The Art of Simple Food

The Art of Simple Food

Alice Waters has finally written a book for cooks like me—cooks who aren’t chefs and who don’t have access to the diversity of exotic ingredients available in Berkeley.  The book is called The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious RevolutionIt is by far my favorite cookbook of 2007.

If you don’t already know who Alice Waters is, this is a great introduction (try this too).  Her basic philosophy is that the best cooking is based on using the best and tastiest ingredients and preparing them simply.  This book is intended to help people learn to cook or to be better cooks by gathering the best ingredients and using techniques that let them shine.

Part one of the book is called “Starting from Scratch” and consists of lessons and basic recipes that allow you to try what she is teaching in the lessons.  Waters begins with a list of what she sees as the basic underlying principles of good cooking and eating.  They are:

  • Eat locally and sustainably.
  • Eat seasonally.
  • Shop at farmers’ markets.
  • Plant a garden.
  • Conserve, compost, and recycle.
  • Cook simply, engaging all your senses.
  • Cook together.
  • Eat together.
  • remember food is precious.

She follows this with an in depth discussion of the most important ingredients and how to pick the very best ones.  This, along with her subsequent discussion of cooking equipment, is my favorite part of the book.  She gives all of the relevant details that will help you make more of your pantry and fridge without going over budget.  The chapters that follow cover menus, four essential sauces, salads, bread, broth and soup, beans (dried and fresh), pasta and polenta, rice, roasting, pan frying, slow cooking, simmering, grilling, omelets and souffles, tarts (savory and sweet), fruits and deserts, custard and ice cream, and cookies and cake.  Each chapter is a great read and hugely informative.  I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I stayed up until almost 4:00 a.m. the night I got the book because I couldn’t put it down.  Seriously, buy this book even if you only read part one.

Part two is called “At the Table” and is loaded with recipes for everyday cooking that rely on the principles taught in part one.  They are great recipes and they give you a lot to practice on as you refine the skills Waters teaches.

The recipe I’ve used the most so far is the Risotto Bianco from the chapter on rice.


It is very basic and quite delicious.  Here is my adaptation:

  • In a 3qt saucepan melt 2T butter and saute 1 small onion, diced fine, until the onion is soft and translucent.  If you have it, add a pinch of saffron to the cooking onions.
  • Add 1 1/2c Arborio or other risotto rice and cook, stirring, until translucent
  • Meanwhile, bring 5c chicken broth to a boil in a separate pan and then turn off the heat
  • When rice is translucent, pour over 1/2c dry white wine and cook, stirring, until all of the wine is absorbed.
  • Add 1c chicken broth at a time and cook at a vigorous simmer, stirring occasionally.
  • When the rice gets thick, scale back to 1/2c doses of broth and begin to salt
  • After about 12 minutes start tasting the rice for doneness and seasoning
  • You want tender rice with a hint of al dente firmness (20-30 minutes total)
  • With the final addition of broth add just enough to finish the rice without making it soupy
  • When rice is nearly done add 1T butter and 1/3c grated Parmesan cheese (only the real stuff here).
  • Stir vigorously to develop the creamy starch .  Turn off the heat, let sit for 2 minutes, and serve.

Risotto closeup

Try this recipe, but please buy the book.  Waters has so much more to offer than just good recipes.