In this dazzling, full-color cookbook and kitchen manual filled with lush photographs and beautiful drawings, the chef of Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse offers basic techniques and essential recipes that will transform anyone into a confident home cook.
When his oldest son was leaving for college, Cal Peternell, the chef of Berkeley’s legendary Chez Panisse, realized that, although he regularly made dinners for his family, he’d never taught them the basics of cooking. Based on the life-altering course of instruction he prepared and honed through many phone calls with his son, Twelve Recipes is the ultimate introduction to the kitchen. Peternell focuses on the core foods and dishes that comprise a successful home cook’s arsenal, each building skill upon skill—from toast, eggs, and beans, to vinaigrettes, pasta with tomato, and rice, to vegetables, soup, meats, and cake.
Twelve Recipes will help home cooks develop a core repertoire of skills and increase their culinary confidence. Peternell tells you what basic ingredients and tools you need for a particular recipe, and then adds variations to expand your understanding. Each tip, instruction, and recipe connects with others to weave into a larger story that illuminates the connection between food and life. A deeply personal book, it was written by the chef alone and it glows with warmth and humor as he mulls over such mundane items as toast and rice to offer surprising new insights about foods that only seem exceedingly ordinary. It’s a book you’re as likely to keep by your bedside as your stovetop. With Peternell as your guide, the journey is pure pleasure and the destination is delicious.
Twelve Recipes features gorgeous color photos and inset illustrations by Peternell’s wife and sons (all artists), and forewords by celebrated chef Alice Waters and New York Times columnist and bestselling author Michael Pollan.
Reprinted with permission from Twelve Recipes by Cal Peternell, copyright © 2014. Published by HarperCollins.
My mother had a Tuppeware “salad crisper” that looked like a lime-green iceberg, with a soft snap-on top and a spiky pedestal upon which the unclips was to be impaled. Though it was nominally available for storage of salad in general, it was clearly intended for one type in particular. I remember Mom smacking a pale, impressive iceberg lettuce on our kitchen counter before tearing out its dangling heart and fitting that green spike into the hole left in its heavy head. This was clearly a lettuce for which some serious mom handling was nothing—nothing that a couple of days in the crisper wouldn’t fix, that is.
Later, I would stand in the open doorway of the fridge and, fueled by teenage after-school hunger, tear chunks of iceberg from the resident head, mixing them with Wishbone French and anything, everything, I could find. I’d slice in vegetables like cucumbers, scallions, cherry tomatoes and green peppers, adding bouncy cubs of Jarlsberg cheese, too-salty Pepperidge Farm croutons that started stale and stayed there, and shameless shakes from a bottle of those meat impersonator wash-ups, Bac-Os.
Though the good folks at Tuppeware might wish it otherwise, there may be no lettuce less in need of crisping than iceberg—indeed, crispness seems to be its defining characteristic, its sole virtue, and it’s certainly the reason that I remain an enthusiast. But there are green gardens far beyond iceberg’s watery world: salads leafy with rockets, cresses, herbs, butters, and Bibbs; others crunchy with shavings of carrots, fennel, radishes, and cucumbers. Roasted beets, boiled green beans, grilled asparagus … and it foes on for acres.
AVOCADO AND HERB DRESSING
We also call it green goddess, especially in Berkeley where the avocados and the locals are very green, and the goddess blesses from stickers on every other bumper.
4 tablespoons chopped herbs, (any combination of basil, mint, parsley, cilantro, tarragon, chives, chervil)
1 small garlic clove, pounded
½ avocado, pitted
1 teaspoon lemon or lime juice
½ teaspoon red wine vinegar
¼ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
Pound the herbs in a mortar with the garlic, or just chop them extra fine and put in a small bowl with the garlic. Mash in the avocado and add the citrus juice, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Using the pestle or a whisk, add the olive oil in a thin stream to make a thick emulsion. Taste, correct, and use to dress romaine or butter lettuces.
Wedges of roasted beets, dressed with oil and vinegar, are colorful and delicious around a lettuce salad with avocado and herb dressing. Or you can skip the lettuces and just spoon the dressing over sliced cucumbers, beets, and the other half of the avocado.
A bowl of green goddess is welcome as a sauce at a fried fish dinner or with fried vegetables. Also spooned over grilled chicken, boiled potatoes, or a plate of hard-boiled eggs.
Use also as a splendid sandwich dressing or for when leftovers like last night’s roasted chicken, say, or pork tacos on July 4, are in need of a little sauce.
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 two or three 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
6 cups cooked chickpeas, with their liquid (2½ cups dried)
Small handful of rustic oily croutons per bowl
1 poached or hard-boiled egg per bowl
Ground cumin (optional)
Good-quality extra-virgin olive oil (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 two 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 one 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.
Cal Peternell reads from and signs Twelve Recipes at Bookshop Santa Cruz at 7 pm on Thursday, November 20. He gives a talk at Kendall-Jackson Winery in Fulton from 6-9 pm on Monday, November 24. Sunday, December 7 from 12:30-3 pm brings a book signing and Twelve Recipes-inspired lunch prepared by Chef de Cuisine Fabrice Marcon at the Left Bank in Larkspur. On Thursday, December 18 at 7 pm Peternell reads from and signs copies of Twelve Recipes at Rakestraw Books in Danville. On Sunday, December 21 from 6-10 pm, Peternell, his sons and Russ Moore cook at Camino Restaurant in Oakland. Click here for info on more events.
Read Cari Borja’s EatDrinkFilms profile of Cal Peternell.
Cal Peternell grew up on a small farm in New Jersey and earned a BFA in painting from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Living in Italy with his wife, artist Kathleen Henderson, Cal was inspired to pursue a cooking career. After working at various acclaimed restaurants in San Francisco and Boston, including BIX, Loretta Keller’s Bizou, Lydia Shire’s BIBA, and Chris Schlesinger’s the Blue Room, he landed at Chez Panisse. Cal and his wife have three sons and live in Berkeley, California.