17 September 2011

Weekend Cooking: Review: Heart of the Artichoke by David Tanis

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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
Lay the chicken wings out on a baking sheet and season well with salt and pepper. Transfer the wings to a big mixing bowl, add all the other ingredients, and give the wings a massage. Refrigerate for at least an hour, or as long as overnight.

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!

Published by Workman / Artisan, 2010
ISBN-13: 9781579654078
Source: review (see review policy).
Rating: B+
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


TheBookGirl 9/17/11, 6:12 AM  

I am all for cookbooks that emphasize ingredients that you don't have to hunt down, and techniques that the home cook can easily employ. This sounds perfect :)

caite 9/17/11, 6:23 AM  

those wings sound tasty.
but I must say, I love all my toys in my kitchen.

Marg 9/17/11, 6:31 AM  

I like simple and tasty!

Beth F 9/17/11, 6:45 AM  

Caite: you'd have a very, very difficult time prying my kitchen toys out of my hands. On the other hand, I appreciate a cookbook that doesn't require every fancy gadget under the sun.

Louise 9/17/11, 7:21 AM  

I too love cookbooks that highlight the fresh, seasonal food available to us. They're cheaper and more nutritious too.

Beth 9/17/11, 7:37 AM  

I think I need wings...

Uniflame 9/17/11, 7:43 AM  

I will look into this book :) It sounds good. I like seasonal foods that are made with love.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks 9/17/11, 9:00 AM  

simple = best!

Thanks for the wings recipe; just the name "tomato-basil soup" warms me up today.

I posted about one of the slow cooker meals that's on regular rotation here, now that the temps are getting cooler.

Wendy 9/17/11, 11:26 AM  

Oh, this looks so good. I love simple when it comes to cooking...and this cookbook looks like one I would love (and those wings - yum!)

Nan 9/17/11, 11:41 AM  

I like the sound of the person. I like simple and not ostentatious. I fear a lot of people are put off cooking because they think it is just too hard. Such a nice review.

Pam (@iwriteinbooks) 9/17/11, 11:50 AM  

I'm with Dawn on the tomato basil soup! Also I love the cover of this. I am such a sucker for artichokes!

Bonnie 9/17/11, 12:41 PM  

I've never tried making wings, this sounds like a fairly simple recipe to try. I love artichokes and wonder what he has to say about cooking with them.

natalie @ book, line, and sinker 9/17/11, 12:52 PM  

the cover on that book is stunning! i'm all about simple recipes and like the idea of fire, water, knife, pan. that's my kind of cooking. :) sorry that my weekend cooking is a MESS this week. i really tried my best. maybe next time will be better.

Sharon Galligar Chance 9/17/11, 1:13 PM  

These sound really good, and I'm not even a big fan of wings! :)

Margot 9/17/11, 2:01 PM  

The cookbook looks great but I am fixated on the wings. I like the mix of allspice cloves, cayenne and paprika. That has my mouth watering.

Rikki 9/17/11, 2:07 PM  

Sounds like a great book! Too bad I don't eat meat, otherwise the chicken wings would sound lovely, :)

Sheila (Bookjourney) 9/17/11, 2:43 PM  

I like that it is arranged seasonally and by menu... makes it easy for the person who hates to put a lot of time in the kitchen :)

Karen White 9/17/11, 8:19 PM  

MMMmmm, love both the book and the recipe. Thanks for sharing them!

Heather S-G 9/18/11, 9:36 AM  

Oh, I'm so glad to hear your thoughts on this book! I keep eyeing it (since the cover is stunning), but I have yet to lay hands on it. Looks like I've got to make a point of tracking it down now :D

Beth(bookaholicmom) 9/18/11, 3:38 PM  

We love wings here and that seems like an easy enough recipe. The tomato-basil soup sounds interesting as well. I like that the recipes are grouped by seasons. This sounds like a wonderful cookbook.

Karen White 9/18/11, 3:40 PM  

OK, I have posted a Weekend Cooking link. My friend Annie and I have been holding what our kids call Family Cooking Academy for 2.5 years now, and I've wanted to share the idea. So, you'll find it on my (in transition) cooking blog: Real Moms Real Food v2. I hope you are inspired!

Lisa@ButteryBooks 9/18/11, 10:56 PM  

That is an interesting combo of spices. Another great cookbook!

Serena 9/19/11, 8:56 AM  

At first I thought you were going to say that these recipes all called for artichokes, which I dislike intensely. Glad to see there are recipes without them. :)

Carol @ There's Always Thyme to Cook 9/19/11, 9:18 AM  

It's an excellent cookbook, I have his first one, too, but I like this one even more. I need to start cooking again, those wings would be a great start.

Darlene 9/19/11, 1:17 PM  

This cookbook sounds terrific and so do those wings!

Michelle 9/24/11, 8:34 AM  

I am not an artichoke person at all! LOL

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