The so-called “New Yorker” of food magazines folded in 2009, but as Louise Crosby discovers, good food never gets old and great recipes deserve to be served
By Louise Crosby
I have a fairly large collection of old Gourmet magazines, 85 issues altogether dating back to March 1980. I keep them stored in cardboard IKEA magazine holders in a closet along with our snowshoes and boxes of Christmas decorations. They’re getting musty, but like so many others in the world who have kept their Gourmets since the magazine folded in 2009, I can’t let them go. They’re historical artifacts. I forget about them most of the time, but when my mother came across an old issue on her bookshelf the other day, and passed it along, it started me on a trip down Gourmet memory lane.
I’m not the first to say that Gourmet was the New Yorker of food magazines, especially in its earlier years, a monthly buffet of thoughtful food writing, travelogues, wine and restaurant reviews, beautiful photography, and recipes. Back in the 1980s and ’90s, amid the sumptuous spreads for meals with themes (Chinese Vegetarian Cooking, Passover Desserts, a Poolside Lobster Buffet), and the travel pieces (Scottish Highland Inns, North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Crossing into Chile’s Lake District), you’d find pages and pages of unbroken type which you might think would be heavy slogging if you weren’t interested in the New York or California restaurant scenes, visiting Heidelberg or cooking Turkish food. But Gourmet was loved and cherished, miles ahead of any other food magazine, offering a glimpse into another world, a taste of the good life.
Browsing through my collection these past few days, I found articles by writers who have since died or gone on to become famous – to name just a few, Asian food writer Nina Simonds, Indian food writer Madhur Jaffrey, essayist Laurie Colwin, Marion Cunningham, who twice revised the Fanny Farmer Cookbook, UK cookbook writer Claudia Roden, and Richard Sax, author of Classic Home Desserts.
And I was interested to see, in the February 1994 edition, a review of French chef Daniel Boulud’s restaurant Daniel, which had recently opened in Manhattan’s Upper East Side (and still operates in that neighbourhood). The food gets high praise but apparently the staff at the front desk were “grim, curt, or seemingly baffled…” Back then Boulud was only in his thirties, fresh-faced and young. Twenty-one years later, at the age of 60, he is one of the most famous chefs in the world, with eight restaurants in NYC and 10 in other cities, including Montreal and Toronto. I expect he’s worked out those kinks in the service by now.
I picked an easy recipe to celebrate this Gourmet retrospective: Eggplant Parmigiana Rounds from the February 1994 edition. We love eggplant, especially eggplant slices that are dredged in flour, dipped in beaten egg and then breadcrumbs, and sautéed in oil until they’re soft and creamy on the inside, golden brown and crunchy on the outside. The slices are then topped with tomato sauce and sliced mozzarella and broiled until the cheese is melted. This makes a great little appetizer, or a vegetarian meal with a green salad on the side.
You’ll notice the recipe is a little vague by today’s standards; some things are left up to you. For instance, you could need more breadcrumbs, another egg, more cheese. Just improvise as you go. Make your own tomato sauce or buy a good brand. I found that a 1-pound eggplant can feed more than two people depending on how hungry you are and how you serve it. Don’t scrimp on the salt; eggplant benefits from salt.
Since I can’t have them strewn about the house forever, I’m packing up my magazines and putting them back in their cardboard holders, back in the closet. It’s the only place I have to keep them. But I’ve been reminded how wonderful Gourmet magazine was, how timeless the recipes and how international their scope, and how I never really need to buy another cookbook again.
Gourmet Magazine and Eggplant Parmigiana Rounds
Eggplant Parmigiana Rounds
All-purpose flour for dredging
2 large eggs, beaten lightly
¾ cup dry bread crumbs or panko, more as needed, seasoned liberally with salt
A 1-pound eggplant, cut into ½-inch thick rounds
Vegetable oil for frying
1 cup tomato sauce
¼ pound mozzarella cheese, or more as needed, sliced thin
Have ready, in 3 separate bowls, flour, eggs, and bread crumbs. Dredge eggplant in flour and coat with egg, letting excess drip off. Dredge eggplant in bread crumbs.
In a large heavy skillet, heat ¼ inch oil over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking and fry eggplant rounds in batches 3 minutes on each side, or until soft when poked with a fork, transferring them to paper towels to drain.
Preheat the broiler.
Arrange rounds on a baking sheet and top with tomato sauce and mozzarella. Broil rounds about 2 inches from heat until cheese is melted, about 3 minutes.
Serves: 2 or more