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The Art of Simple Food

Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution

By Alice Waters
12-minute read
Audio available
The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters

The Art of Simple Food (2007) is much more than just a cookbook – it’s also a resource for how to think about food, eating, cooking, and entertaining. Renowned chef and restaurateur Alice Waters starts from the very beginning: excellent ingredients. She then teaches skills and recipes layer by layer, in the same way she builds flavor in a dish. 

  • Anyone curious about “California cuisine”
  • Those who don’t want to fuss with fancy recipes
  • People looking for calm, soothing cooking energy

Alice Waters opened her signature restaurant, Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, California in 1971 – effectively kicking off the California food renaissance. California cuisine is known for super-fresh, locally sourced ingredients, which are then cooked simply to accentuate their inherent flavor and quality. Waters has written dozens of cookbooks and was the first woman to win the James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef. 

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The Art of Simple Food

Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution

By Alice Waters
  • Read in 12 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 7 key ideas
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The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters
Synopsis

The Art of Simple Food (2007) is much more than just a cookbook – it’s also a resource for how to think about food, eating, cooking, and entertaining. Renowned chef and restaurateur Alice Waters starts from the very beginning: excellent ingredients. She then teaches skills and recipes layer by layer, in the same way she builds flavor in a dish. 

Key idea 1 of 7

Vinaigrette: the foundation sauce

Learning how to build a great sauce, like a vinaigrette or an aioli, will accomplish two things. First, you’ll develop tasting, chopping, and flavor-balancing skills that will carry over to cooking other, more complicated preparations. And second, you’ll always have a sauce on hand that will make everything else more delicious. A well-balanced sauce instantly turns a simple plate of meat, vegetables, or salad greens into a finished dish.

Vinaigrette is the sauce Alice makes most often. Not only does it transform the dishes she serves at the table, but she’s found that most kids love it, too. When her daughter was growing up, Alice would prepare a vinaigrette and pack it into her school lunch box with some cut vegetables. 

Alice always recommends buying the freshest seasonal ingredients you can find. Nowhere will mediocre ingredients be easier to detect than in a vinaigrette, which, in its simplest form, has only four components. Start with fruity, delicious olive oil and a wine vinegar with lots of character. Black pepper should be ground immediately before using. And finally, good quality sea salt, she says, is one of the simplest things you can buy to make your food taste better. Learning to salt properly is probably the biggest secret to good cooking.

To make a great vinaigrette, first you should understand the theory behind the mixture. A vinaigrette is one part vinegar to three or four parts oil. For four servings of salad, you should need about a quarter cup of vinaigrette. 

Start by measuring one tablespoon red wine vinegar into a bowl. Then dissolve a pinch of salt in the vinegar, and taste. When the salt and vinegar are balanced, the combination should taste neither acidic nor salty, but deliciously in harmony. Add salt little by little, and figure out what tastes best to you.

When the combination is just right, grind in some black pepper and whisk in three or four tablespoons of olive oil. Keep tasting as you go, and stop when it tastes right to you.

Once you’ve mastered a basic red wine vinaigrette, you can start to make it your own. Add a little chopped shallot or puréed garlic to the vinegar. Or use lemon juice instead of red wine vinegar. You could also add some mustard before adding the oil, or some chopped fresh herbs at the end.

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