Kitchen Workshop: Twelve Recipes with Chef Cal Peternell of Chez Panisse

Cal Peternell_credit Ed Anderson

Chef Cal Peternell. Photo by Ed Anderson

Kitchen Workshop host Mary Reilly, editor and publisher of Edible Pioneer Valley, speaks to Cal Peternell about his book Twelve Recipes. Cal been a part of the team at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California for nearly twenty years and is currently the chef of the downstairs restaurant.

His book embraces the idea that we should know how to cook a few things well. Then we can use those recipes as springboard for more creative thought. Twelve Recipes is written from a professional chef’s perspective, so experienced cooks will feel as if they have found a peer in its pages. But, it’s written from a father’s point of view as well; so a less-experienced cook will also find a comforting voice. Learn more about Cal Peternell at CalPeternell.com, and pick up a copy of Twelve Recipes at your favorite local bookseller!

Shop Indie Bookstores Recipes for Pesto and Leblebi  below the fold

Recipes by Chef Cal Peternell, excerpted with permission from his book, Twelve Recipes

PESTO Maybe, like me, you’ve read pesto recipes that are so insistent on certain ingredients, tools, and techniques that after reading them you feel as if you can barely manage to pour yourself a glass of water with any authenticity, let alone achieve pesto sauce. This five-ingredient classic should be as easy to make as it is to love, and it is, especially if you have a blender. You don’t need exactly the right tiny basil leaves from a Genovese hillside garden overlooking the sea, and you don’t even need to have the mortar and pestle from which the sauce takes its name (through you ought to). You do need conviction, a generous bunch of fresh basil, decent olive oil, real Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, and garlic, and even if you don’t have them all, there are substitutions for some of them. There is no substitute for conviction. To pair with pesto, spaghetti is best. Gemelli and trofie are also wonderful. Scant ¼ teaspoon salt 1 big bunch basil, leaves only (about 3 lightly packed cups; see page 244 for more on preparing basil and other herbs) Scant ¼ cup pine nuts, toasted tan, not brown (page 11) ½ teaspoon pounded garlic ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving 3 8 cup olive oil 1 pound spaghetti, gemelli, or trofie  Put a big pot of cold water on to boil. Add salt. Push half of the basil leaves down into the blender. Add the pine nuts, garlic, salt, and cheese, top with the remaining basil leaves, and push it all down hard with a spoon. Add the oil and begin the pulse and push method. You don’t want the blender to grind up only the leaves that are at the bottom, nor do you want it too finely pureed. The solution is to pulse the blender for a second, stir the contents with a spoon, and then tamp it all back down. Pulse again, push it down again. Repeat this process, taking care to remove the spoon before running the blender. (Seriously. I’ve ground the tip of a wooden spoon into pesto and it’s not good. Splintery. So now I keep the button-pushing hand away while the spoon-wielding hand is at work.) Keep going, and shortly after everyone in your house is annoyed and begging you to stop, the pesto should be ground enough so that the blades catch and it all swirls around in a fragrant green conical whirl. You can hear it when it catches and all is being pureed, not just the stuff at the bottom. Though it is glorious, let it go for only a few seconds. The pesto should have flow but still be a little chunky. If it gets pale and creamy-looking, you’ve gone too far this time, but hey, the summer’s just started. Taste and add what’s needed and then pulse a final second to mix in any additions. When the pesto is done, cook the pasta in the salted boiling water. Stir frequently. Put the pesto sauce into your serving bowl, and just before draining the pasta, stir a little of the water into the sauce to thin it slightly and make it easier to mix. Add the drained pasta, toss, taste, correct, and serve with cheese for grating. When good basil is not available, you can replace it with 1 bunch parsley and a small handful of marjoram leaves, and trade the pine nuts for toasted walnuts. In winter, a quarter pound of arugula can also be substituted for the out-of- season basil. This Sicilian version is spicier, though, and needs the sweetness of 1/4 cup each of pine nuts and walnuts, and 1/4 cup more grated cheese to balance out its sharpness. Mint leaves can be added to arugula pesto or used in equal parts with parsley to make an aromatic pesto of their own for pasta sauce or a salsa for grilled lamb. In summer, line plates with sliced tomatoes and set tangles of pasta with pesto on top. In winter,slivered sun-driedtomatoes tossed in with the arugula version taste oflonger, sunnier days. There’s a point in every basil season, late in the summer, when thepesto frustratingly turns brown when it contacts the hot pasta. If thisbothers you, you can boil half of the basil very briefly in the pastawater to set the color. Scoop it out quickly and drop into a bowl of coldwater. When cooled, squeeze handfuls of the boiled basil to get rid ofas much water as you can, chop it up a bit, and add it to theblender with the raw basil. Make a superior potato salad with lengths of boiled green beans and halved cherry tomatoes dressed,along with the potatoes, with pesto.   LEBLEBI This North African soup combines a simple stew of onion, cilantro, and spiced chickpeas with toasted bread chunks, turning humble to sublime, especially if you set a poached or hard-boiled egg on top. Liam and I like it for a satisfying after-school snack, even for 2 or 3 days running. I put a spoonful of spicy harissa and a sprinkle of capers on mine. Liam takes his straight. We try to say “We love leblebi!” three times fast, with full mouths and true hearts. 4 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil 1 large yellow onion, diced 1 teaspoon salt 2 teaspoons cumin seeds 1 teaspoon paprika Crushed red pepper flakes ½ cup roughly chopped cilantro stems and leaves 2 garlic cloves, sliced or chopped ¾ cup chopped or grated tomatoes or ½ cup roasted tomato puree (page 184) 6 cups cooked chickpeas, with their liquid (2½ cups dried) Small handful of Rustic Oily Croutons (page 25) per bowl 1 poached (page 33) or hard-boiled (page 30) egg per bowl Ground cumin (optional) Good-quality extra-virgin olive oil (optional) Capers (optional) Harissa sauce (opposite; optional) Heat a soup pot over high heat. Add the oil, then the onion and salt. Stir, lower the heat, and cover the pot. Check and stir after a few minutes, letting the liquid on the lid drip back into the pot to keep things steamy. Lower the heat if there is any browning going on, and re-cover. Cook like this until the onion is tender, about 15 minutes. Add the cumin, paprika, red pepper flakes, cilantro, and garlic and stir for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes to stop the garlic from browning and cook for a couple minutes more, stirring occasionally. Add the chickpeas and enough of their cooking liquid to cover by 2 inches, raise the heat, and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Put 2 ladles of soup in a blender or food mill and puree (careful—it’s hot). Return to the soup pot and stir in to thicken the leblebi slightly. Taste for seasonings and add water or any reserved cooking liquid if it’s too thick. To serve, put some croutons in each soup bowl. Ladle in the leblebi and top with a poached egg or a halved hard-boiled egg. Sprinkle with a little ground cumin and oil and capers if you like, and pass a bowl of harissa sauce to spoon over at the table. Tubes of prepared harissa, like some kind of practical joke toothpaste, can be found at Middle Eastern markets. At Asian markets, I buy sambal oelek—the chili paste that comes in a little jar with a green top and a gold label with a red rooster on it—and make a quick harissa by stirring 3 tablespoons of it with 1 or more pounded garlic cloves and 6 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil. For a more nuanced harissa sauce, mix 2 tablespoons paprika or any other mild chili powder with enough hot water to make a thick paste, about 3 tablespoons. Stir in 2 tablespoons pounded garlic and 3 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil. I often want a splash of red wine vinegar in there and sometimes will add some ground cumin and cayenne if it needs heating up. A tablespoon or two of currants or raisins, plumped for 10 minutes in hot water, adds a sweet counterpoint.

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