The Food Lovers' Cookbook Collection
Cooking by Hand by Paul Bertolli
Cooking by Hand by Paul Bertolli has entered the pantheon of great cookbooks because of his deep understanding of food products and the clarity with which he sets out his ideas. He is also one of our favourite chefs.
The important thing you will gain from this book is the importance of technique. Bertolli gives extended descriptions of his recipes that incorporate the techniques he uses and they are described simply yet passionately.
Rather than being organised along traditional lines, this book is, instead, a collection of essays that explore a number of topics in depth. One topic is ripeness - it almost goes without saying that ripeness is desirable, but in these days of supermarkets manipulating fruit and vegetables to suit the demands of long-haul travel many items are certainly either not ripe or have ripeness induced artificially.
Another essay is entitled 'Twelve ways of Looking at Tomatoes' which includes colour, juice, essence, shape, sauce and so on. In the section headed Essence he discusses the uses of tomato 'water' which has long been a summer favourite of ours where tomatoes are pulped, combined with some aromatics and then the pulp is left to drip through a cheese cloth overnight. The resulting essence can be used as a cooling drink or for making a wonderful jelly.
The chapter called Pasta Primer should be compulsory reading for every apprentice chef. Here the techniques for making pasta are laid out with a clarity and crispness that is exemplary. A lot of paragraphs are devoted to matching the type of flour (or combinations of different flours) for the type of pasta you are making. And the recipes for the pasta and the accompanying sauces are all very enticing.
But it is the long section on sausage making and curing of meat where Bertolli's expertise really shines through. This surely must be one of the best explanations of the craft ever written. Everything is discussed - the process of curing, the best cuts for different types of cured product, the tools you need, the best casings, how to use salt and seasonings, the process of fermentation and the use of starter cultures. It is riveting reading!
And just when you think his cooking shows a preference for meat products he shatters the myth by applying his forensic mind to the tastes, textures and colours of desserts. This is a great essay with the recipe for prune tart with walnut frangipane being a standout.
Cooking by Hand is an important book that should be a constant reference for chefs and food lovers everywhere.