For February, I have chosen Alice Water’s The Art of Simple Food.
During the month of February, as I have opportunity, I will cook through the recipes that are of particular interest to me. I have always been fascinated by this anthology of basics because Waters is never bored with any ingredient, however humble. She is known for her flawless and classic taste. Her recipes are not excessive, the presentation not dramatic. So, refreshingly, there is very little fuss in this cookbook – these are basic foods cooked in basic ways, but the methods, and the few accessory flavors chosen, produce delicious results without fail. But, there is much delight in each ingredient. No vegetable or fruit or meat is taken for granted but enjoyed for its own beauty and glory. This truly falls in line with the essence of the creation mandate – take it, cultivate it, see what you can make of it, yes. But first, look at it. Appreciate it. Pay attention. Give thanks for it. The layers of the onion and its juice that bites, the bright orange of the carrot and its surprising sweetness, the oddity that is the artichoke – these are all such fascinating creations, and I find that Waters encourages me toward delighting not only in it, but in its Creator, all the more.
One thing I love is Waters’ “Variations” – easy ways to change the recipe slightly to appeal to your tastes in the moment, and then the how to go about it. All of her ideas are spot-on. For example, for her Onion Custard Pie, if you’ve become bored of the recipe as written, she suggests sautéing the onions with thyme, or adding crisp bacon to the bottom of the tart shell before the custard goes in, or using a different cheese than Gruyère, or replacing half of the onions with 2 cups sautéed greens. For her Curly Kale and Potato Soup, she suggests adding 1/2 pound of linguisa, chorizo, or spicy garlic sausage, garnishing with croutons, or adding 1 1/2 cups cooked white beans 10 minutes before serving. It is knowledgeable and inspiring writing like this that makes a cookbook last a lifetime of meals.
Lastly, there is not a vegetable that she doesn’t tell you exactly how to cook. So if you don’t know what a parsnip is, or you haven’t got a clue what to do with swiss chard, or the only thing you have in the fridge is celery, she’s got ideas for you. The same is true for eggs and meats and sauces and sweets, picnics and menu-planning and pantry-stocking. Knowledgeable and inspiring.
These are only some of the recipes which caught my eye, and a few of which I hope to hit this month:
-Jicama Salad with Orange and Cilantro
-Persimmon and Pomegranate Salad
-Grapefruit and Avocado Salad
-Moroccan Carrot Salad with Ginger
-White Bean and Butternut Squash Soup
-Spicy Cauliflower Soup
-Sweet Corn Soup
-Moroccan Sweet Potato Salad
-Braised Short Ribs
-Long-Cooked Lamb Shoulder
-Curly Kale and Potato Soup
-Chicken Legs Braised with Tomatoes, Onions, and Garlic
-Roasted Root Vegetables
-White Beans with Rosemary and Garlic
I have already made her Carrot Soup, which you can read about here.