I own many cookbooks, but only three live in the kitchen. One is Julia Child and Simone Beck’s Mastering The Art of French Cooking, Volume One. Another is just as obvious: Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. Only one is recent: Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer’s Canal House Cooks Every Day.
Now there’s a fourth: “My Master Recipes: 165 Recipes to Inspire Confidence in the Kitchen.”
I shouldn’t have been surprised — Patricia Wells has guided my cooking for decades. I started out with Bistro Cooking. I moved on to Trattoria: Simple and Robust Fare Inspired by the Small Family Restaurants of Italy. When I understood that vegetables mattered more than a hunk of meat, I reached for Vegetable Harvest: Vegetables at the Center of the Plate.
“My Master Recipes” is organized around techniques: steaming, searing, blanching, poaching, infusing, searing, pan-frying, grilling, roasting, baking, etc. (The chapter on infusing oils, butters, salts, cheeses, and sorbets is worth the price of the book.) There’s a reason for this approach: in the cooking classes Wells teaches in Paris and Provence, she keeps discovering that her students have no idea what techniques they’re using. Once she enlightens them, their cooking improves dramatically. (Read the introduction for her clear-eyed approach to cooking.)
The book is 500 pages, but it doesn’t feel overwhelming. Or snooty. What can you do, for example, to make fried squid that’s not coated with sodden batter? Use beer in the batter. No wonder I turned down the corners of many papers with appealing recipes and photographs. [To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]
Simplicity? Here’s the recipe for a spectacular Magic Cèpe Mushroom Soup, which asks you to do not much more exotic than grind dried porcini and steep it in cream. But first, watch this video and see how simple it is to make it.
MAGIC CÈPE MUSHROOM SOUP
I call this crowd-pleasing soup my magic recipe. It is so amazing that so few ingredients — and a soup made in a matter of minutes — can have so much depth of flavor. It really is a fine example of the miracles of infusion. The dried cèpe (porcini) mushroom powder packs a maximum of fragrance and flavor and takes well to many variations: pair it with paper-thin slices of raw domestic mushrooms or seared domestic or wild mushrooms showered in the bowl at serving time; prepare with dried morel powder in place of cèpes; top with thin slices of raw black truffles; or add a dollop of mushroom-powder-infused whipped cream. The soup can be prepared up to 3 days in advance and stored in airtight containers in the refrigerator.
for 8 servings
2 ounces best-quality dried cèpe (porcini) mushrooms (or substitute dried morels)
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons Cèpe Mushroom Powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock
Chopped fresh chives, for garnish
Extra-virgin olive oil or chive oil, for garnish
Coarsely chop the dried mushrooms or cut them into pieces with scissors. Working in batches, grind them to a fine powder in the spice mill. [Makes 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) powder.]
If time permits, combine the cream and 2 tablespoons mushroom powder in a jar, seal, and refrigerate for 24 hours to infuse the cream with the mushroom flavor and aroma. (Alternatively, combine the cream and mushroom powder in the heavy-duty saucepan, bring just to a simmer, cover, remove from the heat, and set aside for 30 minutes to infuse the cream.)
At serving time, in heavy-duty saucepan, combine the infused cream, salt, and stock and bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Remove from the heat and taste for seasoning.
Serve in the warmed soup bowls, garnished with chives and a drizzle of oil.
The soup can be prepared up to 3 days in advance and stored in airtight containers in the refrigerator.
Variations: Add sliced raw domestic or wild mushrooms to the soup and cook for several minutes; add grilled, sliced fresh cèpes or domestic mushrooms; add truffle matchsticks at serving time.
Other recipes that just might encourage you to fall in love with this book..
CHICKEN AND CILANTRO MEATBALLS
My love for Asian food is never-ending, and this easy, quick chicken meatball creation is a favorite. The secret here is to steam the meatballs so they remain tender and succulent. Searing briefly afterward adds a wonderfully caramelized crust without overcooking.
Makes 25 to 30 meatballs
1 pound boneless, skinless free-range chicken breast meat
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon Vietnamese fish sauce
3 tablespoons minced fresh ginger, or 1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 cup plain dry bread crumbs
1/2 cup minced scallions, white and green parts
1 large egg, free-range and organic
1/4 cup minced fresh chives
1 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon Kaffir Lime Powder
Chicken Stock or William’s Thai Vegetable Bouillon, warmed, for serving
Cut the chicken into 1-inch cubes. Spread the meat in a single layer on the baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and freeze for 1 hour. The chicken should be stiff. (Freezing will help the food processor blade cut the meat cleanly rather than tearing or smearing it.)
Place the cubes in the food processor and process for about 15 seconds, until the chicken is coarsely ground. Transfer the chicken to a large bowl, add 1 tablespoon of the sesame oil and the remaining ingredients (except the stock), and use your hands to blend the mixture. To prevent the mixture from sticking, wet your hands with cold water, then shape the mixture into 1-1/2-inch (3 cm) balls, about the size of golf balls.
In a medium saucepan, bring 1 quart (1 l) water to a boil over high heat.
Arrange the meatballs side by side in the steamer, cover, and place on top of the saucepan. Steam until cooked through, about 5 minutes (see page 15 for best tips on steaming techniques and equipment). In a skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon sesame oil over medium-high heat and sear the meatballs for a few minutes to create a crunchy, colorful exterior. Serve in the chicken stock or vegetable stock, and garnish with fresh cilantro leaves.
GINGER AND ALMOND BARS
Makes 16 bars
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1-3/4 cups almond meal (also called almond flour or almond powder)
2 tablespoons peeled and grated fresh ginger
3 tablespoons mild honey, such as clover
1 large egg, free-range and organic, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup sliced almonds
1/3 cup minced candied ginger
1/3 cup mild honey, such as clover
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon Homemade Vanilla Extract or pure vanilla extract
Fresh Thyme Sorbet or Rosemary Sorbet, for serving (optional)
Center a rack in the oven. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line the pan with baking parchment, letting the parchment hang over the sides. (This will make it easier to remove the dessert once baked.)
In the saucepan, melt the butter. Add the almond meal, fresh ginger, honey, egg, salt, and vanilla. Stir until well combined. The mixture should be thick and sticky.
Turn the mixture out into the prepared pan. To help make a level and even base, place a piece of plastic wrap on top of the base. Using a flat-bottomed glass (or your fingers), smooth out the base by pressing gently to evenly cover the bottom of the pan. Remove and discard the plastic wrap. Bake until the base is slightly firm, 12 to 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the topping: In the same saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the almonds, candied ginger, honey, salt, and vanilla. Stir just until the ingredients are incorporated.
When the base is baked, spread the topping evenly over the base and bake until the topping is dark and sizzling, 12 to 15 minutes. Do not underbake.
Transfer the pan to the baking rack to cool. When the dessert is completely cool, remove it from the pan using the overhanging parchment as handles and cut it into 16 even squares. Serve with fresh thyme or rosemary sorbet.
This article originally appeared on The Head Butler
Photo credit: Getty Images