“The Harvest Baker: 150 Sweet & Savory Recipes.” By Ken Haedrich, Storey Publishing, 2017. $19.95.

Ken Haedrich and I are old friends. He may be surprised to hear this, as we’ve never met. But I have been cooking from his book “Country Breakfasts: Four Seasons of Cozy Morning Meals” ever since it came out in 1995, and his Banana Wheat Germ Soda Bread and Three-Grain Porridge have provided tasty sustenance many times over the years. Plenty of other relationships in my life have not lasted as long.

So when Haedrich’s latest book, “The Harvest Baker,” arrived in the mail, I eagerly claimed it. The book – a softback like my breakfast book, but unlike it, with plentiful photographs – is divided into chapters on bread, “crusty entrees,” sweets and toppings. Its main idea is to add more herbs, vegetables and fruits to your baking. That’s hardly an earth-shattering premise, and Haedrich admits as much in his introduction:

“… chances are you’re a harvest baker already, at least some of the time. Ever made zucchini bread? Or piled fresh veggies on your homemade pizza? That’s harvest baking right there,” he writes. “This book will simply take you farther down that path …”

The book has the requisite section on equipment, or as Haedrich dubs it, “Tool Talk.” Normally, I breeze right by such material, as at least 50 percent of the cookbooks I own contain it, and at this point, I admit, I’m bored. That said, his voice here was friendly and authoritative, and it’s a good primer for those just beginning to bake and needing to outfit their kitchens.

The recipes in “The Harvest Baker” are homey, and many manage, like Potato, Arugula and Tomato Galette or Ricotta Pound Cake with Pears, Walnuts and Sage, to feel both old-fashioned and modern at once. The Pumpkin Soda Bread was moist and an attractive orange hue, as promised. Next time, I’d tweak it to suit myself, swapping dates for the raisins, whole wheat flour for some of the white, and adding toasted pumpkin seeds; I don’t think Haedrich would mind (after all, we’re old friends), and with these changes, this recipe will join his banana soda bread in my weekend breakfast rotation.

The Honeyed Parsnip Tea Bread was a quick bread in the carrot/zucchini bread school. Nothing revolutionary, but a very nice version of this sort of thing. I loved the rhubarb-forward Brown Sugar Rhubarb Tart Squares, as did most of my co-workers. The mint brownies, which use an entire cup of fresh mint, divided us. “I’m afraid I’m a purist,” one taster wrote me in an email. “I like my brownies without additional flavors, or chips, or frosting. So I would have preferred them without the mint.” Another sent a two word-response, heavy on the vowels: “Soooooooooooooooo good.” There was no dissent on the Rosemary Lemon Shortbread Cookies, which drew two recipe requests and universal raves. When tomato season arrives, I intend to try the delicious-sounding variation – Savory Shortbread Thumbprints with Tomato Jam; it replaces the sugar in the cookie with grated Parmesan cheese.

“The Harvest Baker” is not stunningly beautiful, nor are the recipes in-your-face innovative. The book probably won’t instantly seduce you like, say, Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Jerusalem: A Cookbook,” which a few years back set many an American home cooks’ hearts aflutter. Yet every recipe I tried worked, most of them very well; I would make all six of them again. And when the deadline for this review approached, I set “The Harvest Baker” aside with reluctance. Maybe it’s true that old friends are best.

Peggy Grodinsky can be contacted at 791-6453 or:

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WHITE BEAN, SPINACH AND BACON PIZZA

A mostly healthy and an entirely delicious pizza, helped by the plentiful garlic and rosemary, not to mention the bacon. Cookbook author Ken Haedrich gives several recipes for pizza dough in his “The Harvest Baker”; I’ll just let you use your own, or store-bought dough here. I bake my pizza directly on a pizza stone, so my timing was faster than is outlined in the recipe, and I didn’t bother with the two-step process for sprinkling the pizza with cheese and rosemary. I added the cheese, herb and all the bacon from the start, and baked the pizza directly on the stone until it was golden brown, about 15 minutes total, if that.

Oil and cornmeal for the baking sheet

Your own recipe for pizza dough or store-bought

4-6 bacon strips

1/2 medium red onion, very thinly sliced

3-4 cups packed baby spinach (5 to 6 ounces)

3-4 tablespoons olive oil

4 garlic cloves, minced

11/2 cups (one 15- or 16-ounce can) soft-cooked white beans

1/4 cup water

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 cup grated mozzarella or provolone cheese

2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary or thyme

1. Lightly oil a large baking sheet and dust it with cornmeal. Set dough on the counter to rise.

2. Cook the bacon in a large skillet until crisp. Remove the bacon and set it aside to cool. Add the onion to the skillet and cook in the bacon fat for 1 minute. Add all of the spinach and, using tongs, mop it around in the pan for no more than 30 seconds, just long enough to barely wilt it. Remove the spinach from the skillet and set it aside on a plate.

3. Cool the skillet off a bit, then add 2 to 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Stir in the garlic and heat for about 15 seconds over medium heat. Stir in the white beans and water, scraping the skillet well with a wooden spoon to pick up any flavorful bits from the surface. Heat briefly, then remove from the heat and mash the beans with a large fork or potato masher. Don’t try to mash them too thoroughly; they should be rough but a little saucy, with a good mix of whole and mashed beans. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

4. When your dough has doubled and you’re ready to bake the pizza, heat the oven to 450 degrees F. Punch the dough down and knead for 1 minute on a lightly floured surface. Cover your dough loosely and let rest for 10 minutes on a lightly floured surface.

5. Once it has rested, press or roll the dough into a large, thin circle or oblong. Transfer it to a baking sheet. Lightly brush the surface with the remaining tablespoon or two of olive oil, especially around the edges. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes.

6. Dollop the bean mixture evenly over the surface of the dough, but don’t smooth it. Cover evenly with the cooked spinach. Crumble about half of the bacon over the top. Bake on the middle oven rack for 15 minutes.

7. Slide the pizza out of the oven and sprinkle the cheese and rosemary. Bake another 5 to 7 minutes, just long enough to melt the cheese thoroughly. The crust should be golden brown. Slide the pizza onto a rack and cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Crumble the remaining bacon over the top and serve. Refrigerate leftovers. Reheat slices directly on a baking sheet, in a 300 degree F oven for 8 to 10 minutes.

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