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Cooking by Hand

by Paul Bertolli

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1491135,352 (4.07)2
One of the most respected chefs in the country, Paul Bertolli earns glowing praise for the food at California’s renowned Oliveto restaurant. Now he shares his most personal thoughts about cooking in his long-awaited book, Cooking by Hand. In this groundbreaking collection of essays and recipes, Bertolli evocatively explores the philosophy behind the food that Molly O’Neill of the New York Times described as “deceptively simple, [with] favors clean, deep, and layered more profusely than a mille-feuille.” From “Twelve Ways of Looking at Tomatoes” to Italian salumi in “The Whole Hog,” Bertolli explores his favorite foods with the vividness of a natural writer and the instincts of a superlative chef. Scattered throughout are more than 140 recipes remarkable for their clarity, simplicity, and seductive appeal, from Salad of Bitter Greens, Walnuts, Tesa, and Parmigiano and Chilled Shellfish with Salsa Verde to Short Ribs Agrodolce and Tagliolini Pasta with Crab. Unforgettable desserts, such as Semifreddo of Peaches and Mascarpone and Hazelnut Meringata with Chocolate and Espresso Sauce, round out a collection that’s destined to become required reading for any food lover. Rich with the remarkable food memories that inspire him, from the taste of ripe Santa Rosa plums and the aroma of dried porcini mushrooms in his mother’s ragu to eating grilled bistecca alla Fiorentina on a foggy late autumn day in Chianti, Cooking by Hand will ignite a passion within you to become more creatively involved in the food you cook.… (more)

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As one who definitely focuses on cookbooks for the pleasure of reading, there's one volume that stands so far above the rest that I am surprised that it is not more often seen or discussed. My vote goes for Paul Bertoli's wonderfully crafted book, "Cooking by Hand". It is such an incredible integration of one man's love of tradition, life, family, culture, philosophy, and ultimately dedication to cooking as almost an aesthetic, in it's full philosophical sense, pursuit

It doesn't hurt that he is obviously a very gifted writer. He draws you in with his emotional attachments to food, be it through childhood memories of care packages sent by an Uncle from Italy full of homemade salumi, or hearing in the old country stories of pasta so good that all it needs is a simple dash of olive oil, or with his touching open letter to his newborn son who will one day read about and appreciate the profundity of the present he received when he was born: a set of traditional aceto basalmico barrels in diminishing size for aging vinegar. Initially full of vivid fruit and youth while in its largest barrel, the ripening vinegar will no doubt slowly diminish in volume while increasing in complexity and depth as they both grow older, until they are both of advanced age wherein the vinegar that essentially grew up with him now just occupies the smallest of the barrels. Within lies an elixir so precious as if it were made to consecrate the crowning achievement of having reached old age.

So he pulls you in with his stories, but also with his clear dedication to get to the core of what it takes to get the most out of his ingredients. The food he talks about in his book are not fanciful creations meant to impress by a self-aggrandizing originality or boldness of thought; rather they are honest tastes brought back from old traditions, created perhaps only a few generations past when people still took the care to use that most extravagant of cooking ingredients: time. In fact he opens his book with a most appropriate quote from Elizabeth David: "Good cooking is trouble".

A true aesthete of taste, he takes you along on his own personal, almost zen-like journey to find, for instance, the secret to that pasta so good it only needs olive oil - this is of pasta that tastes of the grain - a pasta so good that it starts with it's ingredients in its most humble form - as grain itself, carefully selected and considered, then painstakenly hand milled and turned into flour.

Reading through his words you will begin to see the world of taste through his eyes, and similarly begin to acclimate to his unique sense of timelessness that pervades his writing. In other writers hands it may seem indulgent to spend a major section of the book on nothing more than the pleasure of seeing a tomato twelve different ways. The only other comparison I can make is with Mas Masumoto's "Four Seasons in Five Senses: Things Worth Savoring", whose almost singular topic is the peach; it will forever change how one looks at a simple peach. And as in Masumoto, one may never look at their ingredients in quite the same way once having experienced reading Bertoli's book.

Where before I had none, now I find my kitchen with no less than three manual grain mills, and a vinegar jar wherein I produce my own red wine vinegar. I am sure that I am not the only reader of his book that has been so influenced, and if this intrigues you in any way, perhaps you will find yourself travelling along on a very similar journey.

Indeed, "good cooking is trouble"... ( )
  cgfan | Dec 5, 2007 |
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One of the most respected chefs in the country, Paul Bertolli earns glowing praise for the food at California’s renowned Oliveto restaurant. Now he shares his most personal thoughts about cooking in his long-awaited book, Cooking by Hand. In this groundbreaking collection of essays and recipes, Bertolli evocatively explores the philosophy behind the food that Molly O’Neill of the New York Times described as “deceptively simple, [with] favors clean, deep, and layered more profusely than a mille-feuille.” From “Twelve Ways of Looking at Tomatoes” to Italian salumi in “The Whole Hog,” Bertolli explores his favorite foods with the vividness of a natural writer and the instincts of a superlative chef. Scattered throughout are more than 140 recipes remarkable for their clarity, simplicity, and seductive appeal, from Salad of Bitter Greens, Walnuts, Tesa, and Parmigiano and Chilled Shellfish with Salsa Verde to Short Ribs Agrodolce and Tagliolini Pasta with Crab. Unforgettable desserts, such as Semifreddo of Peaches and Mascarpone and Hazelnut Meringata with Chocolate and Espresso Sauce, round out a collection that’s destined to become required reading for any food lover. Rich with the remarkable food memories that inspire him, from the taste of ripe Santa Rosa plums and the aroma of dried porcini mushrooms in his mother’s ragu to eating grilled bistecca alla Fiorentina on a foggy late autumn day in Chianti, Cooking by Hand will ignite a passion within you to become more creatively involved in the food you cook.

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