The Art of Simple Food
Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution
by Alice Waters
The revolution that Alice Waters led with the opening of her Berkeley, California, restaurant Chez Panisse in 1971 was subtle but mighty. She chose to source all of her ingredients from small, organic farmers within 100 miles of the restaurant. Today, with the move toward localism, this decision seems quaint, but at the time it was a revelation that good cooking required little more than the best ingredients grown and prepared with care. In The Art of Simple Food, Waters reaffirms her philosophy that eating seasonally and locally can reconnect families and communities, delight our senses, and assure our well-being. She also insists that anyone can learn to cook by choosing good ingredients—widely available at farmers markets—and mastering simple techniques. Accordingly, she divides her book into two parts: part one reviews the basics of stocking the pantry and models essential techniques for everything from quick frying to slow cooking, while part two delivers over 200 recipes to put those techniques to use.
Given her dedication to the freshest fruits and vegetables, it should come as no surprise that Waters’ recipes are heavily produce-driven. The thickest recipe chapter is the one on vegetables every which way: grilled, braised, sautéed, roasted and gratineed. Inventive choices like green pea and asparagus ragout or carrot puree with caraway and cumin bring out the intense flavors of each individual vegetable. Waters is a big proponent of fruit for dessert, so you’ll find recipes for seasonal fruit compotes, fruit pies and tarts, and fruit-flavored ice creams and sherberts. Standouts include tarte tatin, apricot soufflé, and strawberry ice cream. But before jumping to dessert, Waters builds her meals around simple organic proteins like succulent roast chickens, braised lamb shanks and baked wild salmon, accompanied by hearty grains such as red rice pilaf or polenta. Often, the straightforward recipes call for little more than salt, pepper and a little good olive oil. As Waters explains, “When you have the best and tastiest ingredients, you can cook simply and the food will be extraordinary because it tastes like what it is.” A revolutionary concept, indeed.
Green Pea and Asparagus Ragout
¾ pound green peas
Snap the ends from:
¾ pound asparagus
Slice, on a slight diagonal, into slices between &frac18 and ¼ inch thick. Leave the tips 1 ½ inches long; split them in half lengthwise if they are thick. Melt, in a heavy pan over medium heat 2 tablespoons butter.
3 spring onions, trimmed and sliced (about ¾ cup)
Cook for 4 or 5 minutes, until soft. Add the sliced asparagus and shelled peas with:
½ cup water
Cook for 4 or 5 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Swirl in:
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon chopped parsley or chervil
Taste for salt and adjust as needed.
Tender young fava beans can be substituted for some or all of the peas.
Use sugar snap peas trimmed and sliced on the diagonal instead of shelling peas.
Slice 1 or 2 stalks of green garlic and add with the asparagus and peas.
Reviewed by Rachel Levin
(Updated: 09/21/09 AR)