Chez Panisse Gingersnap Recipe
During my interview at Chez Panisse, as I sat across the table from Alice Waters in the main dining room at the restaurant, she asked me, “What do you eat at home?” Since I’m not exactly convincing when lying, I told her. “I eat popcorn, mostly.” And continued, “I’m a restaurant cook. I don’t have time to eat at home.”
In spite of that, or because of my chutzpah, I got hired and worked at Chez Panisse, where I stayed a long time. And one of my favorite recipes that I made there were the Gingersnaps from The Art of Simple Food.
At first glance one might think— Who needs this book? But as I turned the pages, I realized that these are recipes for the staples that people could and should learn, and the book is a complete reference for anyone who wants some solid, well-tested basics new dishes to add to one’s repertoire. Unlike larger and bulkier reference tomes, the recipes in The Art of Simple Food are for the way many people cook today and the book is laid out with a simple design to make it very easy for anyone to follow the recipes. It would also make an excellent gift for someone new to cooking who maybe would like to tackle a Caesar Salad or homemade pizza dough but needs a clue as to where to begin.
Most of the recipes have just a few ingredients and if you’re anything like me, you’re often just looking for the basic proportions for things can improvise once you’ve gotten the knack of making it—so I appreciate having a recipe for a basic polenta torta, a stripped-down risotto recipe that lends itself to whatever variation one might choose, and recipes for sauces like spicy harissa, basil pesto (with winter-friendly variations), meaty Bolognese and homemade tartar sauce which would liven up a simple roasted dinner of fish, meat or vegetables.
As I read through the book, not only was I charmed by the simple line drawings by Patty Curtain, but by the friendly, approachable tone of the book. There was no preaching, just gentle guidance on how to coax the best flavors from what’s available, which some of the clearest, easy-to-follow instructions on techniques I’ve seen in a cookbook.
But most importantly, it bears the message the good food doesn’t need to be complicated, expensive, or hard-to-prepare. Some of the recipes I’ve bookmarked are the crispy Fresh-Pickled Vegetables, savory Gougères, Herb-Roasted Almonds, and Sushi Rice, all of which I’ve made over and over again, and they’ve become staples in my kitchen.