Friday, October 5

Simple Food

I have a new cookbook: The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters. What a lovely book. First, the most fun in reading a cookbook is often in its introduction. By the way, I didn't write enough about Claudia Roden's book on Middle Eastern cooking... now there's a thrilling introduction in which history unfolds from the perspective of food.

Waters' introduction sticks to cooking. However her style is sophisticated yet simple, thus very easy to learn from, and then to put the new knowledge into practice. She covers ingredients and kitchen materials in an inspiring way--I for one am inspired to buy some baking sheets!

I was especially struck that her first chapter is on sauces. In my experience sauces are normally relegated to the back. And only four are profiled in that chapter: vinaigrette, salsa verde, aioli, and herb butter. Somehow that subtle choice is greatly significant. From the very start she puts four easy yet sophisticated tools in her readers' hands, so that you can take any simple dish to the next level of taste.

The first half of the book consists of typical chapters--sauces, salads, vegetables, poultry, etc--but they contain only three or four recipes, and one or more essays on the tastes and techniques involved. You can see that Waters is a teacher at heart. (In fact she apparently trained in Montessori before becoming a chef.) The second half of the book repeats the same chapters, but this time with more recipes and no essays. This is lovely for me because it is much easier to learn from a short chapter and a few representational recipes, and then for actual cooking to pick out something more specifically suitable from the appendix-like chapters in the back.

I haven't really delved into using this book, though I've stashed many recipes into my computer program. I'm going to add some of them to my meal plans for the next few weeks. In particular I'm excited to try new techniques which she explains very clearly, such as pie-making. (She recommends making galettes, where you fold the edge of the pie dough over the filling so that it is self-contained, and no pie dish is necessary for baking--which is great because I don't have any, and hardly have the space to store such a thing.) In any case, the subject of meal planning leads us to my next post...