Originally created 05/25/05

Try crostini with peaches and blue cheese recipe

CONCORD, N.H. - Jeremy Jackson has done it again.

Trouble is, I can't decide whether that's good.

Jackson, a quirky young writer from Iowa who dabbles equally in food and fiction, has a penchant for picking intriguing (if somewhat narrow) subjects for his cookbooks.

His first, "The Cornbread Book" (William Morrow, 2003), bore the subtitle, "A Love Story with Recipes." The object of his affection was the aforementioned bread, though he notes that he wrote the book in part to find a wife.

The recipes were a mix. Something of a cornbread fanatic myself, I found his good recipes were great, his strange ones were, well, just that. Several that call for popcorn are particularly worth passing on.

His next cookbook, "Desserts That Have Killed Better Men Than Me" (William Morrow, 2004), warns readers that it is a "no-holds-barred book of decadence." That's an appealing sell.

And there are some tantalizing recipes, including lemon custard ice cream and chocolate sinkholes. Others, however, fall short of the death bar Jackson set in the title. Banana smoothie? Yawn. Ice cream made from snow? Yuck.

Despite the uneven recipes, I found myself liking Jackson's books.

Both smack of an aw-shucks style. And though his farm-boy charm sometimes feels forced, I ultimately buy it as authentic, a refreshing voice in an age when overwrought food writing has been (quite fairly) likened to pornography.

Now comes Jackson's third cookbook, the equally narrowly focused "Good Day for a Picnic" (William Morrow, 2005, $22.95). In it, Jackson offers more than 100 recipes supposedly as easy to make as they are to take on the road.

He starts with a too-long introduction on the history of picnicking, which is just a roundabout way for him to get at his thesis: food tastes better when it is consumed outside.

He's right. But I had trouble envisioning myself taking many of his recipes any farther afield than my deck.

His starters are appealing, but mostly in a summer-party-at-home way. Cherry tomatoes stuffed with minted goat cheese sound great, but too fussy to drag into a field. Ditto for a funky corn soup he calls "cornsomme."

Jackson's drink suggestions are nice, including an interesting selection of lemonade. He also gets points for his wine suggestions, which include vinho verde, a slightly effervescent white wine from Portugal. This is my ideal picnic wine, though I take issue with Jackson's directive to drink it cold; I prefer room temperature.

I was intrigued by his crostini with peaches and blue cheese. They were outstanding - assertively sweet and tangy. They traveled well, too (at least during the bumping and jostling of the photoshoot in my yard).

In the salads and sides section, readers get plenty of suggestions for good eats, but I again found myself questioning how they would do on the road. Squid salad? On a hot summer day? Made perhaps hours before? Pass.

I did like the idea of his noodles with walnut and blue-cheese pesto, and that seems an easy dish to pack and carry.

Here's what it comes down to. I like "Good Day for a Picnic." Jackson did a nice job of pulling together some really tasty recipes, the sort of high-flavor, low-labor food I look for in a cookbook.

I'll even go as far as to say I'll probably make a fair number of his recipes this summer. Chickpeas in intriguing tomato sauce (his adjective, not mine) sound good. But they also sound messy.

I'm just not likely to take most of this food on a picnic. Baked onions stuffed with fish and spinach sound good, but they also sound too cumbersome to travel with, never mind eat from plates balanced on laps while swatting bugs and being mindful of how long the fish has been out of the cooler.

Here's my advice for Jackson: Ease up on the themes. You give good food, but you let it get muddled by unnecessary constraints. "Good Day for a Picnic" is a great general cookbook. As a picnic bible, I'm not so sure.

Crostini With Peaches and Blue Cheese

(Start to finish 15 minutes)

12 thin slices of baguette or similar bread

Olive oil, for brushing

3 to 4 ripe peaches

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

¾ to 1 cup crumbled blue cheese

Freshly ground black pepper (optional)

Lightly brush the bread with olive oil, then toast, bake, grill or broil until it's almost dry. Set aside.

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Add the whole peaches and boil for 30 seconds. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the peaches to a bowl of ice water. Once cooled, remove the peaches and rub off the skin.

Cut the peaches into thin slices. In a medium bowl, toss the peach slices with balsamic vinegar.

Arrange the bread on a rimmed baking sheet. Top the bread with slices of peach and any juice and vinegar in the bowl. Top with blue cheese and a bit of pepper, if desired.

Broil the crostini until the cheese just begins to brown. Serve warm, or at room temperature within a couple hours of preparation.

Makes 12 crostini.

(Recipe from Jeremy Jackson's "Good Day for a Picnic," William Morrow, 2005, $22.95.)

Noodles With Walnut and Blue Cheese Pesto

(Start to finish 20 minutes)

12 ounces spaghetti or other noodles

1 cup toasted walnuts

1 cup crumbled blue cheese (about 4 ounces)

½ cup loosely packed, fresh flatleaf parsley, plus additional for garnish

1 garlic clove

½ teaspoon paprika

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until tender, about 8 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the walnuts, blue cheese, parsley, garlic, paprika, salt and pepper. Process briefly, until ingredients are well chopped.

With the processor running, drizzle the oil into the mixture, adding just enough to make a thick, smooth pesto about the consistency of hummus. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

Toss the noodles with the pesto until well coated. The noodles can be refrigerated for up a day and can be served at any temperature.

Makes 4 servings.

(Recipe from Jeremy Jackson's "Good Day for a Picnic," William Morrow, 2005, $22.95.)


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