Getting to the Heart: A review of Heart of the Artichoke and other kitchen journeys by David Tanis, Artisan Books, 2010
Chez Panisse chef David Tanis’s new cookbook, Heart of the Artichoke, begs for a whole evening curled up on the sofa with a glass of vin santo. This is a book to read word for word, from front to back. And while inspiration to try the recipes is inevitable, the gift Tanis gives his readers is the opportunity to contemplate what it means in our daily lives to cook, simply and deliciously, as a basic human experience. Starting with Tanis’s explanation of the book’s metaphoric title, through his introduction called “The Cuisine in My Head,” then into his 14 “Kitchen Rituals,” and on through copious recipe head notes and sidebars, one comes to know the life of a chef whose Zen-like philosophy on meal preparation seems more rooted in the often-simple way he cooks at home than in what he does at the famous restaurant.
Tanis is an omnivore who is also flexible enough to allow a colloquial oddity like Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix to reside in his pantry alongside the fresh local ingredients. But more significantly, he works from the peasant’s belief that nothing wholesome or overabundant should be thrown away. He gives us recipes for making sausage, meat stock, or fruit preserves as well as ways to use offal and stale bread to pleasing effect.
During his half year off, when he is either in his Paris apartment or traveling the globe, Tanis has plenty of opportunity to hobnob with the famous wizards of molecular gastronomy, but he is far more interested in traditional foodways. He loves working with his hands and finds little use for more than a few treasured kitchen gadgets: “I always say that a kitchen requires only fire, water, a worktable, and a sharp knife.”
After my own night on the sofa with this book, I recognized something akin to the enchantment I felt on first reading Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate, a novel that includes some recipes placed on the page as illustrations. The fact that the recipes don’t cook up well at all (in the estimation of every cook I know who’s attempted them) adds to the “magical realism” of Esquivel’s story. While Tanis certainly expects that cooks will follow his recipes with great success, I can’t help feeling that he hopes to lead readers astray—for he knows that going astray can lead to discovery. In the heart of his cooking practice, things are not supposed to be so surefire as the plethora of today’s “quick and easy” style cookbooks try to suggest. In the world of David Tanis, cooking is a treasured part of daily experience—one that involves pleasure, curiosity, experimentation, contemplation, and downright reverie.
—Cheryl Angelina Koehler
A Bowl of Tripe
Excerpted from Heart of the Artichoke by David Tanis (Artisan Books) Copyright 2010. Christopher Hirsheimer photographer.
There’s the pleasure of making tripe, and then there’s the private ritual it inevitably becomes because you can’t get anyone to eat it with you. Which is sort of sad, because for me, a bowl of tripe has the same comforting value as chicken soup.
Take 2 or 3 pounds of tripe and a sharp knife. I love to see the tripe there on my cutting board, all white and frilly. As I slice it into thin ribbons (discarding gristle and fat), I think of the tripe dishes I have savored in the past: cold Chinese tripe dim sum with sesame oil; Spanish callos with chorizo; Roman-style tripe with tomato and Parmigiano; Florentine-style, boiled, on a bun; spicy Mexican menudo, the hangover cure. And, of course, the French tripes à la mode de Caen.
First boil the sliced tripe in a big pot of salted water for about 20 minutes. Then drain it as if you were draining pasta.
Dice a large onion, slice 6 cloves of garlic, and soften them in olive oil in a sturdy stew pot. Stir in the drained tripe, and season well with salt and pepper. Add a bay leaf, a clove, and a sprig of thyme, then add water to cover by 2 inches. Cover and simmer gently for at least an hour, until the tripe is extremely tender. Taste the broth and adjust the seasonings. Pour the tripe and all its liquid into a Pyrex dish and refrigerate overnight until it firms into a solid block. The next day, you’ll have basic cooked tripe, which can be transformed into wonderful things.
To serve it Roman-style, heat up a portion of the boiled tripe, add half a cup of homemade tomato puree and a pinch of red pepper flakes, and simmer for 15 or 20 minutes. Make it as spicy as you like—I think it should be quite zippy and peppery. Pour the tripe into a soup bowl and sprinkle with freshly grated cheese—Parmigiano or pecorino romano.