Kathy Gunst’s new cookbook, “Notes From a Maine Kitchen: Seasonally Inspired Recipes,” isn’t just another collection of Maine recipes. It’s her love letter to her adopted home state, and to the kitchens all across the state that produce the food synonymous with Maine. After writing 14 cookbooks and living and working as a food writer in Maine for nearly 30 years, Gunst calls “Notes From a Maine Kitchen” her favorite book yet.
“This was such a joy to write,” said Gunst, who also has authored books for York-based Stonewall Kitchens. “It was very personal for me. It’s what I truly love to cook.”
“Notes,” published by Down East Books in early September, takes a distinctly personal tone as Gunst recounts her experiences shopping at farmers markets, preserving foods in the fall, cooking outdoors and making dishes perfect for a cold winter’s night. The recipes included are almost entirely low stress and relatively easy, with only basic techniques and time required to prepare them. Gunst knows that finding time to cook can be difficult for busy families.
“I find chopping vegetables and making pie dough relaxing,” said Gunst. “But I know there’s a real reality when you’re raising a family and trying to put food on the table. Most of the recipes in this book don’t take that much time at all. I’m not interested in cooking to impress. I’m interested in taking great ingredients, and using simple techniques to make great, simple food.”
Though not a trained chef, Gunst calls herself a passionate home cook. She’s also been writing about food for most of her professional life. Before moving to Maine from New York City, Gunst was a culinary editor at Food & Wine Magazine. In the early 1980s, she got an assignment on the best restaurants along the Northeast coasts. She fell in love with Maine — in particular the far southern coast, near Berwick. By 1982, she and her husband had sublet their New York City apartment and moved to Maine for a year.
“I had a contract to write my first book, and we moved to South Berwick,” said Gunst. “That was 29 years ago, and we’re still here.”
Gunst has since written 14 cookbooks, the most recent of which is “Notes.” The book goes through each month of the year, beginning in January with a story about ice fishing and accompanying recipes for Pan-Fried, Cornmeal-Coated Maine Smelts and Chicken Stew with Bacon, Baby Onions and Crimini Mushrooms. By July, there’s recipes for grilled everything, from pork chops and rhubarb to pizza.
For September, Gunst recounts a story of stocking her cellar with canned and jarred everything — including her End-of-the-Season Roasted Tomato Sauce, a particular favorite, with the roasting bringing out a smoky flavor and the sweetness of onions and garlic. October brings the tale of hunting for mushrooms with noted Maine mycologist Rick Tibbets, to be served at the James Beard Award-winning restaurant Hugo’s in Portland. All of the recipes illustrate a year-round approach to Maine cooking.
“So many people think of Maine as just a summer place, that’s all lobster and blueberries. I think that’s clearly been blown right out of the park. It’s much more than that,” said Gunst. “Our food is pretty pure. We still grow a lot of it, and the local movement has grown in huge ways since I moved here. We get so much from the ocean. I tried to reflect that on the page.”
Makes 12-14 cups
10 pounds ripe tomatoes, any variety, cored and quartered
8 medium onions, peeled and quartered or chopped
5 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
5 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 ½ cups chopped fresh herbs such as rosemary, basil, thyme, oregano, parsley and-or chives
⅔ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
A generous grinding of black pepper
A few tablespoons sugar (optional)
Optional ingredients include pitted olives, dried capers, chopped sweet or hot peppers or anchovies
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
In a large roasting pan, gently toss together the tomatoes, onions, whole and chopped garlic, herbs, olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for 25 minutes. Gently stir the vegetables. Roast for another 25 minutes and toss gently. Add any additional ingredients and roast for another 45 minutes to an hour, or until the tomatoes are softened and somewhat broken down into a sauce, with a golden brown crust on top. Remove and taste for seasoning; if it tastes bitter, add a few tablespoons of sugar.
Let cool and place in clean, sterile jars or tightly sealed plastic bags, and refrigerate, freeze or can. If canning, process for 30-35 minutes in a boiling water bath. It can be refrigerated for three to five days, or frozen in a bag for several months.
Serve with pasta, or over grilled chicken or fish.
Adapted from “Notes From a Maine Kitchen” by Kathy Gunst.
Serves 4 to 6
1 pound fresh portabella, shiitake, Cepe or other wild mushroom (note: only use mushrooms you or an expert are certain are safe to eat).
2 teaspoons olive oil
3 medium onions, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons dry sherry or red wine
5 cups vegetable, chicken or beef stock
A touch heavy cream, creme fraiche, or yogurt, optional
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Gently clean mushrooms using a moist paper towel. Cut the bottom ½ inch off the stems and then cut mushrooms into chunks. Grease the bottom of a medium to large roasting pan or ovenproof skillet with 1 teaspoon of the oil. Add the mushrooms, onions, garlic, salt, pepper, thyme, rosemary and remaining oil and stir well.
Roast on the middle oven shelf for 20-25 minutes, stirring once or twice, or until the vegetables are tender. Remove the roasting pan from the oven and pour the sherry or wine into the pan, scraping up any bits clinging to the bottom. Add the stock. Let cool a minute or two.
Transfer the soup to a blender or food processor and, working in batches, puree the mushroom mixtures and all the juice. Blend until smooth.
Transfer to medium large pot and season to taste. Reheat and add a touch of cream, creme fraiche or plain yogurt. Serve hot with crusty bread.
Adapted from “Notes From a Maine Kitchen” by Kathy Gunst.