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David Tanis begins his Heart of the Artichoke with a short, personal introduction called "The Cuisine in My Head." The first thing he tells us is that he cooks for Chez Panisse. If you aren't familiar with the famous restaurant, all you need to know is that Chez Panisse means fresh, local, and friendly. I was pleased to read that Tanis, however, is happiest in his own home kitchen.
On page 4, I began to fall in love. There I learned that all a kitchen requires is "fire, water, a worktable, and a sharp knife." Tanis also suggests a blender, "a wooden spoon, and a cast-iron pan." In truth, he mentions a couple of other handy nonelectric tools and his recipes call for a variety of pots and pans, but simple works for him--and it does for me.
Somewhere in the next section, I was totally smitten. I just adore Tanis's fourteen personal, private "kitchen rituals." After reading about his favorite simple comfort foods made quickly out of odds and ends to his creating apple-peel spirals and making beautiful refrigerator jams, I knew this was a cook (chef?) after my own heart.
The recipes are arranged seasonally and grouped into menus. The flavors range from classic European to down-home American to Asian and more. I particularly like that each menu includes at least one vegetarian dish (as a side or main dish), well-matched flavors, and beautiful photographs (but not of every recipe). Each menu is built around a country or a flavor. I'll use the third menu, titled "In a Sicilian Kitchen," as an example of what you can expect.
Tanis introduces the menu by telling us story about Sicily and the Lanza family's winery outside of Palermo. We learn about the countryside, the people, the gardens, and the food. We take a tour of a Palermo market and learn how ricotta cheese is made. Then Tanis presents the recipes; each one has an introduction and short, easy-to-follow directions.
This spring menu consists of a bright, fresh salad with fennel, greens, and citrus. The flavors remind Tanis of Sicily, although his host tells him that "No Sicilian would ever eat it!" because they like their vegetables cooked. The entree is a simple baked tomato, ricotta, and pasta dish, called a timballo. It's a regional classic that's easy to put together. The meal ends with honey-flavored fried dough puffs, which are traditionally served on St. Joseph's Day.
Although I doubt I'd make the fried dough, both the salad and the pasta look delicious and perfect for a weekday dinner. Other menus include more dishes, stronger flavors, and meat, but all are accompanied by personal stories and most are appropriate for busy cooks.
I'm going to make a quick guess and say that 90% of the recipes use everyday ingredients and simple techniques. There are a handful of recipes that use ingredients that would be difficult for me to find here in central Pennsylvania or that I have no desire to fuss with. A couple are too time-consuming. On the other hand, pan-fried steak, tomato-basil soup, lamb burgers, tabbouleh, spiced pears, and apple compote are all welcome in my kitchen.
In the fall section, I found this wonderful chicken wing recipe. The other dishes in the menu are fried green tomatoes, cabbage slaw, a shrimp in a spicy sauce, scalloped corn, and molasses pecan squares. As you might imagine, the menu is called "Cooking America," and I think it'd make a great meal for a casual Saturday afternoon while watching football.
Peppery Chicken Wings
- 5 pounds of chicken wings, wing tips removed
- Salt and pepper
- 2 teaspoons ground allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon cayenne
- 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
- 4 garlic cloves, smashed to a paste with a little salt
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
Preheat the oven to 375F. Put the wings in a roasting pan or baking sheet in one layer. Roast, uncovered, until nicely browned and crisp, about 1 hour. You can eat them hot, at room temperature, or cold.
Beth Fish's notes: I seasoned the wings in the bowl to save washing the baking sheet. I smashed the garlic through a garlic press; maybe not a chef technique but certainly easier! I usually cut the two meaty sections of the wings apart at the joint, but Tanis serves the two sections connected, which saves some time and energy.
The vast majority of recipes are just this straightforward. Plenty of flavor, easy to use, happy cook!
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Source: review (see review policy).
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