A LOOK INSIDE
Some of the stories and recipes in the cookbook
In late October of 2011, I underwent open-heart surgery. There was no warning, no history of disease, no serious abuse that led the inner lining of my ascending aorta to tear. Sometimes things just break...
I was rushed to Beth Israel Hospital. There was very little time to spend with my wife, no chance to see my children, and no second option. Strange how a lifetime is ultimately translated into only minutes: clarified, distilled, precise, and yet unfair.
I woke up a day later with many questions swirling through my head. The immediacy of the surgery hadn’t allowed me to contemplate what this might mean for my career as a chef. There had been more pressing issues at hand. Now that I had made it through and was starting to wrap my head around what happened, I wondered if my body—the body that had just betrayed me—would recover enough to allow me to return to the kitchen. I also wondered why this had happened to me. Why now? I have always felt proud of my diet and health-conscious cooking. I had led a balanced lifestyle, but still wondered if this condition was at all related to the way I had been eating.
After my surgery and homecoming, the gestures of encouragement poured in: get-well cards, concerned emails, thoughtfully chosen books and poems, inspirational movies, and carefully packed homemade meals. I appreciated everyone who reached out during this time, but it dawned on me that my fellow cooks had a special ability to connect and communicate through the food they shared. Some simply nourished and others dazzled, but every dish told a story. With the help of these restaurant folks and their deliveries, I eased my way back into being myself again by tasting each expression: barley and basil brought solidarity in tough times, kale-and-beet salad reconnected me with the garden, chicken fricassee invoked nostalgia, parsnip soup acted like a familiar handshake, poached lemon char sparked dreams, chocolate-chip cookies felt just like a pat on the back.
Sugar Snap Peas and Cucumbers
1. To make the dressing, heat the oil in a 2-quart pot over medium-low heat and cook the shallot and garlic, stirring, until soft and translucent. Add the honey and allow to caramelize slightly. Add the vegetable stock and bring to a simmer. Add the cucumbers and simmer until slightly softened, about 10 minutes. Add the herbs and remove from heat.
2. Transfer the mixture to a medium metal bowl set over a larger bowl of ice and water and chill, stirring occasionally. When the vegetables are cold, strain them through a sieve set over a bowl, reserving vegetables and broth.
3. Blend the cucumber mixture in a blender with the avocado, yogurt, and enough of the broth to puree it to a smooth sauce. Strain the blended dressing through a fine-mesh strainer and season with salt and pepper. Chill, covered, until ready to serve the salad. (The dressing can be made 1 day ahead.)
4. To make the salad, begin by layering the sliced cucumbers, lightly salting them, in a colander set over a bowl. Let stand 20 minutes.
5. Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Boil the sugar snaps for 10 seconds and transfer to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain the sugar snaps and thinly slice on the diagonal.
6. Rinse the cucumber slices and pat dry. Transfer them to a medium bowl and toss with the sugar snaps and chopped herbs. Drizzle with the lemon juice and olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
7. To serve, pour 1⁄4 cup of the cucumber dressing into each of 4 wide soup dishes. Divide the salad equally among the dishes, mounding it in the center of the dressing.
1 pound seedless Persian cucumbers, with peel, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 cup sugar snap peas, strings removed
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup cucumber dressing (see below)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon wildflower honey
2 cups vegetable stock
1 pound seedless Persian cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced
1⁄4 cup mixed chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, cilantro, and tarragon
1⁄2 ripe Hass avocado
3 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Chef, restaurateur, activist, author
I have always thought that one of the greatest foods in exis- tence is garlic. So much so that in the very early days of Chez Panisse, we started a yearly garlic festival. We’ve always held the festival on Bastille Day— July 14—and it’s a wonderful midsummer celebration of music, dance, wine, and everything that is ripe and in season—and of the garlic harvest. A lot of garlic it is: early in the morning on Bastille Day every year, four or five women from the neighborhood arrive, gather around a table in the dining room, and start helping to peel the cloves. We call them our garlic ladies, and some of them have been coming for the better part of 40 years! By the afternoon they have peeled hundreds upon hundreds of cloves—all of which are then handily dispatched by the cooks and put to good use for that night’s dinner. The entire restaurant is festooned with beribboned garlands of garlic, including one in the shape of a giant peace sign that presides over the entrance. You can imagine the aroma!
One year, in the late seventies, right after we started the festival, the great filmmaker Les Blank brought his camera and made his documentary Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers—the title comes from an amazing old proverb that I love. One of the dishes Les filmed us preparing was a roasted chicken with 40 cloves of garlic. I remember it was one of the first times I had made it, but I thought it would perfectly reflect the incredible richness and flavor of garlic—and show just how much of it you can use. Les’s documentary is wonderful, but when i saw the film later on, I realized I hadn’t cooked the garlic or the chicken nearly as much as I should have! The way I prepared chicken back then has absolutely nothing to do with the way we cook it now. (Now we often spit-roast it over the fire, though turning it in a hot cast-iron pan or in the oven can be just as good.)
That is part of the beauty of cooking. It’s about doing it over and over to get it right, year after year, learning from other cooks and friends, and improving and changing as you go. And, of course, it is also about enjoying that evolution of taste, company, and conversations along the way.
We have learned so much now: it has been almost four decades since the first festival, and many thousands of garlicky chickens have been roasted since I blithely made it for Les Blank. And this year for Bastille Day, chicken with 40 cloves of garlic—cooked just the way we like it these days—is exactly what we are making.
Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic
Adapted from The Art of Simple Food II
1. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and let stand 30 minutes.
2. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
3. Heat a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. pat the seasoned chicken dry. Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil to the skillet and swirl to coat the bottom. Add the chicken and brown on both sides, about 16 minutes total.
4. Meanwhile, put the garlic cloves, herb sprigs, and bay leaf in a low ovenproof pot or casserole with a cover, and toss with the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil.
5. Arrange the chicken in one layer over the garlic, cover the surface of the chicken with a round of parchment or foil to help keep the juices in, and cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid.
6. Bake the chicken in the middle of the oven until just cooked through, 45 to 50 minutes. Remove from the oven.
7. Turn the broiler on high. Remove the lid and the parchment from the chicken and put under the broiler until the chicken is browned, about 5 minutes. Remove.
8. Put the bread on a rimmed baking sheet and broil until toasted, about 1 minute per side.
9. Serve the chicken and garlic with the toasted bread.
4 chicken legs or 1 whole chicken cut up into 8 pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 heads garlic, separated into cloves, unpeeled
10 thyme sprigs or 5 savory sprigs
1 bay leaf
4 thick slices crusty bread
I had the ultimate Jewish grandmother. But she was a high-school principal and also very scientific. She loved fashion, she loved style, and she loved baking, I think because it was like alchemy. Particularly something like her pineapple upside-down cake. First, it has all these dry ingredients that transform into something totally different. then there’s the thrill of flipping the pan perfectly when you take it out of the oven, and finding that glaze at the bottom of the cake. I think she looked at it like a food science project.
What’s funny about it, too, is that I made it once on Martha Stewart’s show, and when I got there Martha looked at me and said, “Canned pineapple and canned maraschino cherries for garnish? No, no, Michael, no, it has to be fresh.” and I said, “No, no. this recipe is from the era when there was something magical about the fact that fruit could be canned. In fact, I tried it once with fresh pineapple and it didn’t work. and you need all that red food dye in the maraschino cherries because it turns into a little party on the plate.”
A funny coincidence is that Bette Midler worked at the Dole pineapple plant when she was a kid growing up in Honolulu. So I like to imagine that somehow, at some point, my grandmother made a pineapple upside-down cake with a can of Dole pineapple that Bette Midler packed. Wouldn’t that be the best?
Grandma Bea’s Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
A cast-iron skillet is ideal for preparing this cake and helps it caramelize while baking.
1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
2. Drain the pineapple rings. Place the pineapple rings on a wire rack and continue to drain.
3. In a 9-inch cast-iron skillet or round cake pan (not spring form), melt 2 ounces (1⁄2 stick) of the butter over medium heat. Stir in the brown sugar until evenly moistened and remove the pan from the heat. Place 1 whole slice of pineapple in the center of the pan and surround with 7 more slices. Place cherries in the centers of the pineapple slices. Firmly press the pecans into the gaps between the slices.
4. In a bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolks with the vanilla until smooth and lemony in color.
5. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the dry ingredients and
mix at low speed. Add the remaining butter and mix at low speed until blended. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the sides. Gradually add the egg mixture in small batches and beat at medium speed until the eggs are incorporated and the batter is smooth. Scrape the batter into the fruit- lined pan, smoothing evenly with the spatula.
6. Bake in the middle of the oven until golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 1 to 11⁄4 hours. Place the pan on a wire rack and cool for 10 minutes.
7. Run a small sharp knife around the edge of the pan to release the cake. Place a large serving plate over the pan and invert onto the plate. Any fruit that sticks to the pan can easily be removed with a small metal spatula and returned to the top of the cake. Serve.
1 (20.5 ounce) can pineapple rings with juice
6 ounces (11⁄2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
1 small jar maraschino cherries
1 cup chopped pecans
4 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
11⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract
11⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon table salt
11⁄2 cups granulated sugar