Monday, August 6, 2012

The Improvisational Cook

Pellegrini's family was forced to consider what was found in the natural world around them and what was available in their garden or pantry. As a result, he learned to be an improvisational cook because his food source changed from day to day. He advocates always having on hand four items - onion, garlic, parsley, and celery (p.142) These can be used to flavor any dish. He also suggests growing the Mediterranean culinary herbs - thyme, rosemary, basil, oregano, and tarragon, and bay since they taste better fresh than dried (I disagree with him about the oregano, which gets stronger as it dries). Since he lived in Seattle, which in the past seldom freezes, he could keep these herbs growing all year round, and cut them as needed.

A typical meal in the adult Pellegrini's house would be this:

"One day there were six people for dinner. In the refrigerator there were four Italian sausages and a light, scrawny fryer. In the garden were string beans, artichokes, zucchini, carrots, beets, peas, and several other vegetables. The cellar, as usual, was well stocked and bread was in abundance. What could be done?" (p. 224)

He then described how he cut up all the meat, cooked it with herbs, tomato sauce and lemon, then added vegetables and wine. He covered the skillet cooked it for twenty minutes, and served it to happy, satisfied guests. The wine, of course, he has made himself.

Unlike many cookbooks, Pellegrini wants his readers to think about what they have on hand, and how it can be used. He assumes that his readers know how to mince, roast, and bake already; unlike Mark Bittman, he doesn't tell his readers, complete with color photos, how to boil water. He wants them to take this skills and apply them to whatever is handy in the pantry.

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