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Of Men, Women and Perfect Pecan Pie

May 28, 1997|MARION CUNNINGHAM | Cunningham's latest book is "Cooking With Children" (Alfred A. Knopf, 1995)

During the late 1970s and early '80s, James Beard taught many cooking classes in San Francisco. He was very popular, and the classes were quickly filled with both men and women, often beginners who barely knew a stove top from an oven. I assisted him, and it was fascinating to observe the differences in the way men and women approached the learning process.

In general, men approached the stove top with confidence. They would turn the heat to high and proceed from there. Women almost always turned the heat to low or, at most, medium low.

Men would often take their failures with a certain attitude: "Oh, well, next time better." Women would tend to suffer the failure much more and try to carefully figure out what went wrong.

One of the most interesting differences was on the subject of using recipes. Men often preferred the idea of learning the basic cooking skills--braising, broiling or pan-frying--so they could create their own dishes. I often heard the remark, "I don't want to be a slave to someone else's recipe."

Many of the women, on the other hand, saw the value of a recipe. They would occasionally ask about substituting an ingredient in a recipe, but that was it.

I guess we all have the right to follow any home cooking method we choose, but in defense of recipes (even if you don't use them when you cook), we should appreciate their cultural value. We wouldn't have our regional differences and classic regional dishes if each of us cooked only creatively. Recipes are also a fine way to meet and share with others. When I cook an old favorite from a recipe that was given to me, I remember the friend who gave it.

I was given the recipe for this perfect pecan pie years ago and I lost it. I tried different configurations on the few basic ingredients without success: more eggs, less corn syrup, more butter, less butter, on and on. But about a month ago, the long-lost pecan pie recipe turned up. I've made it three times, and I know I could never reinvent this gem. It really is the best.

I'm also including a simple but very satisfying soup, Zuppa Pavese. It will restore drooping spirits and a peaked state, requires only 5 minutes of preparation and is perfect for a light supper with a simple salad.

THE BEST PECAN PIE

Serve the pie warm with softly whipped, unsweetened cream if desired. A hint of dark rum or brandy added to the cream is delicious.

3 eggs

1/2 plus 2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup dark corn syrup

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted

1 cup pecans

1 (9-inch) unbaked pie shell

Mix eggs, sugar, salt, syrup and melted butter in medium bowl with large spoon until well-blended. Stir in pecans. (Note: This does not make enough filling for a deep-dish pie.)

Pour filling into pie shell and bake at 350 degrees until center seems almost firm, about 40 minutes.

6 to 8 servings. Each of 8 servings:

513 calories; 352 mg sodium; 95 mg cholesterol; 28 grams fat; 65 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams protein; 0.24 gram fiber.

ZUPPA PAVESE (IT'S A SNAP)

1 1/2 cups chicken broth

2 slices Italian bread (not sourdough), toasted

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

1 egg

Salt

Coarsely ground black pepper

Heat broth in small skillet over high heat.

Sprinkle each toast with 1 tablespoon cheese and bake at 325 degrees to melt cheese.

When broth is about to boil, reduce heat to bare simmer. Crack egg and gently drop into hot chicken broth. With spoon, gently move egg to keep from sticking to bottom of skillet. Spoon hot broth over egg yolk to cook until set, about 2 minutes, depending on how cooked you like your egg. Remove any foam with skimmer.

When egg is set, put 1 slice of cheese toast in soup bowl off to 1 side. Lift egg gently out of broth and place in middle of bowl. Pour broth over toast and egg. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Serve remaining toast alongside soup.

1 serving.

420 calories; 2,269 mg sodium; 231 mg cholesterol; 15 grams fat; 42 grams carbohydrates; 28 grams protein; 0.14 gram fiber.

* Windows from Biaggi Flower Shop, Los Angeles.

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