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At The High Court, A Tribute To A 'Chef Supreme'

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with her late husband, Marty Ginsburg, an accomplished amateur chef.
Mariana Cook
Supreme Court Historical Society
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with her late husband, Marty Ginsburg, an accomplished amateur chef.

Walk into the Supreme Court gift shop, and there, among all the books on the history of the court, is a cookbook — yes, a cookbook. Put together by the spouses of the Supreme Court justices, it is a tribute to a master chef, the late Martin Ginsburg, husband of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

By day, Marty Ginsburg was one of the nation's premier tax law professors and practitioners. By night, he was one of the nation's most innovative and accomplished amateur chefs.

The idea for the cookbook, Chef Supreme: Martin Ginsburg, came from Martha-Ann Alito, wife of Justice Samuel Alito. It hit her the day after Marty Ginsburg's memorial service in 2010.

"One of my first conversations with Marty, in the fall of 2006, was about food and nourishment, and how satisfying an expression of love that it was for him," she recalls. "And that, in part, led to the idea that we should put the cookbook together."

The other Supreme spouses quickly agreed. They had often teamed up with Marty Ginsburg to provide the food for the monthly spouse lunches. But none of them had any idea what a large undertaking the cookbook would be.

First, a word about Marty Ginsburg's love affair with cooking. It began, strangely enough, when he was in the army at Fort Sill, Okla., with his new bride, the young Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Neither of the Ginsburgs knew much about cooking then, but one of their wedding gifts was The Escoffier Cookbook, the bible of French cooking. And so Marty, a chemistry major, began at page one and worked his way through the entire volume. As he observed in a speech in 1996, there was method to his madness then and later.

"I learned very early on in our marriage that Ruth was a fairly terrible cook and, for lack of interest, unlikely to improve. This seemed to me comprehensible; my mother was a fairly terrible cook also. 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."

Justice Ginsburg takes umbrage, sort of. "I think that is most unfair to his mother," she deadpans. "I considered her a very good cook. In fact, one of the seven recipes I made was her pot roast."

Over the years, Marty Ginsburg became a genuinely famous amateur cook, with a repertoire that ranged from French cooking, to Indian, to Italian, to Asian. So when it came to limiting the number of recipes for a cookbook, the task was daunting.

Enter Clare Cushman, director of publications for the Supreme Court Historical Society, which is publishing the book on a nonprofit basis.

"We started out by dividing them into categories," she explains. "So of course we have appetizers, soups, chicken dishes, fish dishes, meat dishes, desserts, as one would expect. But we were also looking for recipes that really showed his voice."

Cushman and some of her friends and co-workers cooked all the recipes they considered, narrowing the list to 106.

"You get to know him while you're cooking. The way he wrote recipes was as if he was explaining them to a friend," she says. Working her way through the recipes, Cushman began to feel that "not only did I trust him that it would come out right, but that he was almost with me saying, 'You can do it.' "

She mentions one recipe in particular, for orange-scented biscotti, where the instructions were to "knead the dough several times and divide kneaded dough into two equal parts." Chef Ginsburg advised: "This is a miserable, messy, ugly procedure because the dough is horribly sticky. Do your best."

There is much of Marty Ginsburg's humor in his recipes. His recipe for wild boar, concocted to cook the beast brought home for a New Year's dinner by Justice Antonin Scalia after a hunting trip, ends with this instruction: "Throw out the roasted meat and drink the marinade (just kidding)."

Some of the recipes in this cookbook are quick and easy. Others are not. Martha-Ann Alito points out that the longest recipe in the book, covering four pages, is the recipe for making French baguettes.

"It exemplifies how Marty approached life. Very exacting and very precise," she says.

Justice Ginsburg says it took her late husband more than a year to develop that recipe, experimenting with various approaches.

She explains that "the reason it's spread out over so many pages is that he didn't want to leave out a single step, so that the person who uses it won't have to go through the process that he went through to perfect it."

The book also features a variety of gorgeous pictures of food, of all the Supreme Court spouses at lunch, and of the Ginsburg family.

"Obviously when you have a recipe called 'Grandchildren's Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies,' " Cushman says, "you want to have a picture of all the grandchildren with Justice Ginsburg."

But the piece de resistance is a photo of Marty Ginsburg, wearing a classic French cooking apron, with his arm around Justice Ginsburg, who is dressed in her judicial robe. The photo, taken by noted photographer Mariana Cook, is something of a takeoff on Grant Wood's American Gothic painting, except that the Ginsburgs do not look at all dour.

"The best part about it is the way he looks at her, with such an adoring gaze," says Cushman. "And anyone who sees this cover knows that she was a very lucky woman."

The Martin Ginsburg cookbook is available online or at the Supreme Court gift shop.

Recipe: Frozen Lime Souffle

Serves 6, maybe 8


1 envelope unflavored gelatin

½ cup fresh lime juice (about 6 limes)

¼ cup water

¾ cup milk

1 cup heavy cream

4 egg yolks

3 drops green food coloring

½ cup sugar

7 egg whites


1. Oil lightly a one quart souffle mold. Fold over lengthwise a long strip of aluminum foil and oil it on one side. Tie the foil around the mold, oiled side in to make a collar standing a good 3 inches above the top of the souffle mold.

2. Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water to soften.

3. In the top of a double boiler (or, if you are experienced and nerveless, a saucepan) heat the milk (over direct low heat) until it is hot but not boiling.

4. With your electric mixer and your usual bowl, beat the egg yolks with the sugar until the mixture is light and lemon colored. Pour the hot milk slowly into the egg yolk mixture, still beating, to produce a smooth uncooked custard mixture. Pour this mixture back into the top of the double boiler (or into the saucepan) and add the water-gelatin mass. Beat well with a wire whip for a few seconds to incorporate the gelatin.

5. Cook the mixture — in the double boiler over hot water or in the saucepan carefully over low heat — stirring or (better) whisking constantly until the mixture is thick and creamy. Be very careful it does not boil or it will surely curdle. On the other hand, do not undercook: the custard must be reasonably thick. Particularly if you are using a saucepan and not a double boiler, be sure to remove the pan from the heat for a few seconds and then put back on the heat for a few seconds, and so on, whisking constantly, during the final stages of the cooking.

6. Remove the top of the double boiler from the hot water filled bottom (or the saucepan from the heat) and let the mixture cool in the utensil. Stir or whisk occasionally. When the mixture has cooled down to about room temperature, add the lime juice and stir or whisk well to incorporate. Refrigerate the mixture in the utensil until it begins to thicken. This may take some 15 minutes to a half hour, or possibly more; be sure to take a peek at it every few minutes, toward the end of the cooling process, to be sure it only begins to thicken. You do not want to let the custard set.

7. In the mixing bowl that you have washed and dried in the meanwhile and using your electric mixer (or, if you are up to it, a balloon whisk), whip the cream until it is thick but not stiff. Do not overbeat. Remove the utensil from the refrigerator and fold the whipped cream carefully into the lime mixture. This may be done either with a rubber spatula or with a large fairly sharp edged kitchen spoon (the kind that usually hangs from a rack on the kitchen wall). Do the folding to incorporate the whipped cream well but do not over-mix. Then add to the mixture 3 drops — no more and no less — of green food coloring and stir carefully to incorporate the color throughout, but do not overdo it. Still in the same utensil, again refrigerate the mixture until it is just beginning to set. This will not take as long as the last time.

8. Again in the washed and dried mixing bowl and using your electric beater — or, preferably, in a copper bowl using a balloon whisk if you have them — beat the egg whites until they are stiff but not dry and fold them gently into the mixture (you will have removed the utensil from the refrigerator). This time, do use the metal kitchen spoon, if you have it, rather than the rubber spatula since it will do the job better with less loss of the air you have beaten into the egg whites.

9. Carefully spoon — do not just pour it — the lime souffle mixture into the prepared souffle mold. The mixture should fill the mold and an inch or two above it (inside the collar). Chill the whole thing in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours, or longer (6 or 7 hours is fine but 24 hours or more, while not impossible, is a bit much).

10. When you are ready to serve the frozen lime souffle, and not before, remove the souffle dish from the refrigerator and carefully strip off the aluminum foil collar. If you are careful, very little of the souffle mixture will stick to the collar and you will bring to the table a frozen lime souffle that stands up above the souffle dish a couple of inches, mimicking in this regard a hot souffle.

N.B.: For a larger dinner party, you can of course prepare two frozen lime souffles, each in its own one quart souffle dish (it is a bad idea to try to make a big frozen lime souffle in a single two quart souffle dish). However, for a dinner party of 12, a stupendous presentation is to serve together two compatible desserts, one of which is a one quart frozen lime souffle. Because chocolate and lime are a particularly happy combination of flavors, a rich chocolate dessert having a firm texture, that should be served in relatively small portions, should be considered. My nominee is a chocolate torrone loaf which, you will be happy to know, can and should be made a day ahead of time. The method of serving is a slice of torrone (or other rich firm textured chocolate dessert) with a large dollop of frozen lime souffle on the corner or on the side.

Salmon With Grapefruit And Coriander Sauce

Serves 4


2 lbs. salmon filet (skinless) or salmon steaks

coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

3 Tbs. butter

1/3 cup chopped shallots or onions or a mixture

2 Tbs. white wine vinegar or rice wine vinegar

1/3 cup freshly squeezed grapefruit juice

¼ tsp. Dijon mustard

¼ tsp. ground cumin

2 Tbs. chopped coriander leaves (and the thin stems near the leaves)

coriander leaves (ample amount, not chopped)

peeled grapefruit segments or slices

Preheat the broiler. Lightly sprinkle the salmon with salt and pepper.

Broil the salmon just until done (still a little pink in the middle), which should be 4 to 5 minutes on each side depending upon how thick it is. Remove the salmon from the broiler and let it sit 2 or 3 minutes.

Here is how you make the sauce. In a medium sized enameled or stainless steel or non stick frying pan, melt the butter and cook the shallots/onions for about 5 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring often.

Add the vinegar, turn up the heat, and cook rapidly (about 2 minutes or so), stirring constantly, until the vinegar has practically evaporated.

Off the heat, stir in the grapefruit juice, mustard, and cumin.

Put the pan back on low heat and cook for a minute or so, stirring constantly, until the sauce has thickened somewhat. Stir in the chopped coriander leaves.

To serve, put ¼ of the sauce (including the shallots/onions) on each of four warmed plates and spread out. Put ¼ of the salmon on top of the sauce. Sprinkle the top of the salmon liberally with coriander leaves. Garnish each plate with ¼ of the grapefruit segments or slices (you will want at least four grapefruit segments for each plate).

Serve with crusty bread and good white wine.

Red Pepper Boats


plump shiny sweet red bell peppers

as many red ripe juicy tomatoes as you have red bell peppers

Tapenade (about 1 generous Tbs. for each red bell pepper)

as many fresh basil leaves as you have red bell peppers

4 anchovy filets for each red bell pepper

virgin olive oil


Preheat oven to 375° F.

Cut each red bell pepper in half vertically, i.e., through the stem, so that each half when laid flat (cut side up) will resemble a little boat. Cut out and throw away the green stem and hard part that surrounds it, the seeds, and the ribs.

Place the tomatoes, a couple at a time, in boiling water for about 12 seconds (if the tomatoes are truly ripe) to as much as 20 seconds if that is necessary to skin them. Immediately remove the tomatoes from the boiling water and plunge into a bowl of ice water. After a minute or so take each tomato from the ice water, cut it in half horizontally, peel off and throw away the skin, squeeze out and throw away the seeds, and if there are any hard parts near the stem cut them out and throw them away too.

Either cut the peeled seeded tomato halves into very large pieces or leave each half whole. Your choice.

Put about half a Tablespoon of tapenade in the bottom of each red pepper boat. Place half a fresh basil leaf on top of the tapenade that is in the bottom of the red pepper boat.

Top with either plenty of tomato pieces or a tomato half, cut side down. Sprinkle with a little coarse salt and fresh pepper.

On top of the tomatoes place two anchovy filets, one crossed over the other so that they look like the letter "X." Pour some virgin olive oil, perhaps a couple of teaspoons, on top so that some of the olive oil runs down the tomatoes and into the bottom of the red pepper boat.

Place these filled red pepper boats in Pyrex (or other) baking pans (you can do this before you pour on the olive oil if you like to be neat), packing tightly enough so that the juices that are produced during the baking will mainly stay in the red pepper boats. Bake at 375° F. for 45 minutes.

Remove the baking pans from the oven and allow the red pepper boats to cool to room temperature.

If you have made this dish early in the morning, or even late the day before, for serving in the evening, simply cover the baking pans with plastic wrap (after they have cooled to room temperature) and leave at room temperature until ready to serve.

To serve, place one boat (or if you have extraordinarily hungry people two boats) on each plate and serve as a first course at room temperature. I usually serve as is, but if you like you can put a little green salad (dressed with olive oil and vinegar) or almost anything else on the plate next to the red pepper boat.

It is nice to serve this dish with freshly baked crusty bread to sop up the quite delicious sauces.

[As a variation, you can prepare this dish more simply without the tapenade and without the basil leaf. It will be less complex but still quite excellent.]

Small Pasta And Shrimp In A Creamy Ginger And Red Pepper Sauce

Serves 3, maybe 4


4 Tbs. butter (in two equal parts)

2 shallots, chopped

¼ cup chopped peeled fresh ginger root

1 cup white wine

1½ cups mixed heavy cream and whole milk (proportions as you wish)

1 tsp. sweet paprika

1 tsp. salt (about)

¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

½ lb. small or thin pasta

1 lb. small or medium-small shrimp, peeled

½ cup chopped red bell pepper

½ cup chopped scallions (white and green parts both)

¼ cup Parmesan cheese


In a saucepan, melt two tablespoons of butter, add shallots and ginger and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until soft (about 5 minutes).

Turn the heat to moderately high, add the wine, and reduce by half. Add the milk/cream and simmer until the mixture thickens somewhat (about enough to lightly coat the back of the spoon — this will take in the neighborhood of 5 to 10 minutes depending on the ratio of cream to milk). Stir in the paprika, salt and pepper.

Now, strain the sauce through a moderate mesh sieve. Retain the creamy sauce that emerges and throw out the vegetables that are left in the strainer. Cover the sauce with plastic wrap and reserve.

Cook the pasta in salted boiling water in the usual way until just done. Drain the pasta.

In a large skillet, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, add the shrimp and then the red bell pepper and scallions. Cook over high heat just until the shrimp turns pink and is done. This should not take more than 2 minutes and may take less. Do Not Overcook.

Turn down the heat, add the reserved sauce to the mixture in the skillet and simmer until slightly thickened, no more than a minute or two. Stir together with the reserved cooked pasta, add the Parmesan cheese, and serve at once.

The pasta, when served, can be garnished with a sprinkling of chopped parsley or chopped or whole (long) chives if you wish.

Serve with white wine and some fresh crusty bread. And a small green salad if you wish.

P.S.: Concerning the mixture of heavy cream and whole milk, the tradeoff is between the luxuriousness of your sauce (more cream) and the state of your coronary arteries (more milk). I used one cup heavy cream and one-half cup whole milk, which made a luxurious sauce indeed. If you, healthy reader, insist on using nothing but whole milk, your sauce will still be very good and your arteries not so bad.

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

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Nina Totenberg
Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.