’t.
To see printable versions of these recipes, click on the link below:
PREHEAT oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish with cooking spray.
CHOP 2 pepper halves and set aside the remaining 8 halves. Heat canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add ham, shrimp, onion, celery and chopped bell pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the shrimp are cooked through and the ham is tender, about 5 minutes. Add the Creole seasoning to taste and unseasoned bread crumbs to the pan, stirring constantly, until the bread crumbs have absorbed all the moisture, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.
ARRANGE bell pepper halves, cavity-side up, in a large baking dish. The peppers should be just touching each other. Spoon the cooked stuffing into each pepper half, dividing it evenly and packing it into each pepper half. Sprinkle the Italian-seasoned bread crumbs on top.
POUR water carefully into the baking dish around the peppers so that the water reaches 1/4 inch up the outside of the peppers. Bake for 35 minutes, and if the stuffing appears dry, drizzle olive oil over the top. If the water has baked away, carefully add more water and bake for another 10 minutes, or until the peppers are tender when pierced with a fork and the stuffing is heated through. Serve at once. Yield: 8 servings