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It’s 11 am and I’m waiting in the Community Bookstore in Park Slope for cookbook author Rozanne Gold to arrive. We’re meeting to discuss her latest book, "Healthy 1-2-3: The Ultimate Three-Ingredient Cookbook," which was published last April, and her upcoming and final cookbook in the series, "Desserts 1-2-3," due out this May.

Gold rushes in laughing and waving a hand. "Am I late? I’m sorry if I’m late." Dressed in black from head to toe, she’s slender with jet black hair and black framed glasses.

I received a call from her after a mutual friend mentioned that I was writing for this newspaper. "Hi, this is Rozanne Gold. Congratulations! Would you like to meet me one day?"

Who wouldn’t want to meet the "diva of simplicity," three-time winner of the James Beard Award for food writing and entertaining columnist for "Bon Appetit" magazine? I had been saving her recipes every month, and pouring over her cookbooks for years.

We chatted for a minute and then walked toward the small garden in the back of the bookstore. "Isn’t the coffee great?" she says after I take my first sip. It is, but I don’t think coffee is the reason for our meeting here. In the garden, behind a fountain, is a large photo of Julia Child’s head. I commented about the shrine-like setting and she said, "Of course it’s a shrine! Everyone loves Julia! I love Julia! We go drinking all the time!"

Besides drinks with "the French Chef," she is friendly with many of the major players in the food world. Her "best friend," is fellow Brooklynite and cookbook author Arthur Schwartz who hosts the WOR radio show "Food Talk with Arthur Schwartz." They can be found roaming the aisles of Costco together.

Originally planning a career as a sex therapist, Gold switched gears after graduate school. Why give up sex for cooking?

"I just loved food so much," she said. "Something just propelled me to make a commitment to do that."

Whatever that something was, Gold has spent 25 years cooking, writing and consulting, and has a resume that would make the most hardcore over-achiever curl up and cry. At 23 she was hired by Mayor Ed Koch to serve as the first in-house chef in Gracie Mansion. She lived in the basement with the housekeepers.

"I’d come up in my bathrobe and I’d say, (making her voice very high) "’Good morning your Honor,’ and I’d squeeze his grapefruit juice and make his coffee."

She was the executive chef to the Lord & Taylor department stores, changing the image of the blandly decorated Bird Cage restaurants that served dismal food, into attractive, destination dining for shoppers. It was Gold who recognized supermarkets as vehicles for better quality prepared foods. Hired by the King’s supermarket chain, she created all the dishes in their take-out area enabling shoppers to buy a gourmet dinner along with a gallon of milk.

She is currently the chef and director for the Joseph Baum & Michael Whiteman Company, restaurant consultants who created the Rainbow Room, and the late, great Windows on the World (she was co-owner and consulting chef). Now married to Michael Whiteman, they live "very simply" in a Park Slope brownstone near Prospect Park.

Healthy cooking

Gold has written five cookbooks. "Healthy 1-2-3" and "Desserts 1-2-3" are the third and fourth in her three-ingredient series of cookbooks. Popular with home cooks and professional chefs, the recipes are appreciated for their sophisticated combination of flavors, the simplicity of shopping for the ingredients and the ease in preparing the dishes. Several of the recipes involve little more then slicing and assembling complimentary ingredients to achieve dramatically delicious results.

The honeydew carpaccio with air-dried beef and Asiago cheese, calls for simply slicing the melon and arranging it on the plate with the beef and cheese. It’s a delicious trio of sweet, savory and salty flavors that are, in Gold’s words "a sensory exercise in flavor and aroma, and a wonderful example of ’less-is-more’ ingredient harmony."

"Recipes 1-2-3: Fabulous Food Using Only Three Ingredients" and "Entertaining 1-2-3" both garnered James Beard Awards for food writing.

Call three-ingredient cooking a gimmick, but it’s a gimmick that works for Gold. Each of her recipes result in a dish that is light, clean tasting and still luxurious to the palette. "My goal in ’Healthy 1-2-3’," explained Gold, "was to make [preparing food] easier for people, to unburden them, to lighten their load in terms of the healthy message and in terms of the ingredients. I don’t hit readers over the head with numbers [calorie counting] and every single recipe is in one of three categories: fat free, low fat or low calorie." The highest caloric count for any recipe in the book tops out at 750 calories.

The book follows Gold’s "measure your pleasure" principle. "This notion of ’measure your pleasure,’ I kind of like that," she says. "You’re always balancing. Whatever it is, whatever you choose to eat, it should really be good. My husband bakes our bread and makes all of our marmalade, and they are really delicious. But if I have bread and marmalade for a snack, then it’s a light salad for lunch."

A recipe for carrot soup is a good example of healthy ingredients balanced with a touch of indulgence. The soup starts with a base of cooked, pureed carrots enlivened with the juice of fresh ginger. Heavy cream is added, but just enough to thicken the soup and silken it’s texture. You taste the cream, but it’s the clean flavor of the carrots and ginger, and how well each plays off the other, that make the soup soar. A drizzle of the cream on top, and you’ve got a bowl of pure decadence. Who would guess it was diet fare?

Another "fool your palette" dish that appears on the cover of "Healthy 1-2-3," and would be comfortable displayed in the finest bistro, is the little tomato-pesto "Napoleon." Thanks to store-bought pesto, these Napoleons are a snap to prepare and almost fat free. They’re gorgeous, with vivid stripes of red, yellow and green, and taste like the essence of summer.

"Desserts 1-2-3," though not technically a low-calorie cookbook, offers plenty of low-fat choices in the "keep it simple" mode. There’s a summer plum and mint compote with an icy almond-flavored sorbet, and a glazed pear and lychee tart. The tart has a higher fat content then the compote, but its lush factor is off the charts.

"The flavor duet of fresh pears and lychees," writes Gold, "is fascinating because one seems to magnify the taste of the other."

For those who desire a full-throttle splurge, there is a chapter dedicated to chocolate. A recipe for a chocolate demitasse flavored with Amaretto (a rich hot chocolate served in a tiny demitasse cup) and topped with Amaretto whipped cream, will blow your diet to bits. What a way to go!

Besides her work with the Joseph Baum & Michael Whiteman Company, Gold will continue to make guest appearances on food and style programs, and her writing is ongoing.

Asked to comment on her life in the food world she laughed and said, "I’m in the business of pleasure, and even after 25 years, I can say, ’I love it.’ I do. I love it."


Tomato-pesto "Napoleons"

These intensely flavored layers of vegetables stack up a rainbow of benefits: antioxidant, antiviral, antimicrobial - but certainly not "antigastro­nomadic" ("gastronoma­dic" is a word invented by the French chef Careme to describe tourists who are lovers of regional food specialties). Bake these in custard cups and think of Provence. Delicious hot, cold or in between.

8 ripe tomatoes: 4 medium red, 2 medium-large yellow, 2 medium-large green, about 3 pounds
2 medium-sized yellow onions
6 tablespoons pesto, homemade or store-bought

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Wash tomatoes and dry thoroughly. Cut red tomatoes in half horizontally. Lightly coat 8 custard cups with nonstick vegetable spray and place tomatoes in them cut side up.

Peel onions and cut each into 12 thin slices. Top each tomato with 1 onion slice. Spread 1 teaspoon of pesto over each onion slice.

Cut each yellow tomato into 4 thick slices. Place a slice on top of each pesto-smeared onion slice. Top with another onion slice. Spread 1 teaspoon of pesto on top.

Cut each green tomato into 4 thick slices. Place on top of onion. Top with another thin slice of onion. Spread with 1/4-teaspoon of pesto.

Place custard cups on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 90 minutes, carefully pouring off liquid every 30 minutes, and pressing down on Napoleons with a spatula. Collect all juices in a small bowl.

When finished, let Napoleons cool for a few minutes. Place juices in a small nonstick skillet and cook over high heat until juices are syrupy - reduced to about 1/2 cup. Add kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Turn Napoleons out onto a platter. Pour reduced juices over top and serve.
Serves 8

This recipe is excerpted from "Healthy 1-2-3: The Ultimate Three-Ingredient Cookbook"

"Healthy 1-2-3: The Ultimate Three-Ingredient Cookbook" by Rozanne Gold. (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2001, $35) can be ordered at A Novel Idea Book Store [8415 Third Ave. (718) 833-5115] in Bay Ridge, Seventh Avenue Books [300 Seventh Ave. at Seventh Street, (718) 840-0188] in Park Slope and BookCourt [163 Court St., (718) 875-3677] in Cobble Hill.

"Desserts 1-2-3: Deliciously Simple Three-Ingredient Recipes" by Rozanne Gold. (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2002, $30) will be published in May.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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