Once in a blue moon, a cookbook comes along that makes me want to cancel any and all plans, play hooky from work and grown-up life, and just cook. Like, for days. Buvette is, of course, that book right now. I should probably explain my love of cookbooks. For me, it’s not so much that I need another recipe (hell, no)—and by the looks of my house, I certainly don’t need another book to add to the teetering piles—but there’s something about following along through the introduction, the narrative, and yes, the recipes, that makes me feel like I’m getting to know another cook. It sounds crazy, but it feels like cooking alongside an imaginary friend.
Which is how I discovered that author Jody Williams is my roasted chicken soul sister. Seriously, no one else I know slathers more Herbs de Provence—not to mention extra fennel seeds—on a yard bird than me, or so I thought. Williams grinds the herbs, fennel seeds, and coarse salt together in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle (my preference, too). She massages it into the chicken, inside and out, allows it to come to room temperature for an hour, then roasts the whole bird in a 425-degree oven. Lots of herbs and salt, high temps to yield crispy skin, a 10 minute rest after cooking.… She’s definitely speaking my language.
I literally did a double take when I first read the recipe for her ciambottini. It’s an inspired riff on a traditional antipasto mix that combines the standard olives, roasted red peppers, preserved artichokes, and caper berries with diced salami (I used a fennel-studded variety, natch), diced pecorino (black label Romano, because life is short), and bite-sized florets of blanched, al dente cauliflower. She calls for plenty of bay leaves, and using fresh ones from a little bay laurel tree I’m nursing along made all the difference. Not only did I take this to a casual get-together with friends, I also served it the following week at a much more elegant luncheon alongside grilled lobster tails. This little snack mix, when properly prepared with top-notch ingredients, has significant range.
If you, like my son, wouldn’t dream of leaving the house before consuming several eggs each morning, you’ll find Williams’s uova al forno (eggs baked in Amatriciana sauce) and poached eggs over scafata (a medley of fava beans, artichokes, peas, and herbs) just the ticket for weekend breakfasts. But it’s her suggested last minute addition (from the oeufs brouillés recipe) of a tiny knob of high-quality butter (just as the eggs are setting), that raised the bar on our school-day scrambled eggs. My son may still demand shredded cheddar with his, but at least I’m stepping up my scrambling technique, and maybe our LDL levels in the process.
I could easily rattle on about the recipes I’ve tried, the tips and techniques that I’ve gleaned—nay, filched—not to mention the choucroute garni and tartiflette recipes that I’m saving for a food coma-friendly fall Sunday afternoon. Instead, I’m just going to tell you to buy the damn book, already. You won’t be disappointed.
Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food, by Jody Williams. Hachette Books, 2014, $30.