Monday, June 6, 2011

Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters

Chez Panisse Vegetables

I love just about everything about this book. I love the way it looks. I love the descriptions of the vegetables. I love that other people are cooking with and eating things I’ve never encountered before. I love that the vegetables are centered on common ones that grow well in all areas of North America. I love that any one of the recipes could be served to guests. When one has grown or purchased fine expensive local produce (and it is expensive in time if not money if you grow it yourself)it is so nice to have a recipe which doesn’t obscure the color, flavor, texture of the vegetable, but makes it sublime. I love that many of the vegetables and herbs are discussed in detail, including their season of ripening, so you know when to expect the harvest to grace your kitchen. And the original lino-cuts of the vegetables are not to be missed. You simply MUST see this book, even if you have to visit your local bookstore to do so. The lino-cuts are exquisite full-color drawings of each vegetable with its unique characteristics. You may decide to try something new for your family when you’ve seen this lovely tome. One gift deserves another.

The book is so beautiful I hate to bring it into the kitchen. And it saddens me that the vegetables must be pulled from the garden THAT DAY to be used in these simple veggie-centered meals. If you have an abundant garden, or live close by a farmer’s market with innovative vegetable choices, you may survive. But you simply cannot expect to use supermarket groceries for these recipes and expect them to taste like they would in Alice Waters’ restaurant, the Chez Panisse. The simpler a recipe it is, the more difficult it can be: for instance, “a drizzle of olive oil” really requires the best olive oil if that is the only dressing. And one must have infinite experience to make a simple meal: sautéing must have the proper proportion of oil at the correct temperature for the proper amount of time—this is all experience—no recipe can tell you when it is right for your ingredients. And–horrors—I often don’t follow a recipe EXACTLY because of ingredients or amounts on hand. The recipes in this book really work better when you follow the directions within reason. I have much more respect for those chefs that make simple, beautiful, flavorful meals and know why they are so expensive. Less is often more.

But every year I tell people about the first time I tried Alice’s suggestion at a dinner party: tiny baby hakuri with greens attached laid in a tiny amount of boiling water in a large saucepan for a short time until greens are bright green and bulbs slightly softened. That’s it—and it will change the way you view turnips, and vegetables in general. It’s beautiful, soul-satisfying, simple, and fresh. There was also a time I used 1-lb of kale, 2-lbs of spinach, and 1 large head of escarole in one dish feeding six people. It cooked down to perfect portions!

Now that farmer’s market and local produce is popular again, do yourself a favor and see this book. You may want to treat yourself. This is the way rich people eat.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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