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from The Art of Simple Food, p. 204.

I have a theory about Alice Water’s dominion of food. The restaurant-patrons of this country owe Alice more than we are conscious of. The standard she set at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California has become so assilimiated into our expectations of restaurant food that a visit to her restaurant — the upstairs café, at any rate — may produce a reaction merely on the level of “it was a very good meal.” I have eaten three times in the café, never in the restaurant downstairs that is open only at night. Each time I have been impressed by the quality of the ingredients and its preparation. But the food never sang to me. Friends whose discernment I trust have eaten in the restaurant and praised it highly and higher than the café. The daughter of a friend of mine worked there for a few months and loved the experience. The establishment treats its employees well. Still, Chez Panisse has evolved into one among many good expensive restaurants. People now are aware of Alice for her admirable advocacy of public health and improving the food we eat, but it’s easy to forget that, more than any other chef in the country, including Thomas Keller, she made excellent restaurant food attainable for anyone with a bit of disposable income. I expressed elsewhere in this blog my political reservations about the Slow Food Movement, which she promotes, but I respect her efforts, even if she is quintessentially a product of the People’s Republic of Berkeley.

Her cookbooks, on the other hand, have always let me down. There is not one any longer on my shelves. I’ve long been convinced that she farms them out or does not devote to them the attention to detail she ought to. But now The Art of Simple Food is beginning to change my mind. My friend Sherry has made several recipes that I’ve tasted and greatly enjoyed. This simple dish is the first from the book that I’ve tried. I like it, although it required tweaking — of course. Which cookbook recipe doesn’t?

Here is her recipe with my emendations interspersed in italics:

Makes 2 1/2 cups

Cut the stems from the florets of:

  • 1 1/2 pounds broccoli

Shadowcook: Halve the amount of broccoli

Trim off and discard the dry ends of the stems, and peel the rest and slice thin. Divide or chop the florets into small pieces.

Shadowcook: The point is to reduce the broccoli into as small pieces as possible.

Warm in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat:

  • 6 tablespoon olive oil

Add the broccoli with:

  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
  • a pinch of dried chile flakes (optional)
  • Salt

Cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Add:

  • 1 cup water

and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a bare simmer, cover the pot tightly, and cook until very tender, about 1 hour. Stir occasionally and add water if the broccoli starts to dry and stick. When the broccoli is completely tender, stir briskly (the broccoli will be falling apart) and season with:

  • Juice of 1 lemon

Taste for seasoning and add salt, lemon juice, or oil as needed.

Shadowcook: Follow these instructions, but bear in mind that there’s likely to be more liquid at the end than she leads you to believe. So, whip the top off, turn up the heat, and reduce the liquid. I did that while water for 3 oz of twisty-type pasta came to a boil. The lemon is a nice touch. I grated parmiggiano reggiano over it. I think it helped it.

Next time:

You’ll be surprised at how heavy this dish can be, if you’re not careful.

I experimented by reserving a small amount of pasta, adding a big spoonful of broccoli to it, and then stirring in little bits of soft gorgonzola to melt. It was good — and certainly did not need any salt — but I preferred the purist version. I liked this recipe quite a bit.

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