This book was not love at first read. I read a few chapters, grumbled a little about how this is the way I cook anyway, this is the way my grandmother cooked! and went to sleep. The next day found me sizing up my bread ends, saving my spinach cooking liquid, and thinking about parsley stems. Tamar Adler got under my skin. I picked up the book again without my critical, defensive, and inflexible inner grandmother-cook talking, and started to become very, very fond of Ms. Adler.
She has a European sensibility about her cooking, and uses words like a poet. I had to read some lines over and over to grasp all that they had to offer — they were dense with meaning. She goes against the prevailing “wisdom” of the day and encourages you to get your meat room temperature by leaving it out for three hours, cook vegetables to doneness (thank you!), and EAT BREAD. I love her section on bread:
“Breaking bread” means eating. “Our daily bread” means food. It is also called the staff of life, which I like: bread there, all life leaning against it. Our lives don’t lean against it anymore: we’ve decided that bread is bad for us. Our staff is broken, and that is part of why our diets seem so hard to get in balance.
Stale bread cannot be bought. It must be waited for, which gives all dishes containing it the weight of philosophical ballast, as well as dietary and budgetary ones.
Probably the most delicious bread soup is ribollita, the famous bread soup of Tuscany. As a Tuscan friend witheringly explained to me once, ribollita does not contain any procurable ingredients: “You don’t buy ingredients for ribollita, You have them.”
Yes! I remember returning from Italy swooning over the ribolitta I had in Florence, and learning that very lesson.
Her chapters on eggs and beans spoke to me just as strongly, but each chapter is just wonderful.
There are recipes in the book — maybe recipe is the wrong word. They are little prose poems, and suggestions. The appendix on how to fix things that didn’t work out as planned (i.e. overcooked rice becomes rice pudding, broken aioli into a pasta sauce) is magical. It becomes an approach on how to live your life — the opposite of critical, defensive, and inflexible, I would say.
Tamar, welcome to the special part of the kitchen bookshelf, where I keep the foreverbooks that are close to my heart. You are right near Julia and Ruth and M.F.K.