Thursday, August 07, 2008

Alice Waters: A Smooth Launch

I own nine Chez Panisse cookbooks. 

Chez Panisse Fruit (FRUIT)
Chez Panisse Vegetables (VEG)
Chez Panisse Cooking (CP)
Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook (MENU)
Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook (CAFE)
Chez Panisse Desserts (D)
Chez Panisse Pasta, Pizza, Calzone (PPC)
Fanny at Chez Panisse (FANNY)
The Art of Simple Food (SF)

For someone who bears a grudge against Alice Waters, that's impressive.

I'm going to approach this project a little differently. Instead of cooking from a single volume, I'm going to cook from the whole family of cookbooks, identifying the source of each recipe with a shorthand code (see above.)

Last night I tackled homemade egg pasta and pesto (SF), dishes I've made many times before, usually relying on recipes from Marcella Hazan. The differences were slight and subtle, but I have to concede that Waters' recipes for both pesto and pasta worked a bit better than Hazan's. The pasta called for egg yolks in addition to whole eggs, and yielded a moist, supple dough that rolled easily into silky, paper thin sheets.
Waters' pesto formula was also superior to Hazan's -- more oil, less cheese. I've always thought I like maximum pungency, but I actually preferred this milder, richer combination. 

I was very peeved, however, that Waters does not even acknowledge the possibility of making excellent pesto in a food processor. A starry-eyed novice might read her recipe and think one really does have to haul out the mortar and pestle. Criminal!!! "I love the sensory experience of pounding it and smelling it and tasting it as I go," Waters coos.

Well, bully for you. But I really just want to get dinner cooked and on the table so I can start eating. I don't want to dawdle, pounding and smelling and humming Italian folk songs. I will never, ever make pesto in a mortar. I make mine in the Cuisinart -- something even stern Marcella permits. And so should all cookbook writers.

Anyway. "I guess we have to score a point for Alice," my mother said, somewhat reluctantly, as she ate her incredibly delicious pasta and Cuisinart-blended pesto.

As accompaniment we had Green Bean and Cherry Tomato salad (SF). Very nice. Very plain. Very healthy. What else can one say?
The blackberry ice cream (D) was not such a success. My powerful, much-used ice cream machine tends to overchurn pure-cream ice cream (as opposed to custard-based ice cream) turning it into something akin to frozen butter. Sad. The ice cream -- made with berries picked by Owen then pureed by Owen in my shiny food mill -- was a brilliant electric purple color, and had wonderful flavor. But the texture was, well, it was undeniably dreadful.


  1. Dear Tipsy,

    Aaahh!!! I'm just getting ready to try my first homemade pasta from PPC and am thrilled and inspired by your efforts (and gorgeous photos). I'm cooking this with a dear friend who lives directly behind the resto... Coincidentally, I just picked up a book called "Alice Waters and Chez Panisse" (with a really long subtitle). I'll let you know how it all goes!

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