Normally when I check a book out of the library, my basic plan is to read it and return it. Very rarely do I develop such an attachment to the information contained therein that I decide I need a copy for myself. But, Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Vegetables has found a spot in my heart–and will soon be a permanent fixture on my cookbookshelf. This is an alphabetized, all-purpose guide to not only cooking but growing and harvesting vegetables.
I don’t agree with every word written by Ms. Waters in this book, to be certain. She relies very often on blanching and boiling as her preferred techniques for vegetable cookery, whereas I tend toward roasting–especially with green and white vegetables. But the breadth of information that she conveys is astounding, and the advice on gardening mixed in with the cooking advice is refreshing and helpful.
The book does not provide enough information to be considered a gardening guide by any means, but the broad stroke instructions are enough to help a novice gardener gain quick insight into what might be involved in growing your own—though I hope for my sake that Ms. Waters is mistaken in her pronouncement that “it takes…several square feet for just one [asparagus] plant,” as I’ve got three crammed into a fairly small area with hopes that they will self-seed and produce a robust crop for me next spring, which will mark their third year of existence. On the other hand, her admonition of “Do not let any of the [broccoli] sprouts start to bud out and flower, or the plant will stop sprouting” may help put to rest an ongoing discussion about how I tended our broccoli plants last year.
The recipes are easy to follow and—in a style that I appreciate (perhaps because I use it myself), do not necessarily give exact quantities and cooking times. Though some recipes do, others seek to convey the concept or premise behind a particular dish and intentionally leave room for the cook to improvise like a jazz musician.
This book would be especially helpful for someone in their first year or two of being a member of a community supported agriculture group (CSA). A CSA novice is often overwhelmed by the variety of vegetables that they haven’t cooked with or perhaps rarely spot in an average supermarket. Chez Panisse Vegetables explains most of these foods in easy-to-follow language and gets the reader excited to try something new.
I believe the book is out of print—prices on a new copy are listed all the way up to $2,499.99 (plus $3.99 shipping!—once someone drops 2500 bucks on a cookbook, I’d hope that the shipping would be free!), though used books are available from about $35.