Supreme cuisine: New cookbook honors late husband of Justice Ginsburg
December 14th, 2011
12:30 PM ET
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The photo is both touching and humorous, a loving couple dressed as many of their friends and colleagues recall them. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg beams in her judicial robes, adorned with a frilly lace collar. Her late husband, Martin, gazes adoringly, wearing shorts and a silly French cooking apron.

Now Marty has received a fitting, very personal tribute in the form of "Chef Supreme: Martin Ginsburg," a cookbook released this week by the Supreme Court Historical Society. In addition to being a pre-eminent tax attorney and law professor, Marty - who died last year of cancer - was by all accounts an extraordinary amateur chef.

His easy-to-follow recipes for everything from smoked bluefish spread to vitello tonnato are available for all to try, leavened with bits of his trademark humor.

And sprinkled throughout are photos (including the chef getup) and remembrances from his children, friends, and fellow spouses of the justices. It was Martha-Ann Alito, wife of Justice Samuel Alito, who helped spearhead the cookbook project. To honor his memory, she worked with other court wives to gather the best recipes and bring it to publication.

"His voice, it really comes through. He was an extremely warm and encouraging person," said Clare Cushman, director of publications for the society, who edited the book. "The way he writes recipes really reflects his playful personality."

In a place brimming with tradition, one of the least known and intimate events are the monthly to quarterly lunches at the Supreme Court, organized and attended by the spouses of justices past and present. Marty was often outnumbered as the only male, but eager to build lifelong friendships in a place known for strong differences of opinion.

"Good food, conversation, wit, and warmth help bind them together," Cushman told CNN. "The Supreme Court is a very collegial place, partly because of the protocols that have been in place for decades, (which) help bring the justices themselves together as a group. But the protocols of the spouse lunches probably helped foster that overall collegiality more than we know. Due in large part to Martin Ginsburg."

The justice has called her husband "super chef," and "my best friend and biggest booster."

The Ginsburgs made an ideal pair, say friends, precisely because their different personalities complemented each other perfectly. While both possessed strong legal minds, Ruth is soft-spoken, genteel, and serious of purpose. Marty was irreverent but precise, often brash but always sweetly caring. Those qualities meshed in the kitchen, where cooking was an expression of love.

Marty experimented, sometimes for years, to perfect his creations. His detailed recipe for pissaladiere, an onion-based tart appetizer, runs four pages in the book, and he confidently vouches for its tastiness.

"Fear not," he commands. "The above recipe may be only authentic mid-Manhattan (where the Ginsburgs once resided), but on information, belief, and ten years of testimony from innumerable diners - including my wife, who is otherwise a confirmed anchovy hater - it is more than edible."

All styles are represented: "Shrimp in an Indian Manner," "Squid in an Italian Manner," "The Perfect Baguette," and "Caesar Salad Jane," named after the couple's daughter, now a Columbia Law professor. And there are nine desserts, including "Tarte Tatin" and "Grandchildren's Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies."

Unexpected challenges brought out the best in him. Justice Antonin Scalia is very close to Justice Ginsburg, and also an avid hunter. He once brought back meat from a wild boar he shot, prompting Marty to create a suitable marinade of carrots, shallots, dry white wine, and even crushed juniper berries among his various ingredients. After clearly explaining the 10-day marination process, Marty adds, "Throw out the roasted meat and drink the marinade (just kidding)."

The home chef never expected his meals to reach a wider audience - they were just passed to friends.

Cushman and her friends and colleagues actually tested all 47 recipes in the book, narrowed from a repertoire of hundreds of often elaborate dishes.

"In a way he says 'trust me, it's going to work out,'" Cushman said. "Through his (explanatory) steps, you feel him keeping a careful eye on you while you're cooking these recipes. I cooked a lot of them myself - some were quite complicated - and I was very grateful having him, in a way, looking over my shoulder."

Marty's culinary skills were picked up by necessity shortly after he and Ruth married, upon discovering his wife possessed few such talents. That became a running joke in the family, and one that the justice regaled audiences with over the years, somewhat sheepishly.

"Professor Ginsburg is a regular contributor to the lighter side of life at the Supreme Court," said the justice in March 2009. "Mainly he performs in the kitchen, for the quarterly spouses' lunches held at the Court and, occasionally in past years, at a dinner for the entire Court family - justices, their spouses, and widows of former Court members. In the beginning, when I was the newest justice, my dear husband offered aid in lightening my load."

Marty, too, needed little prompting to playfully and publicly needle his wife. "Ruth was a fairly terrible cook and, for lack of interest, unlikely to improve," he recalled in a 1996 speech. "Out of self-preservation, I decided I had better learn to cook, because Ruth - to quote her precisely - was expelled from the kitchen by her food-loving children nearly a quarter-century ago."

"Being the spouse of a Supreme Court justice is not always an easy role to play, and Marty Ginsburg made it more fun than perhaps it had been in the past," Cushman said. "There's a unique dynamic to this because Justice Ginsburg - before being named to the courts - had battled gender stereotypes in the law and tried to eliminate them. And her marriage seemed to defy gender stereotypes of who does the cooking and who's out there in the public sphere. A true partnership."

Martin Ginsburg's recipe for "Simple Meatloaf"

1 medium-large yellow onion, finely chopped
1 Tbs. butter (or just a little more)
1 1/2 lbs. ground chuck and round, mixed
2/3 lb. ground pork
3 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
4 Tbs. ketchup
2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
3 Tbs. cracker meal
Salt (to taste)
Freshly ground pepper
Extra ketchup, about 7 tbs.

1. Preheat oven to about 350 degrees.
2. Sauté the onion in the butter, stirring from time to time, over medium heat until lightly browned. Set aside to cool.
3. Mix well the ground meats and Worcestershire Sauce. Then mix in the cooled onions and all of the other ingredients except the "extra ketchup."
4. Place the whole thing in a large loaf pan, smooth the top, and then pour the extra ketchup on the top spreading the cover fairly evenly.
5. Bake 1 hour.
6. Allow the baked meatloaf to sit in the loaf pan outside the oven about 10 minutes. Pour off and throw away the accumulated liquid, which is about 97% fat.
7. Remove from the pan, slice the meatloaf, and serve to the relentless applause of your grandchildren.

Martin Ginsburg's recipe for "Dense Chocolate Mousse with Pralines"

1 lb. high quality semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, in pieces
3 egg yolks
1/2 tsp. instant espresso dissolved in 1 tbs. hot water
1/2 cup Grand Marnier
1 cup heavy cream, well chilled
4 egg whites, at room temperature
4 Tbs. praline powder

1. In a double broiler, or even better in the microwave in a large glass bowl, partly melt the chocolate and then stir it smooth with a wire whip. (If you have used the double-broiler, turn the melted chocolate into a glass bowl.) Allow the chocolate to cool.
2. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, mixing well. Then add the coffee, then add the Grand Marnier.
3. Whip the cream until stiff. Beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold the cream into the egg whites.
4. Fold or stir a few tablespoons of the cream-egg white mixture into the chocolate to lighten. Then fold in half the remaining egg white and cream mixture. Then fold in the rest.
5. Finally, fold in the 4 tbs. of praline powder. Spoon the mixture into a glass bowl suitable as a serving bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap (I prefer Saran) and then with heavy aluminum foil. Freeze at least 3 hours, but overnight is better I think.
6. Before serving, place the bowl of mousse in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes so that it will soften somewhat.
7. Serve with sweetened whipped cream, or even better I think, with a few tablespoons of Grand Marnier sauce and, instead of whipped cream, a small bowl of excellent vanilla ice cream. If you have extra praline powder, a small sprinkle of it on top of the chocolate mousse is a nice idea.

Recipes excerpted from "Chef Supreme: Martin Ginsburg," Copyright 2011, by permission of Supreme Court Historical Society.

The book can be purchased at: The Supreme Court Historical Society Gift Shop

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Filed under: Books • Cookbooks • Make • Recipes • Think

soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. lawgeek

    This was really lovely on many levels. One, what a sweet valentine to this very unique couple. And two, despite differences of belief and ideology, people can still get along and forge meaningful connections. Justice Ginsburg of the left wing of the court and Justice Scalia of the right are friends? And their spouses literally break bread together? This is the kind of respect and bipartisanship I truly think most Americans want to hear about. Thank you to Mrs. Alito for spearheading such a lovely project.

    December 15, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
    • Kevin H

      This is such a sentimental story and I loved that so much. Often we forget that people are people. I don't personally care for Justice Scalia's political views, however, he may well be a great person. I can tell that Professor Ginsburg helped to make the Supreme Court a bit less – well – difficult to work in. It reminds me in many ways of Dolly Madison who helped her little Jemy to survive vitriolic Washington. Some things never change do they?

      December 15, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
  2. pastafaria

    I had the privilege of taking a couple of tax classes taught by Professor Ginsburg at Georgetown in the late 1990's. While I've never experienced his cooking, I guarantee you that his "trademark humor" that the article mentions will be well worth the price of the book. Can't wait!

    December 15, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  3. Don

    I guess he's never tried the meatloaf recipe from Joyce White's 'Soul Food' cook book.

    December 15, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
  4. Capercorn

    Seeing as I like food, making food, and follow the Supreme Court like most men follow football teams, I will certainly be picking this up.

    December 14, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
  5. Ron

    Instant "like" button on this one.

    December 14, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
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