Not only do I read cookbooks like they were novels, but I read reviews of cookbooks. Recently I ran onto a review of Twelve Recipes by Cal Peternell. Twelve recipes, I thought? How did this guy get by with publishing only twelve recipes in a cookbook?
I read on to discover that was not the case. Twelve Recipes is the work of the head chef at San Francisco’s renown Chez Panisse. He’s been there for nearly thirty years, which says something for his culinary appeal. The book title comes from his belief that if you can learn one recipe from each of his chapters, you’re set to go in the kitchen. Written in a narrative style, the book was inspired by Peternell wanting to give his college-bound son a primer of basic recipes on which to build.
The review lured me onto Amazon, where I peeked at the “Look Inside” feature and immediately saw that his writing was as well-seasoned as his recipes. Whimsical drawings and photos (he, his wife and sons are all artists) give each page an eye-popping appeal to counterpunch his spicy comments.
Here’s an example of his light-hearted approach: Some kids have to wash the car, my kids have to wash the parsley and here’s how. Fill a big bowl with cold water and dip the whole bunch of parsley in, swishing it around like you mean it. Lift it, give it a preliminary shake and then drip as little as possible as you walk quickly outside. Swing the bunch by the stems, flip it like a whip, spritz the sidewalk, the yard, the dog, the world.
The writer gently imparts bits of culinary wisdom, much of which we already know, but need to be reminded. Such things as: always taste as you cook; make and freeze your own stock, don’t depend on canned broth; and a pork shoulder (commonly called a butt), when properly season with salt, pepper, fennel, coriander, and cumin, provides a tasty meat for days afterwards to use in pastas, tacos, sandwiches and soups.
In another droplet of sage advice, the author says when cooking in a skillet, only add the oil when the pan is hot and follow up quickly with the food you’re cooking. I know that, but in haste, often ignore it.
So what is the take away from Twelve Recipes? “You are empowered to cook,” Peternell says confidently. “People should not get freaked out by the idea it’s hard, or only for professionals. It’s something everyone can do, and everyone used to do. We need to get back there.”
I like his style (and smile), which easily convinced me I needed yet another cookbook.