“As you discover the secrets of Salt, Fat, Acid and Heat, you’ll find yourself improvising more and more in the kitchen. Liberated from recipes and precise shopping lists, you’ll feel more comfortable buying what looks best at the farmer’s market or butcher’s counter, confident in your ability to transform it into a balanced meal. You’ll be better equipped to trust your own palate, to make substitutions in recipes, and cook with what’s on hand. This book will change the way you think about cooking and eating, and help you find your bearings in the kitchen, with any ingredients, while cooking any meal. You’ll start using recipes, including the ones in this book, like professional cooks do – for the inspiration, context, and general guidance they offer, rather than following them to the letter.
I promise this can happen. You can become not only a good cook, but a great one. I know, because it happened to me.”
I’m on page 154 of this book as I write this and I’ve only had it for a few days. Ask my husband and he’ll tell you that I have never read a book so quickly in my life (I usually pass out a few pages in with my light still on and my glasses halfway down my nose). But this book is unlike any cookbook I have seen. This book has kept me up at night. It is, as Michael Pollan writes, like being in the kitchen of a really good cooking school, front and center with a kind and incredibly knowledgeable teacher. I’ve never considered myself a chef, but having spent some years in the food industry and working as a private cook I guess I would like to say that maybe I know a thing or two about cooking. I’ve watched people eat my food and I’ve taken feedback on what works and on what comes back still on the plates. I never went to culinary school and I always knew I was missing a few solid basics to build on. I’d research the internet and take a few online courses, I’d turn to cookbooks for inspiration and tips. I’d follow recipes and taste as I go, adjusting things along the way. I was close, but not quite there yet.
Samin Nosrat is helping me get there. She has taken the sometimes intimidating task of cooking and broken it down into 4 elements. She talks about each one in detail, breaking it down even further so that you (and me), the reader, can gain a deeper understanding of what is actually happening to the food when we cook it (or bake it, or roast it or blanch it). Her instructions aren’t always precise, but more intuitive, “add salt until it taste like the summer sea,” and her joyful humor keeps things lighthearted, “start whisking like your life depends on it.” There are no pictures in this book, only inspired illustrations by the talented Wendy Macnaughton, which leaves the presentation up to you, the chef – because there isn’t only one perfect version of a recipe. It’s liberating.
I can’t wait to continue reading, but I had to skip ahead to recipes – more importantly the salads. There I found a panzanella recipe for every season, a girl after my own heart. I jumped right in and starting cooking this spring panzanella, paying close attention to the instructions and eating croutons along the way. I should have listened and taken the crust off, my teeth are paying for it now. I’ll know for next time and there you have it. Learning as I go.
Thank you, Samin, for starting to take notes about your journey through cooking all those years ago, and then for so generously sharing them with all of us. Now, let there be salads. (really good ones).
SPRING PANZANELLA WITH ASPARAGUS, FETA AND MINT
There is no better way to use up leftover bread than with a panzanella salad. I have been a firm believer that there is a panzenalla for every season for a long time now, and Samin Nosrat has helped me find my spring edition in her latest book; Salt, Fat, Acid Heat. She also has a a recipe for 3 other seasonal salads, including an autumn one with roasted squash, sage, hazelnuts and a brown butter vinaigrette. All in good time.
Samin states that a panzanella is as much about texture as it is about flavor and I couldn’t agree. This spring panzanella has everything you could want in a salad; crunchy yet chewy croutons, perfectly blanched asparagus, creamy feta and thin red onions with just the right amount of acidity. Or shall I say, the right amount of salt, fat, acid and heat. Good cooks make great salads.
Serves 2 with leftovers. 4 as a side. Picnic or potluck worthy.
Red Wine Vinaigrette
2 tablespoons finely diced shallots
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
12 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound day old sourdough bread
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 medium red onion, sliced thinly
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1.5 pounds asparagus (about 2 bunches), woody ends removed
4 cups torn croutons
24 large mint leaves
3 ounces feta cheese
Red Wine Vinaigrette
In a small bowl or jar, let the shallot sit in the vinegar for 15 minutes to macerate, then add olive oil, a generous pinch of salt and a small pinch of pepper. Stir or shake to combine, then taste and adjust salt and acid as needed. Dressing can be made 3 days ahead of time and kept in a sealed jar in the fridge.
Preheat the oven to 400 F. For more tooth-friendly croutons, remove the crusts from the bread. Cut the loaf into inch-thick slices then cut each slice into inch-wide strips. Working over a large bowl tear each strip into inch-size pieces.
Toss the croutons with the olive oil to coat them evenly, then spread them out in a single layer on a baking sheet. Use a second sheet as needed to prevent crowding, which will entrap steam and keep the croutons from browning.
Toast croutons for about 18-22 minutes, checking them after 8 minutes Rotate the pan, switch their oven positions and use a metal spatula to turn and rotate the croutons so that they brown evenly. Once they being to brown, check them every few minutes, continuing to turn and rotate. Some croutons might be done when others still need a few more minutes of baking, so remove them from the tray and let the rest finish cooking. Bake croutons until they’re golden brown and crunchy on the outside with just a tiny bit of chew on the inside. Taste a crouton (yum) and adjust the seasoning with a light sprinkling of salt if needed.
When done, let the croutons cool in a single layer on the baking sheet. Use immediately or keep in an airtight container for up to 2 days. To refresh stale croutons, bake for 3 to 4 minutes at 400 F. Freeze leftover croutons for up to 2 months.
Set a large pot of water on to boil over high heat. Season it with salt until it tastes like the summer sea. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.
Toss sliced onion in a small bowl with the vinegar and let it sit for 20 minutes to macerate. Set aside.
If the asparagus is thicker than a pencil, stripey peel it, pressing lightly with a vegetable peeler to remove only the outermost skin from about 1 inch below the blossom to the base. Slice the asparagus into 1 1/2-inch-long pieces on a bias. Blanch the asparagus in the boiling water until it’s just tender, about 3.5 minutes (less for thinner stalks). Taste a piece to determine doneness – it should still have the faintest crunch in the center. Drain and allow to cool in a single layer on the prepared sheets.
Place half the croutons in a large bowl and toss with 1/3 cup of the vinaigrette. Let sit for 10 minutes.
Add the remaining croutons, asparagus and macerated onions (but not their vinegar, yet). Tear in the mint leaves in small pieces. Crumble in the feta in large pieces. Dress with another 1/3 cup vinaigrette and season with salt, the taste. Adjust seasoning with salt, vinaigrette and the macerating vinegar as needed. Toss, taste again and serve at room temperature.
Refrigerate leftovers, covered, for up to 1 night.
Let me in on your kitchen creations – tag your photos #happyheartedkitchen and share the love!