Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Essential Pépin - Jacques Does It Again

Jacques Pépin is my idol. He has been cooking for 60 years and teaching and writing for half that time, writing more than 20 cookbooks and doing several series on PBS. He is a joy to watch; his technical competence, charm and obvious love of cooking are infectious.  Just look at this picture of him.

Jacques' most recent book is Essential Pépin, which is accompanied by a series on PBS of the same name. It contains more than 700 recipes, mostly French of course, but reflecting his relentless drive towards simplification while staying true to the essence of things. It also reflects changes in the produce and ingredients that are available to modern cooks, including influences and products from Asia and elsewhere. I love Jacques' Fast Food My Way and More Fast Food My Way, but Essential is a far more ambitious book, which seeks, successfully, to do what its title suggests: to share a lifetime of cooking experience and insight.

I have tried only a few recipes from the book, but they have been clearly expressed, easy to follow and uniformly excellent:

  • the best Tapenade I have ever made
  • an amazing Pork Liver Pâté that tasted as good as you'd find at a Parisian charcuterie
  • Mémé's Apple Tart - Jacques'mother's recipe for an apple tart with a fantastic easy-to-make crust made with shortening and baking powder
  • Baked Stuffed Onion - here I used overly large onions, which didn't break down as much as desired
  • Dried Apricot and Pistachio Soufflé - this was gorgeous but just a little light - no egg yolks, which is a good thing - and not quite sweet enough for my taste; I plan to do it again with sweeter apricots or figs
  • Braised Pears in Caramel Sauce - this was not pretty (I used brown sugar and got a muddy looking caramel) but is easy to make and very tasty.

Pork Liver Pâté and Dried Apricot Soufflé

Mémé's Apple Tart and Braised Pears in Caramel

This is a really great cookbook, worthy of space on anyone's shelves. I also highly recommend the companion TV series.

Bobby Jay

PS: A day after this post, I made Jacques' Apples "Bonne Femme," simple bakes apples: another winner that tastes like what a French mother would make (or what one might imagine she would make).

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