Cookbook goes hog-wild and -styled

Libbie Summers, author of "The Whole Hog Cookbook," wrote the recipes and stories, styled all the photos, and played the main character, appearing in many of the farm photos.
Libbie Summers, author of "The Whole Hog Cookbook," wrote the recipes and stories, styled all the photos, and played the main character, appearing in many of the farm photos. (CHIA CHONG)

Author Libbie Summers, who worked with Martha and Paula, has her 1st solo title.

Posted: February 23, 2012

Before she even put down her bag or said hello, Libbie Summers was compelled to comment on the bright, minimal vibe at the La Colombe near City Hall.

It's just her way: For the cookbook author, culinary producer, blogger, and food stylist, aesthetics are tied into everything she does.

"On the train I was writing notes about radishes and white lace and spring onions," she says. "I can't help it, my head goes crazy!"

The Savannah, Ga., resident was in town for a few days this month, promoting the recent release of The Whole Hog Cookbook, her first solo title.

But she's much more than just the author. Summers represents the most recent version of a burgeoning type of culinary personality, in which recipes are created with presentation in mind, matched to the perfect plate, and photographed so beautifully, we practically drool on our keyboards.

Like Grace Bonney of the blog "Design*Sponge" and Philadelphia native Joy Deangdeelert Cho of the blog "Oh Joy!", Summers is a newfangled Martha Stewart for an unfussy generation that believes dishes are meant be as tasty to look at as they are to eat.

Picture the dreaded weeknight dinner, turned as aspirational as a Pottery Barn catalog.

It takes a singular set of talents to develop such a brand. Summers got her culinary training as a private chef in the yachting world, sailing the globe and feeding clients along the way. "You've got to be able to cook for anyone who comes on board . . . make something out of nothing," she says.

She took advantage of all the edible wealth her ports of call had to offer. "People are so welcoming," says Summers, who got hands-on lessons from gourmands in places including Greece, Italy, Mexico, and Honduras.

On board, the meals she served were about more than just food. Presentation, setting the table, getting the perfect flowers in the right container were just as important. "I get inspiration from the food, but it's not always about the food. The color of something can inform a dress, a tabletop, a pattern for a wallpaper. All of it."

In time, Summers got a freelance gig for Martha Stewart, helping to design sets for some Christmas-themed shows. "I never even knew there was a thing called a food stylist," she recalls. "I walked out of the office and said, 'I'm going to be a food stylist.' "

She started small, styling food photo shoots for magazines in Savannah. There were also more assignments for Martha, and companies such as Kraft and Wal-Mart sought out her aesthetic and food prowess.

Summers was asked to cater the birthday party of fellow Savannah denizen Paula Deen. The party was going to be on an old boat, and the first thing she did was remove everything that wasn't nailed down. She turned the inside of the beat-up vessel into a midcentury modern lounge, and served scallop sliders and lobster shooters and food that Deen gushed over.

"They kept on talking about the 'guac-ah-mohlay,' " Summers says of Deen's thick Southern accent.

Eventually, Summers became the head food stylist for the edible empire that is Paula Deen and her sons, which she did for two seasons.

Deen, who wrote the foreword for The Whole Hog Cookbook, complimented her taste in clothing as much as her tasty stews.

But as a multitasker, Summers needed more to keep her creative juices flowing. "I've always collected cookbooks," she says. "The writing is my favorite part." But hardly the only one. She decided to focus the book on pigs, pulling from childhood memories of her grandparents' pig farm in the Midwest. The timing couldn't have been better: The food industry can't get enough of both head-to-tail cooking and regional foods. And all things pretty.

She is a book publisher's dream. Summers wrote the recipes and stories, styled all the photos, and played the main character, appearing in many of the farm photos.

Every element was close to her heart. In fact, one of her favorite parts isn't even seen by most.

"It was really important to me that the cover of the book was pretty," Summers explains. Sure enough, when the dust jacket is removed, readers see illustrations of pigs, cute enough to take the book from the kitchen table to the coffee table. The animals were sketched, of course, by Summers' own hand.

The book is divided by pig parts - loin, shoulder, bacon, ribs. This is whole hog for the homemaker, the recipes easy, approachable, lighthearted. Cuts of raw meat actually look cute. There are recipes for prosciutto pretzel knots, a sweet-tea-brined pork roast, a "world's best" BLT, and some great winter stews.

"You've got to love your cookbook," Summers says. "I think about celebrities who are working on their 12th book. How do they have the emotion behind it?" she asks, welling up. It's that emotion that completes her brand.


West African Pork Stew

Makes 6 servings

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

One 3-pound boneless Boston blade pork roast, cut into  1-inch pieces

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

8 scallions, roughly chopped

3 tablespoons tomato paste

11/2 tablespoons curry powder

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 large red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces

4 cups pork stock or chicken stock

1/3 cup natural peanut butter

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1/3 cup chopped roasted unsalted peanuts

   1. Liberally salt and pepper the pork.

   2. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Stir in the pork and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, or until browned on all sides. Stir in the scallions and cook for 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste, curry powder, ginger, red pepper flakes, bell pepper, sweet potatoes, and stock. Stir to combine, cover, and cook over low heat for 2 hours, or until the stew thickens. Stir in the peanut butter. Salt and pepper to taste.

   3. Serve garnished with chopped cilantro and chopped peanuts.

- From The Whole Hog Cookbook (Rizzoli, 2011)

Per serving: 709 calories, 69 grams protein, 53 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams sugar, 25 grams fat, 166 milligrams cholesterol, 733 milligrams sodium, 10 grams dietary fiber.


Apple Orchard Stew

Makes 4 servings

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 pound smoked sausage, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 sweet onion, chopped

1 leek (white part only),  rinsed and thinly sliced

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

3 cups pork or chicken stock

1 cup apple cider

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 cups shredded green cabbage

1/2 pound red potatoes,  quartered

3 tart green apples, such as Granny Smith, unpeeled, seeded, and cut into large chunks

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 loaf day-old French bread, torn into thick pieces

   1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Stir in the sausage and cook for 3 minutes, until just browned around the edges. Transfer the sausage to a plate and set aside.

   2. Lower the heat to medium-low, add the remaining oil, the butter, onion, leek, and allspice, and cook for 3 minutes, or until the onions begin to soften. Stir in the flour and cook for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Slowly stir in the stock, 1 cup water, the cider, and mustard, stirring until the mixture is well combined. Add the cabbage and potatoes, stir, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Stir in the apples, cover, and cook for 10 minutes.

   3. Just before serving, stir in the sausage, plus any juices that have accumulated on the plate, and the parsley. Salt and pepper to taste. Simmer gently for 2 minutes, until the sausage is heated through. Put pieces of the bread in the bottoms of four serving bowls, ladle the stew over the bread, and serve.

- Adapted from The Whole Hog Cookbook (Rizzoli, 2011)

Per serving: 810 calories, 32 grams protein, 73 grams carbohydrates, 27 grams sugar, 45 grams fat, 103 milligrams cholesterol, 1,774 milligrams sodium, 8 grams dietary fiber.


Hog-Tied and Hungry Chili

Makes 6 servings

For the chili:

1 pound dried black beans, rinsed and drained

1 pound ground pork

1 large sweet onion, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 (4½ ounce) cans chopped green chiles

1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, minced

1 tablespoon chili powder

2 tablespoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground  black pepper

1 (28-ounce) can crushed San Marzano tomatoes

2 cups tomato juice

2 cups pork or chicken stock

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

For the dumplings:

½ cup all-purpose flour

½ cup masa harina

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 large egg

½ cup milk

1 tablespoon lard or vegetable shortening,  melted

2 teaspoons honey

½ cup shredded cheddar cheese

1 jalapeño chile, seeded and minced

   1. In a large stockpot, cover the beans with 3 inches of cold water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 2 hours, or until the beans are fork-tender. Drain the beans and set aside.

   2. In the same large stockpot, cook the pork until the meat is no longer pink. Stir in the onion, garlic, green chiles, chipotle, chili powder, cumin, salt, and pepper. Saute for 10 minutes, or until the onion is translucent. Stir in the beans, tomatoes, tomato juice, stock, and chocolate. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

   3. Meanwhile, make the dumplings: Whisk together the all-purpose flour, masa harina, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, lard, and honey. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined. Stir in the cheese and jalapenos.

   4. Drop heaping tablespoons of the dumpling dough into the simmering chili, leaving a little space between the dumplings so they do not touch. Cover and simmer 20 minutes. Do not lift the lid while the dumplings are cooking. The dumplings should be firm to the touch, still moist in the center. Serve hot.

- Adapted from The Whole Hog Cookbook (Rizzoli, 2011)

Per serving: 670 calories, 48 grams protein, 90 grams carbohydrates, 20 grams sugar, 14 grams fat, 100 milligrams cholesterol, 1,624 milligrams sodium, 20 grams dietary fiber.


Contact staff writer Ashley Primis at 215-854-2244, aprimis@phillynews.com, or @ashleyprimis on Twitter.

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