The Daily Meal's Tribute to Marion Cunningham

We remember a culinary idol and how she influenced who we are today

Remembering Marion Cunningham

For some people it’s legendary musicians like Johnny Cash or John Lennon. For techies throughout the world it’s most likely Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Edgar Allan Poe, Marilyn Monroe, Winston Churchill, Oprah Winfrey, John F. Kennedy — these are all eminent and highly recognized figures, role models, or someone that people admire. As a young food writer and cook, that someone for me is Marion Cunningham.

For me, it was love at first sight, with Cunningham being a prominent figure on the San Francisco culinary scene, where I lived and attended culinary school. A self-taught cook, her recognition came not from her opening a grand and extravagant restaurant or coming up with rare recipes, but by focusing on the traditions of American food and the cooking that surrounds it. She first landed on the scene by reworking the cookbook Fannie Farmer, and then went on to write her own collections such as Lost Recipes, The Breakfast Book, and Cooking with Children. Her work is most widely remembered because it celebrated true, down-home cooking that was unpretentious and delicious. She celebrated the simplicity of food, and how easily a meal or cooking in the kitchen can bind people together and create true and everlasting relationships.

As humble as most of her work was, she carried quite the reputation in the culinary scene as well, and was no stranger to the sophisticated and illustrious crowd. She was the one who brought her friend Alice Water’s restaurant Chez Panisse to James Beard’s attention. She knew every groundbreaking restaurant owner and chef, and could have even the most pompous of culinarians groveling on their knees. She was given high recognition later in her life as well, receiving the Grand Dame award from Les Dames d’Escoffier in 1993 for her role as a female contributor to the culinary arts, and was named Scholar-in-Residence by the International Association of Culinary Professionals a year later.

Cunningham’s influence revolutionized the status of cooking in America cooking and, for the most part, fashioned the modern food movement that we all know today. She made cooking attainable for everyone, no matter what their background or training, and by doing that she brought people together. She coexisted as a culinary goddess and as an approachable and friendly home cook — "dear" was a common expression used when she addressed friends and colleagues. I respect Cunningham and her work because she represented exactly why I fell in love with cooking to begin with. She loved that personal bond that cooking creates — such as the one between me and the Spanish-speaking cook from several years ago in a small Costa Rican village, which propelled me into a career of food — and she established why cooking is such a special experience between people.

Family, friends, and loved ones all join together because of cooking — whether it’s standing around cutting boards in the kitchen, sharing a recipe with a coworker, or sitting around a table covered in gorgeous platters of food. Cunningham brought that to our attention, and she’s why the culture of food and cooking is as popular as it is today. We ask you to reflect on Cunningham over the weekend, and what better way than through some of her work.

 

Recipes from Lost Recipes by Marion Cunningham, courtesy of Knopf Publishing
 

Gazpacho

Makes 6 cups

This Spanish soup is as lively and appealing as a mariachi. Lovely on a hot summer day.

2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped (see Note)
5 tomatoes, peeled and chopped (about 21/2 cups)
1 large onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded, ribbed, and chopped (see Note)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 loaf French bread, trimmed of crust and crumbled (about 4 cups)
4 cups cold water
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Salt to taste
A few drops of Tabasco (optional)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon tomato paste
 

 

Put the cucumbers, tomatoes, onion, green pepper, garlic, and crumbled bread into a large bowl. Mix thoroughly. Stir in the water, vinegar, salt to taste, and Tabasco, if using. Blend the ingredients together in a blender or food processor, being careful to leave a little texture and not blending the soup until completely smooth. Stir in the olive oil and tomato paste, and whisk until completely mixed. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.

Note: To prepare cucumbers, cut them in half lengthwise. Using a teaspoon, scrape out the seeds and discard them. Cut the cucumber flesh into pieces. To prepare the bell pepper, cut it in half from stem-top down and scoop out the seeds and discard. Cut the white ribs out and cut the halves into small pieces. (Photo courtesy of Thinkstock/Photodisc/Eising).
 

Corn Chowder
Makes 10 cups

This is a supper soup that will make you smile-especially if you serve it with a sliced-heirloom-tomato salad.

3 slices bacon, chopped
2 onions, sliced
2 tablespoons butter
4 cups diced peeled potatoes (almost 1 pound)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups milk
2 cups frozen corn (or fresh if in season)
11/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
Whole nutmeg

Cook the bacon in a large soup pot until crisp. Add the onions and butter, and cook, stirring often, until the onions are golden brown, about 5 minutes. Put the potatoes in a separate pot, cover with cold water, and bring to a boil. Cook until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork; drain and set aside. Stir the flour into the onion-and-bacon mixture. As soon as the flour is blended smoothly into the mixture, slowly add the milk and stir until well blended and slightly thickened and smooth. Add the corn, potatoes, and seasonings to the soup, and cook for another 5 minutes.

When serving, grate a little nutmeg over each individual portion.
 

Cioppino
Serves 6

This dish will make you happy if you live in the San Francisco area. It is also good no matter where you live. It is a native San Francisco recipe that is a real winner. Make it once and it will be in your "favorite recipe" file forever. Serve it with bread that has a coarse crust.

1/2 cup olive oil
2 large onions, chopped (see Note)

3 carrots, peeled and chopped (see Note)
3 cloves garlic, mashed
4 cups tomato sauce
2 cups water
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon crumbled dried basil
11/2 teaspoons crumbled dried thyme
3 pounds clams in shell, scrubbed (see Note)
2 pounds white fish fillets
2 crabs, cooked, cracked, and crabmeat removed (optional)
1/4 cup dry white wine
Pinch of cayenne
Salt to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large kettle, add the onions, carrots, and garlic, and sauté until the onions are soft. Add the tomato sauce, water, parsley, basil, and thyme. Partially cover and simmer for 45 minutes. If the soup gets too thick, add a little more water. Add the clams and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the fish and crabmeat, if using, and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the wine, the cayenne, and salt to taste, and simmer for 10 minutes more.

To serve, ladle some of each variety of seafood into each bowl with a generous helping of broth.

note: To prepare the onions, cut them in half through the root ends and remove the papery outside skin. Cut the onions into 1/4-inch slices lengthwise and 1/4-inch slices crosswise.

To prepare the carrots, trim off the tops and peel off the skin. Cut the carrots in half lengthwise and then cut crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces.

For the seafood, look for clams that are tightly closed. Once home, if a clam will not close when it's tapped lightly on a counter, discard it. If you are purchasing cooked crabs for the Cioppino, ask to smell them to ensure their freshness. They should not smell too fishy. In addition, most stores will crack them for you, making it much easier to remove the crabmeat. (Photo courtesty of Thinkstock/iStockphoto).
 

Anne Dolce is the Cook Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @anniecdolce