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Cooking by Hand

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Overview

One of the most respected chefs in the country, Paul Bertolli earns glowing praise for the food at California’s renowned Oliveto restaurant. Now he shares his most personal thoughts about cooking in his long-awaited book, Cooking by Hand. In this groundbreaking collection of essays and recipes, Bertolli evocatively explores the philosophy behind the food that Molly O’Neill of the New York Times described as “deceptively simple, [with] favors clean, deep, and layered more ...
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Overview

One of the most respected chefs in the country, Paul Bertolli earns glowing praise for the food at California’s renowned Oliveto restaurant. Now he shares his most personal thoughts about cooking in his long-awaited book, Cooking by Hand. In this groundbreaking collection of essays and recipes, Bertolli evocatively explores the philosophy behind the food that Molly O’Neill of the New York Times described as “deceptively simple, [with] favors clean, deep, and layered more profusely than a mille-feuille.”

From “Twelve Ways of Looking at Tomatoes” to Italian salumi in “The Whole Hog,” Bertolli explores his favorite foods with the vividness of a natural writer and the instincts of a superlative chef. Scattered throughout are more than 140 recipes remarkable for their clarity, simplicity, and seductive appeal, from Salad of Bitter Greens, Walnuts, Tesa, and Parmigiano and Chilled Shellfish with Salsa Verde to Short Ribs Agrodolce and Tagliolini Pasta with Crab. Unforgettable desserts, such as Semifreddo of Peaches and Mascarpone and Hazelnut Meringata with Chocolate and Espresso Sauce, round out a collection that’s destined to become required reading for any food lover.

Rich with the remarkable food memories that inspire him, from the taste of ripe Santa Rosa plums and the aroma of dried porcini mushrooms in his mother’s ragu to eating grilled bistecca alla Fiorentina on a foggy late autumn day in Chianti, Cooking by Hand will ignite a passion within you to become more creatively involved in the food you cook.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Bertolli (Chez Panisse Cooking), former chef at Chez Panisse and now chef and co-owner of Oliveto restaurant in Oakland, Calif., persuasively encourages cooks to understand ingredient essentials and to appreciate the open-ended joy of learning and discovery. With stimulating essays on everything from gathering wild mushrooms and types of pasta flour to a 14-page section on the wonders of balsamic vinegar, Bertolli is nothing less than a pied piper for the Italian kitchen. Irresistibly, he explains how to replicate his restaurant's take on the Bloody Mary by using fresh tomatoes, how to prepare Risotto of Leeks with Balsamico and how to plan a menu by choosing dessert first, thus ensuring that it is a fitting conclusion for preceding courses. Atypically arranged in thematic sections-"Twelve Ways of Looking at a Tomato," "Bottom-Up Cooking," "The Whole Hog"-this volume is seductive, both in voice and because some of the 120-plus recipes, such as the one for Saltimbocca of Chicken, are so conversationally presented as to be narratives rather than precise lists of components and directions. When Bertolli extols the virtues of a home extruder machine for making fresh macaroni or supplies an illustrated seven-page procedure for curing prosciutto at home, he often gives the home cook a process to marvel at rather than aspire to. But even then, his enthusiasm for the result is infectious. This is an absorbing effort throughout. (Aug.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Oliveto, Bertolli's restaurant in Oakland, CA, has a national reputation, but he is also well known from his long tenure as chef at Alice Waters's Chez Panisse, and he was her coauthor on Chef Panisse Cooking. Here he presents his philosophy of cooking in a series of thoughful essays accompanied by some 100 recipes, grouped by themes such as "Ripeness" and "Cooking Backward: The Place of Dessert in a Menu." Inspired by the annual tomato tasting held at the restaurant to celebrate the summer's bounty, "Twelve Ways of Looking at a Tomato" features the fruit in many guises, from Conserva (homemade Italian-style tomato paste) to Simple Stuffed Tomatoes to Green Tomato Condiment. Some of the recipes are written in a more conversational style rather than the standard recipe setup; all are very detailed, although occasionally the descriptions can be a bit awkward. And some readers may find Bertolli's text verging on the precious at times (see "Letter to My Newborn Son," on the virtues of balsamic vinegar). Nevertheless, the recipes are delicious and imaginative, and the author has many fans. For most collections. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780609608937
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/19/2003
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 279,944
  • Product dimensions: 8.30 (w) x 10.31 (h) x 1.01 (d)

Meet the Author

PAUL BERTOLLI is executive chef and co-owner of Oliveto restaurant in Oakland, California. He has received numerous accolades, most recently the award for “Best Chef: California” from the James Beard Foundation in 2001. He is also known for his tenure as chef of Chez Panisse restaurant, where for ten years he guided the restaurant’s cooking toward Italian sensibilities. Active as a chef, writer, and artisan food producer, Bertolli tends to his garden, bread oven, salumi cellar, vinegar loft, pickle vats, distillations, wine, and other mysterious fermentations from his home base in North Berkeley, California.
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Read an Excerpt

BAKED PEARS WITH RICOTTA, WALNUTS, AND OLD BALSAMICO
For 4

To buy condiment-grade balsamico and aceto balsamico tradizionale, see Sources and Resources, page 260.

4 very ripe Bosc or Winter Nellis pears
Unsalted butter
1/2 cup very fresh ricotta (preferably sheep's milk)
1/4 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
Balsamico extra vecchio, for drizzling

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Peel and core the pears and arrange them cored side up in a buttered baking dish. Bake the pears for 15 to 20 minutes, or until tender to the tip of a sharp knife.

Serve the pears while still blood warm with a dollop of fresh ricotta and a scattering of walnuts. Spoon any juices remaining in the baking dish over and around the pears. Drizzle balsamico extra vecchio over each portion at the table.

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First Chapter

Introduction

Some years back I had lunch outside Florence in a restaurant owned by a fellow restaurateur. His ribollita, a traditional Tuscan minestra of beans, cavolo nero (cabbage), vegetables, and bread, was a revelation. Having lived and worked in Florence I had eaten it many times, but never with such a clear sense of the original intention of the dish. My friend explained that he aspired to learn as much as he could about the kitchen wisdom of the old people in the surrounding countryside who kept the local food traditions alive. He was dismayed by what has happened to traditional Tuscan cooking. Ribollita was not the only dish that bore little resemblance to its ancestral form. He likened cucina Toscana, as practiced in many of the restaurants of Florence, to the monuments, frescoes, and art treasures of the city that had faded or been covered with dulling layers of soot. Under the constant barrage of so many tourists clamoring for bread soup and bistecca, the cuisine had become a tired parody of itself. But in an effort much like restoration, he had attempted to make the original tastes vivid again in his cooking. His ribollita, made from vegetables and legumes from his own garden and perfumed with a thin stream of newly pressed olive oil, was a model of clarity. I felt like I was tasting it for the first time.

The discovery has remained with me as a source of inspiration for my own cooking. Here, with this experience of a tired dish made new again, a thoughtful chef had taken the time to peel back the layers of "innovations" made by generations of cooks, and to cut away what had become deadened by years of mechanical repetition. I now had a metaphor for the typeof cooking that made sense to me: food grounded in a tradition, yet enlivened by the act of greeting the process and the ingredients anew. In Italy too I learned that cooking, based on a sensual deference for the essence of food, called for restraint both in mind-set and method; it was a matter of deciding not what to add, but what to allow to be. The spirit of the best of this cooking around the simplest of tables soared beyond the party cry of cuisine de marché, manifestos of freshness, or the consoling promises of antica ricetta della nonna (grandmother's old recipe), a common quailed on restaurant menus. It needed no slogan. It spoke for itself. At the same time, my experimentation in the garden and the kitchen left me convinced that a cook must respond to the ingredients, aromas, seasons, and serendipitous events of the moment in order to keep foods tasting alive.

The task of keeping food vibrant and interesting, particularly food that belongs to a long tradition, is the challenge of any cook, professional or amateur. For those who have a repertoire of their own, the repetitive aspect of cooking and the demands of our relentless need to eat can easily turn cooking into a dull task. Relying upon recipes, no matter how well advised, can turn cooking into drudgery. Food that is both delicious and interesting is always a reflection of an active response to the raw ingredients-one that often turns on its head information found in recipes.

Every cook inherits or chooses to follow a food tradition. Regardless of how distant or blurred the connection, and barring the bizarre concoctions and fusions of different cuisines that attempt novelty for its own sake, food makes reference to the tried and true, to what has been done before. Returning to the roots of a dish or cooking process is never a simple matter, particularly if you live far from the source. There are at least as many renditions of the "authentic" as there are cooks to provide them. Finding the right ingredients is often problematic. Nevertheless, understanding the spirit in which a dish was conceived and the tradition to which it belongs helps make sense of unique variations and personal interpretations, and reveals where one's own version fits in its evolution. Knowing the tradition provides a basis for experimentation and leads to new and sometimes better versions of older dishes. Yet it is often the case that the more primitive version of a dish cannot be improved upon, and a cook can do no better than to attempt to preserve the memory of taste and process associated with it.

I remember stories my grandmother told me about polenta, our habitual family Sunday meal during the years we lived together as an extended family. She talked about the mountains of polenta people used to eat in her town in the Veneto during the war years, and how fully satisfying it was, often served with little else but a bit of stew meat. When I tried milling whole corn myself, I understood why. By comparison, the store-bought, refined polenta to which I had grown accustomed delivered very little of the flavor, texture, or satisfaction of the crude version. No wonder; refined polenta consists of only the starchy endosperm of the corn kernel. The oil- and flavor-rich germ and the outer bran that provides fiber are separated away in the milling process. My hand-milled polenta, from midwestern dent corn, has an aroma and texture different from those of Italian varieties of corn, but ones I believe more closely recall the spirit of the original. At Oliveto, we use stone-ground, whole-grist polenta. Our miller uses only certified organic corn that is dried in the field prior to cold milling. Controlling the temperature is critical in maintaining the integrity of corn 's constituent parts and its fresh chemistry. The startling difference in flavor is also a matter of the cooking method; this polenta is started in cold water and maintained at a temperature that does not rise above the simmer point rather than whisked into a roiling boil. The reason for the gentler heat is that above a simmer, enzymes in the corn that convert starch to sugar are inactivated. It takes some patience to wait for whole-grist polenta to cook fully at a lower temperature, but the resulting "sweet mill flavor" is very likely to transcend any previous taste impression you had of the more refined form. Our version, enriched with butter and served in cake or porridge form or browned crisp on both sides in olive oil, preserves the simple goodness and fullest flavor of corn polenta in its whole, nutritious form. Either way, this polenta makes a fine, heary complement to saucy meats.



Fresh Milled Polenta
(For 10)

Whole-grist polenta is very perishable and once received, should be stored in the freezer. In order to remove some of the excess starch, it is washed in cold water before cooking.

4 cups whole-grist polenta (see Sources and Resources, page 285)
3 quarts cold water for rinsing the polenta
3 quarts plus 1 cup (13 cups) cold water for cooking the polenta
5 tablespoons sea salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup hot water (optional, for thinning)

Put the polenta into a large bowl with 3 quarts of the cold water. Stir the polenta for several minutes, then drain it in a colander lined with cheesecloth or a fine-mesh basket strainer. Discard the starchy water.

Pour the remaining 13 cups cold water and the salt into a 6-quart heavy-bottomed pot. Stir to dissolve the salt. Place the pot on medium heat and whisk in the polenta in a fine stream so that none of it forms lumps. Gradually bring the temperature of the polenta to 180°F. Adjust the heat to hold it at that temperature. For the first 20 minutes of cooking, the polenta and water remain separate, though you will notice the top has a yellow milky appearance. While the polenta and water are heating up, stir every 2 to 3 minutes so that the polenta doesn't clump or stick to the bottom of the pot. Once the polenta absorbs the water, continue stirring every 15 minutes. It will thicken as it absorbs water, so it is important to scrape down the sides of the pot so that all the polenta is incorporated and to prevent a crust from developing around the rim. Maintain the heat between 170 and 180°F.; a flame tamer may be useful for this purpose. Cook the polenta for 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until tender and no longer gritty. Stir in the butter. If you desire a smoother, softer texture, add another cup of hot water at this point.

If you're going to cool the polenta for polenta abbrustollita (in cake form browned crisp), do not add the extra cup of water. Pour the hot polenta out onto a buttered 8 1/2 by 12-inch sheet pan and cool in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Cut the polenta into rectangles or whatever shape you like. Warm olive oil or clarified butter in a seasoned pan or nonstick pan until a little polenta sizzles when you add it. Allow the polenta to cook at a slow but even rate for 5 to 10 minutes per side or until it forms a deep, golden crust.


Vitello Tonnato
(For 8)

I have always found this classic summer dish of cold veal in tuna sauce, when well made, irresistible. Unfortunately, because of the expediency of premade mayonnaise, canned tuna, and leftover meats, vitello tonnato often does not live up to its promise, even in the best Italian restaurants. The most satisfying vitello tonnato is made from with fresh tuna or dark Italian tuna preserved in oil, mayonnaise made with buttery olive oil, and lean poached veal. Belly of tuna, although not all that common at fish counters, is the cut of choice for making tonnato sauce if you can find a fishmonger willing to save it for you from the trimmings of whole fish. I have also made excellent tonnato sauce from the belly sections of oil-rich swordfish. Mackerel is another option. Of the three, tuna belly has the richest flavor and, when blended with the mayonnaise, yields a voluptuous sauce. In order to reinforce the tuna in the sauce, I also add salt-cured anchovies, garlic, and lemon, giving the sauce a briny sea taste with a slight tang.

Poached veal on its own leaves something to be desired. It is the complement of this sauce and its harmonious blend of ingredients that is largely responsible for the dish's appeal. The key to making the sauce sing is to cook the primary ingredients together in the oil you will use to make the mayonnaise, a feat that is not possible if you are simply blending premade ingredients. Vitello tonnato is best if made the day before to allow meat and sauce to merge.

You will need cheesecloth and kitchen twine for this recipe.

1 piece of boneless veal loin, 1 3/4 pounds, trimmed of all fat and silverskin
4 bay leaves
3 tablespoons salt

Wrap the trimmed loin in the cheesecloth and tie it snugly with the twine at 1-inch intervals. Place the veal in a pot large enough to hold it comfortably. Add enough cold water to cover the loin by an inch. Add the bay leaves and salt. (Starting the veal in cold water enables the slow and gradual transfer of heat to the center of the meat and results in moist and tender slices at the finish.) Place the pot over low heat for approximately 25 minutes, or until the temperature in the center of the thickest part of the loin reaches 120°F. Do not allow the water to exceed 180°F. at any point or the veal will cook too quickly, seize up, and lose its moisture and flavor. Remove the veal from the poaching liquid, transfer it to a cooling rack, and place it in the refrigerator to cool. Discard the cooking water.

Tonnato Sauce

2 cups buttery extra-virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
12 salt-cured anchovies, rinsed, soaked for 5 minutes in lukewarm water, and peeled away from the bone
10 ounces tuna belly, mackerel, or belly cut of swordfish, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup cold water
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup heavy cream

Warm the olive oil in a small saucepan. Add the garlic and anchovies and place over medium-low heat. Cook slowly for abut 10 minutes, or until the anchovies are reduced to a paste. Add the tuna to the pot and cook for an additional 5 minutes. As the tuna cooks, gently mash together the tuna, garlic, and anchovies. Set aside to cool. When the tuna mixture has cooled to room temperature, separate the solids from the oil in a sieve and set aside separately.

In a 1-quart mixing bowl, make a mayonnaise by whisking the reserved cooking olive oil into the egg yolks in a steady, thin stream. After half the oil is incorporated the mayonnaise will become quite stiff. At this point, add the lemon juice to thin it, and continue adding oil until it is all incorporated. Set aside.

Place the tuna, garlic, and anchovy mixture in a food processor. Blend well for approximately 3 minutes, or until the mixture is a very _ne paste. Add all of your mayonnaise to this paste and blend for several minutes more to a very smooth consistency. Next add the cream and water and blend for an additional 30 seconds. Correct to taste with salt. Set the tonnato sauce aside.

Garnishing and serving the vitello tonnato

4 tablespoons finely diced celery heart
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and roughly chopped
1/4 cup roughly chopped parsley

Remove the veal loin from the refrigerator and cut away the string and cheesecloth. Slice the meat as thin as possible; you should end up with 30 to 32 slices. Alternately layer the veal slices and sauce in a small baking dish and cover with plastic wrap. Reserve the extra sauce, and refrigerate it and the veal overnight.

Prior to serving, remove the veal and the reserved sauce from the refrigerator and allow it to warm at room temperature for 45 minutes. Vigorously whisk the extra sauce to loosen it, adding a little cold water if the sauce appears overly thick. When ready to serve, distribute the veal slices onto 8 chilled salad plates. Ladle the reserved sauce over the veal slices so that the meat is thinly but completely coated. Finish by garnishing each plate with the diced celery heart, capers, and parsley.
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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2005

    Changed my Life!!!

    I heard about this book when Paul Bertolli did an interview for the Splendid Table. It actually has a chapter on RIPENESS! Cooking out of this book is less like a chore and more like a religious experience. Our family especially enjoyed the Beef Ragu.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 17, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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