Alice Waters, locavore extraordinaire, has been one of the most influential chefs in America for well over three decades. Her mantra—“organic, local and seasonal”— has become the mantra for a generation of cooks (well, maybe we’re into the second generation by now), professional and non, and has changed the way so many of us think about food, its preparation, provenance and possibilities. Last summer, she was an organizer of Slow Food Nation, a gathering that lured thousands of people, all united by “a passion for food and for a sustainable future.” Among the highlights were demonstrations by 30 well-known chefs of the basic techniques universal to all cuisines—techniques that, once learned, can free cooks from an “overdependence on recipes” (Ms. Waters’ many excellent cookbooks excepted, I assume). These basic basics, explained in Waters’ confidence-instilling voice, are all documented in her latest, In the Green Kitchen: Techniques to Learn by Heart, along with a portrait of each chef, his or her illustrative recipes and a few more of the author’s own. Believing that the most important part of cooking is shopping and provisioning, Waters shows you how to stock an organic pantry with both the perishable and the not-too-perishable. With your pantry full, these techniques mastered and Waters’ creed absorbed, you can easily be a better, greener cook.
Mario goes pro-planet
No one has to tell a good Italian cook about simplicity or seasonality; it’s in their DNA, and Mario Batali has made it his mission to spread that Italian culinary credo. With 14 restaurants, eight cookbooks and TV appearances galore, the exuberant, larger-than-life Molto Mario is the current champion of La Cucina Italiana. Now he’s added a “proplanet resolve” to his message, “greening” his restaurants and reminding us of the social cost of our food decisions. Not pushy and hardly a vegetarian, Mario suggests that meals made up of a few vegetarian antipasti, maybe a sampling of salumi, a salad, pizza or pasta, some good cheese and a delectable dolce are sumptuously simple. In other words, you don’t need a “meat and potatoes” main course. And in Molto Gusto: Easy Italian Cooking, Mario offers the Italian classics that have made Otto Enoteca Pizzeria, his Manhattan palazzo of pizza and pasta, so resoundingly successful. Seasonally orchestrated, super-low in animal protein, these are the go-to recipes for creating your own incredibly inviting “pro-planet” meals. Try Spring Peas with Mint, Penne with Walnut Pesto, Pizza with Funghi and Taleggio, Tricolore Salad, Ricotta Gelato—nobody will ask, “where’s the beef?”
Sara’s continuing quest
Sara Moulton, a Food Network star, food editor at “Good Morning America” and cookbook author, is a strong believer in the myriad benefits to body and soul of a home-cooked dinner, eaten at the table with family and friends. Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners is her latest practical paean to these savory, salutary meals. Sara’s goal is to give you wriggle-room strategies that free you from the “straightjacket that stipulates starch/ vegetable/ protein at every meal,” and the recipes—200 here—and ideas to make those strategies a reality. Like most pros, she relishes the local and the seasonal, includes and appreciates vegetarian dishes and, aware of the restraints the current recession has necessitated, has turned to using less expensive, but not less flavorful, ingredients. Among the new, fun strategies are: “Appetizers for Dinner,” perfect for natural grazers (I’m definitely part of that herd), such as Guacamole Eggs or Pork Sliders, Asian Style; “Whole Grain and Hearty” mains, including Polenta Lasagna and Barley Provençale; “Two for One,” recipes that generate fabulous leftovers; plus enough soups, salads, sandwiches, Sunday-Night Comfort Meals and desserts (the Butterscotch Pudding Cake is to die for) to make weeknights treat-nights throughout the year. Totally sensible and satisfying.