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Jennifer Perillo on Moody Cooking and Marinara

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We're sitting down with our favorite writers and cooks to talk about their upcoming cookbooks, their best food memories, and just about anything else.

Today: We talk to Food52er and cookbook author Jennifer Perillo about the challenges of writing a cookbook, her favorite Food52 dishes, and the from-scratch recipe she wants everybody to make.

Jennifer Perillo has been in the food industry for almost fifteen years: she began with a self-started culinary business, spent a few years in New York restaurants, and is now the voice of one of our favorite cooking blogs, In Jennie's Kitchen. She's also a long-time Food52er, known best for her creamy homemade ricotta.

In her new cookbook, Homemade with Love, Jennie shares her passion for cooking from scratch, from ricotta to pasta sauce to sweets. Today, she's sharing her favorite Food52 recipes, the ups and downs of cookbook writing, and her dream meal.

This is your first cookbook; what was the biggest challenge you faced while developing, writing, and tasting all these recipes?  
Organization, but don’t tell my editor -- oops, too late! I don’t sit down and decide “this is what I’m going to work on today". I've tried that approach, and it never works for me. I’m a moody cook, and my recipe development is very much inspired by where I am, what I’m doing and how I’m feeling. My mind is also a Rolodex of flavors, and it’s always working overtime, so my house is scattered with journals -- this way I can record new ideas as they pop into my mind. The upside is that I'm always stockpiling new recipes. By the time I signed my contract with Running Press, I already had half of the recipes for the book ready to go.

You've been a Food52er for a long time. What are your favorite recipes that you've discovered through the site? 
I love Nancy Jo’s Eggplant Parmesan, specifically her technique for preparing the eggplant (she lightly coats the slices in flour and cooks them with a blast of high heat in the oven). I’m also obsessed with ricotta, and love TheWimpyVegetarian’s Swiss Chard and Lemon Ricotta Pasta. It’s such a quick and easy meal, but delivers layers of flavor. 

The kids are out of the house. Your to-do list is empty. And you can invite just one person over for dinner. Who do you invite, and what do you cook?
Since there’s never a moment when both of those things are in harmony -- an empty house and nothing on my to-do list -- I’m going to keep my answer in the realm of fantasy, too. I’d love one last dinner with my husband, with a few rounds of old fashioneds and buttermilk fried chicken, a recipe I've yet to share. I want to celebrate our success in becoming better people during our time together, and get the chance to say goodbye. 

Your cookbook -- just like your blog -- focuses on scratch-made foods. If you could convince everyone in the world to make one thing from scratch, what would it be? 
Just one thing, really? I’m going with a pot of marinara sauce. It’s such a simple recipe -- just garlic, olive oil, tomatoes, salt & pepper, and basil, yet it shows how easy it really is to cook from scratch. It reminds me of Danny Meyer’s philosophy behind hiring people. He talks about "the 51%", that passion for what you do that can’t be taught. The desire to cook is the 51%; it’s all you need to get started in the kitchen. A good, solid recipe and knowledge of techniques is the rest, and that’s something you can easily learn.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in the kitchen? 
I've learned that life is very much like cooking on the fly -- be ready to improvise at a moment’s notice! 

The Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks is Here!

Tags: 5 Questions