“Keep calm and follow the recipe.” That was the motto behind the new book, Unforgettable, featuring the life story and best recipes of legendary cookbook author Paula Wolfert.
Still, while in the kitchen preparing her egg salad, I wasn’t so sure. It calls for a whopping 1 to 2 cups of mint and 1 cup sliced green onions for only 4 hard-boiled eggs. I thought to myself, “Really, Paula?” But I did as instructed and discovered that the fattiness of the eggs, which are grated so they look like confetti, mellows the assertiveness of the mint and scallion. The result is a salad that tastes light and bright but is ultimately very filling.
With the abundance of herbs and the sprinkle of fruity Marash pepper, it also feels quite modern. That’s the story of Paula’s work: She was always ahead of her time.
My friend and former coworker, Emily Thelin, edited Paula’s stories while we worked together at Food & Wine. For years, she hoped to write a biography about Paula, and she eventually pulled together a proposal. Paula’s work is lesser known than some of the other grandes dames of cookery writing, including Julia Child and Marcella Hazan. This is perhaps because Paula’s recipes seem intimidating, and she called for many obscure mail-order ingredients in the days before Amazon Prime. (Or the Internet, for that matter.) Now that these ingredients are more accessible, and in many cases, easy to find, Emily thought it was time to introduce a generation of cooks to Paula’s work and showcase the influence she’s had on what we cook today.
Twelve publishers rejected Emily’s proposal, feeling Paula’s time had passed. When Emily learned in 2013 that Paula had Alzheimer’s, she felt an extra sense of urgency to tell her story. She pulled together a dream team including cookbook author Andrea Nguyen to project manage, Eric Wolfinger to photograph, and Toni Tajima to design. Together, they raised money for the project on Kickstarter to self publish it.
The resulting book, which took about two years to create, is stunning. Cookbooks as travelogues are common, but gorgeously photographed cookbooks as biographies, less so. I have to say, I love the format. I knew the broad strokes of Paula’s career, but I loved reading the stories in between, the sort of connective tissue that makes up a three dimensional life.
For example, Paula fled her conservative upbringing in Brooklyn to hang with the Beats in Manhattan, and later, in Tangiers. It all sounds so glamorous as a bullet point, but ultimately the sexism in Beat culture started to wear on her after a while.
I also loved reading about how Paula did some of her most intrepid traveling as the mother of school-aged children. As a mother myself, I often feel like these types of projects don’t fit into my life anymore. With her first book, Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco, Paula proved, when there’s a will, there’s a way. With this book, Emily and team did, too.
- 4 large eggs
- 1 to 2 cups slivered mint leaves (depending on the intensity of the mint)
- 1 cup thinly sliced green onions
- 2 teaspoons mild red pepper flakes, preferably Marash
- 2 tablespoons fruity extra-virgin olive oil
- Juice of ½ lemon
- Flaky sea salt
- In a saucepan, combine the eggs with water to cover by 2 inches and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to medium-high and cook for 6 minutes. Drain and place under cool running water to cool. Peel the eggs.
- Using the large holes of a box grater, and working over a large bowl, grate the eggs. Add the mint, green onions, and red pepper flakes and mix well. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil and lemon juice to taste, then drizzle over the egg mixture and toss to coat lightly and evenly. Season with salt. Serve at room temperature or lightly chilled.