Steven Peterson's Reviews > The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution

The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters
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Oct 04, 09

Read in October, 2007

A few preliminary comments from the author that put the book in context. From the author (pages 4, 5): "This book is for everyone who wants to learn to cook, or to become a better cook. . . . I'm convinced that the underlying principles of good cooking are the same everywhere. These principles have less to do with recipes and techniques than they do with gathering good ingredients, which for me is the essence of cooking." Key aspects of her "philosophy" are printed on pages 6-7, among which are: eat locally and sustainably (use small, local producers as sources of fruits and vegetables, for instance); eat seasonally (a companion rule to the previous one); shop at farmer's markets; etc.

The start is nice, in that she lays out what ingredients (herbs, for instance) and equipment should be on hand for effective cooking. One simple example: the author's emphasis at several points on the value of a good supply of fresh aromatic foods to enhance flavors in a recipe (e.g., onions, carrots, and celery). Then, she discusses how to plan menus and entertain friends for dinner. Not recipes, but useful context.

The recipe sections begin with a rendering of how to make several essential sauces, including vinaigrette, salsa verde, aioli, and herb butter. None of the recipes calls for rocket science knowledge, but they are well explained and doable. One nice feature--some possible variations on the recipe. E.g., with vinaigrette, she notes that one variation could be to beat in a bit of mustard before you add the oil; alternatively, she suggests that one could a fresh nut oil for the olive oil.

There is a nice discussion of sautéing as a technique, with a nice example immediately thereafter (sautéed cauliflower). Another example of technique--poaching. Following the general discussion, she uses an example quite familiar to me: poaching salmon. I have a handful of recipes featuring poached salmon (the fish cooks through, satisfying my family, and still stays moist, satisfying me).

There are a sampling of recipes for poultry, fish/seafood, meat, etc. While the recipes are nice, I wish that there had been more. One thing I like in cookbooks is abundant choice!

Anyhow, this is a nice reference for those who enjoy cooking; it's probably also apt to be useful to those who don't like much cooking but want some doable and good recipes when called upon to fix up a meal. Worth taking a look at.
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