Pure Alice Waters "The Art of Simple Food"
Last updated 1/31/2008 at Noon
Few have influenced Californian and American cuisine more than Alice Waters.
Her latest cookbook, “The Art of Simple Food” (Clarkson Potter / Publishers) is her ninth…the previous eight have all been associated with her famous restaurant, Chez Panisse. She also gives credit to her associates Kelsie Kerr, Fritz Streiff and Patricia Curtan, who is also the book’s illustrator.
There is much about this book and Alice Water’s passion that remind me of the early books of Julia Child. Confidence, understanding, flexibility…all are present in this gentle and encouraging book I’d recommend to veteran cooks or rank beginners. There is none of the strident, none of the arrogance, none of the silliness of some of our current food celebrities. Yet I doubt that anyone’s star shines with more brilliance and respect than Alice Waters.
After three decades Alice has distilled her experiences into nine principles of a “delicious revolution”.
These principles are evident in this book as she begins with lessons and foundational recipes…she even tells the reader how to equip the kitchen, what to have in the pantry and how to get organized!
One of the principles is “Eat Seasonally”. Poached pears fit that principle and make a stunningly simple yet impressive dessert for family or entertaining. The recipe is so easy you may wonder why you don’t make this weekly…especially those are serious about what and how much they are eating so they can lose weight.
Alice Water’s Poached Pears
4 cups water
1 ¼ cups sugar
Zest and juice of l lemon
4 medium pears (such as Bosc, Bartlett or Anjou)
Bring water and sugar to a boil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Turn to a simmer and add zest and juice of the lemon.
Peel pears, leaving stems intact. Scoop out the small blossom end of each pear and put the pears into the barely simmering sugar syrup. Add more water if needed to cover the pears. Cook the pears for 15-40 minutes, depending on the variety and ripeness, until tender and translucent, but not soft. Test with a sharp paring knife at the thickest part of the pear. Remove from the heat and coo. Serve water or chilled with some of the poaching liquid, reduced or not.
Store in the refrigerator submerged in the poaching liquid.
Variations: (there are more in the book)
Substitute 3 cups dry fruity white or red wine for 3 cups water.
Substitute ¾ to 1 cup honey for the sugar.
Serve with whipped cream, creame fraiche, warm chocolate sauce, raspberry sauce, garnish of fresh raspberries.
Waters writes about Guacamole, “There are many varieties of avocadoes and all may be used, but the Haas avocado is the ideal choice. The flesh has a rich, nutty and herby taste. It is a good keeper, it peels easily and the pit is easily removed. An avocado is ripe when it yields to the gentle pressure of your thumb.”
Alice Water’s Guacamole
2 ripe avocados
1 tbsp. fresh lime juice
2 tbsp. finely chopped onion
2 tbsp. chopped cilantro
Cut avocados in half and remove pits.
Scoop the flesh out of the skins with a spoon into a mortar and mash it roughly with a pestle. Stir in lime juice, onion, cilantro and some salt. Taste and add more salt and lime juice as needed.
Variation: For a spicy guacamole, add a jalapeno or Serrano pepper, seeded and finely diced.
Those who know about Alice Waters know she loves fresh vegetables. In her latest book a large section is devoted to vegetables from Artichoke to Zucchini. Here is one of her simple recipes for green beans enhanced with toasted almonds and lemon. Taste and see…it just doesn’t get much better! Waters suggests this as a wonderful side dish for pan-fried fish.
Green Beans with Toasted Almonds and Lemon
1 pound green beans
3 tbsp. butter
¼ cup sliced almonds
Juice of ½ lemon
Trim stem end from green beans.
Melt 3 tbsp. butter in a heavy pan over medium heat. When the foam has begun to subside, add ¼ cup sliced almonds. Cook, stirring fairly often, until the almonds begin to brown. Turn off the heat and add juice of ½ lemon and salt.
Cook prepared beans until tender in salted boiling water. Drain well and toss with the almonds and butter. Taste for salt and adjust as needed.
Variations: Substitute pecans or hazelnuts for the almonds
Use romano beans or Dragon’s Tongue beans instead of tender green beans.
Add a clove of finely chopped garlic to the butter just before adding the beans.
Winter Roasted Tomatoes
This is a simple preparation to satisfy that wintertime craving for deep tomato flavor. Exact proportions are unimportant.
Choose a wide, shallow earthenware dish and pour olive oil to cover the bottom. Over the oil spread a diced onion, 2 or 3 garlic cloves sliced thin, and a scattering of fresh herb leaves such as marjoram, parsley, rosemary or basil. Season with salt. Drain a large can of organic whole tomatoes (drink juice or save for another use), and arrange tomatoes in a single layer over the onions, garlic and herbs. Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with a little sugar and drizzle with olive oil. Bake, uncovered, at 275 degrees. Coarsely cut up the tomatoes and serve as a sauce with warm pasta, roasted meats and beans or whatever you like. The tomatoes are also delicious served on crusty bread as an hors d’oeuvre.
Maybe its never happened to you. It has happened to me: the only green vegetable in the crisper is celery. So, I make braised celery. However, I believe that henceforth mine with be as taught by Alice Waters. For, you see, there is braised celery and then there is Braised Celery!
Alice Water’s Braised Celery
1 head celery
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion, sliced thin
2 or 3 thyme sprigs
1 cup chicken or beef broth
Remove the tough outer stalks of l head celery. Trim the root end close to the bottom of the stalks and cut off the leafy tops. Pull off the outer stalks to expose the pale green heart. Cut the gruup of stalks at the heart in half lengthwise and then in half again as wedges. Line up all the stalks and cut in half crosswise.
Pour oil into a heavy pan and heat to medium. Add onion and thyme. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the celery. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes or until the onions and celery have browned a little season with salt. Add chicken or beef broth. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer. Cove the pan and cook until the celery is tender. The sauce should be thick and coat the celery; if not, uncover the pan, raise the heat and reduce the liquid as much as needed. Taste for salt and serve.
Variation: For a milder dish, blanch the celery for 7 minutes in salted boiling water before browning it with the onions.
Chef Panisse is known for fresh, wonderful food….and delicious, divine desserts. Thus one would not pass on a cake that Water says is “moist, versatile and stores well.” She also said that although the recipe makes one 9-inch round cake, it can be made in any format from cupcakes to a multi-tiered wedding cake.
Alice Water’s Chocolate Cake
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 cups cake flour
2 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
6 tbsp. cocoa powder
8 tbsp. (1 stick) butter, softened
2 ½ cups brown sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
3 eggs, at room temperature
½ cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 ¼ cups boiling water
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Butter a 9-inch cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Butter the paper and dust the pan with flour or cocoa, shaking out the excess.
Put the chocolate into a heat-proof bowl. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water (The water should not touch the bowl. Turn off the heat. Stir the chocolate from time to time until completely melted and smooth. Remove the bowl from over the pan.
Sift together cake flour, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder.
In a large bowl or a stand mixer, beat butter until creamy. Add brown sugar and vanilla and beat (cream) until light and fluffy. Beat eggs into mixture one at a time.
When egg are fully incorporated, stir in the melted chocolate. Add half the dry ingredients to this mixture and combine. Then stir in buttermilk. Stir in the rest of the dry ingredients.
Gradually pour in 1 ¼ cups boiling water, mixing just until incorporated.
Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Place the pan on a wire rack and allow cake to cool completely.
Run knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake. Remove the cake from the pan and peel off the parchment paper. If not using the same day, store the fully cooled cake in the pan, tightly covered.
For a sheet pan, prepared a half-sheet pan as above. Pour in batter, smooth the top and bake for about 20 minutes.
Or, bake in two 9-inch cake pans for a two-layer cake.
For 24 individual cupcakes, bake for about 30 minutes.