Monday, October 1, 2007

The Best Cookbook in the World

Once upon a time I belonged to one of those cookbook of the month clubs. I've finally gotten wise to that racket. Those people totally have my number. I'm not the sort who will religiously fill out the little return card and get it back to them in time, thus assuring that I will be sent the "Selection of the Month", every single month. Usually, I'd just not open the package and mark it "Return to Sender" but seriously, there are just more important things to do with ones time than run to the post office every month to return a book you could have avoided having shipped to your house in the first place.

Point is, one time it worked out. I got my package and had every intention of sending it back except we were in the process of moving and it was simply not a priority. I actually packed the stupid thing and moved it to the new house. Once we were settled, I was going through the bills and discovered 2 notices for the book. Yeah, I'd had it that long. But I noticed that I was being billed for a book called Patricia Wells: At Home in Provence and I thought, "Hey, I like French stuff". So I opened it.

There were beautiful photographs of delicious looking food. I started to peruse the recipes. They sounded good. Then I did something I'd never done before. I sat down and started to read the book. Not peruse, not scan - read. It was compelling. Wells has a very down-to-earth style of writing about food. She takes incredibly simple ingredients and waxes rhapsodic about them. The recipes were all very straight forward, with short ingredient lists. The food was French but it wasn't fussy or complicated. And everything sounded soooo good: I was in the game and poultry section before I found a recipe that I thought I probably wouldn't want to make. (Something to do with quail, I think; I can't be bothered with little bony birds).

After a very satisfying read, I started to cook from the book. It was summer and I exhausted every seasonally appropriate recipe. There is a gratin of tomato, basil and eggplant which became a feature at dinner parties. (People would take seconds and then ask, "What's in this?" When told they'd always reply, "But I don't care for eggplant". "Apparently, you do now," I'd reply. Her recipe for tomato confit? A pure celebration of the fruit, assuming it's been a summer for ripening (unlike this year).

She also has some very clever takes on dishes, like a penne "risotto" that has you cook the penne in oil, as you would arborio rice, then -just as you would with the rice - adding ladlesful of chicken stock until the pasta is done; finishing it off with tomato paste and rosemary. Who knew? And it's delicious.

Her recipes for bouillabaisse, roast chicken, and leg of lamb are standards in our family now. She makes a salad dressing with red wine vinegar infused with shallots that is a dream. And the desserts? Oh, lord, don't get me started. I have a tendency to drop the ball when it comes to making desserts. Baking has its satisfactions but I usually don't feel I can be bothered. She's got a fruit tart, though, that'll rock your world and it is beyond simple. (I'm going to have to give it a post of its own; yes, yes I will).

This is what my copy of the book looks like:

As you can see, I've set it on fire. Twice.
The inside is rather worn, too:

The book falls open to the roast chicken recipe. That's how often we use it.

I have no intention of replacing this well-worn volume. It's sturdily made and while it may be crumpled and burned and stained, it's holding up. In fact, I have a fantasy that some day Pat Wells will be in Seattle for a book signing and I'll take this book and ask her to autograph it. I like to think that she'd be very flattered to know it was so well used.


Buck said...

Now, THAT's how a cook book should look!

You've got me hungry for bouillabase. I've never had it and I know I'd like it.

Nicole Bradshaw said...

Based on your recommendation, I recently bought this book. WOW. I DID sit down and read it.

Preparing for my first recipe - pureed turnips with cumin. Never have been a huge turnip-eater, but they are seasonal. And she makes them sound really good. Will let you know how it goes!

Lorraine said...

That's one of the things about that book, Nicole. She makes you willing to try things you don't think you like. For sure let me know if the Pat Wells magic holds.