Author Jessica Battilana
, native New Englander, many-year San Franciscan, writer for the San Francisco Chronicle and New York Times, and all around wonderful human, is this month’s Salt+Spine Cookbook Club
Having yet another excuse to cook from Jessica’s cookbook, Repertoire
, is welcome. We’ve been eating The Greenest Green Salad
, Sweet Corn Fritters on repeat, Salt-and-Pepper Fried Shrimp, Beef-and-Pork Meatballs (we double the batch, cooking half in the sauce & half under the broiler for quick lunches), and Apricot-Nectarine Crisp
(plus more nectarines, minus the apricots since they’re long gone). Wherever you reside, bake with the seasonal fruit you like best - in this moment, Jessica recommends apples and those jammy prune plums we hoard every year. Bay area Fall raspberries or blackberries are great with the nectarines, too.
Join in on the fun, and, we can’t say it enough: buy this cookbook! It is packed with recipes that deliver one home run after another for all ages.
READ ON FOR OUR INTERVIEW WITH JESSICA:
What’s the kitchen tool you can’t live without?
"I’m not much of a gadget person, but I really do love my Microplane, which I use for chocolate, nuts, garlic, and cheese."
What are you making at home the most right now and why do you love it?
"I think so many of us have reached a point of fatigue in the kitchen. The initial enthusiasm we might have had at the start of the pandemic has waned after six months of cooking three meals a day. I’m not immune to that, even if it’s my job to cook and develop recipes. All of which is a long way of saying that we all should give ourselves a break whenever we need it. Breakfast for dinner is fine. We’re all just doing our best. I’m in a new kitchen in a new state with kids in school only half-days, so I’ve been leaning hard into my repertoire, honestly--all the recipes that I’ve put in the book that I can cook by heart--black beans and rice, Parmesan-panko chicken cutlets, chocolate chip cookies. The beef-and-pork meatballs. The albondigas. And a vanilla birthday cake for my youngest son, who just turned 7."
What’s a fruit or vegetable you can’t live without this season?
"I am in New England right now, which has suddenly become very fall-like. I haven’t lived on the East coast in 16 years, so I’d sort of forgotten how abrupt the seasons are. We have been collecting lots of windfall apples from trees we pass on hikes (on public lands) and making applesauce, which my children love (and, frankly, makes me think of that movie Baby Boom, when Diane Keaton moves to a small New England town and starts an apple sauce business). And those beautiful prune plums, which I stew with a bit of sugar and a few ginger coins as a topping for oatmeal and yogurt."
Who’s your cooking idol and why?
"Any working parent who also makes their kids dinner every night."
What’s the cookbook you turn to most?
"I often turn to the Zuni Cafe Cookbook, by Judy Rodgers, which is so jam-packed full of information, I discover something new every time I read it. I love Suzanne Goin’s Sunday Suppers at Lucques for the same reason."
What’s something you’ve learned to cook or bake recently?
I just finished a project co-authoring the forthcoming Baking at 20th Century Cafe (out October 20!) with baker Michelle Polzine. I’m biased, but it’s a spectacular book and I learned so much from her, including how to make strudel! It’s such a cool thing to learn, how to stretch the dough until it’s paper thin, and so delicious to eat.
What’s your favorite cooking tip?
"It’s useful to salt your meat in advance, and to let it come to room temperature before cooking it. I put a measuring cup in the bottom of my colander when I’m cooking pasta, so that when I go to drain it I don’t forget to save some of the starchy pasta water so I can add a bit of it back to the pasta with whatever sauce I’m using. It helps the sauce coat the noodles and makes it especially silky. The freezer is your friend! I freeze leftover egg whites, leftover buttermilk, ice cube trays of soffrito (onions, carrots and celery cooked down together in lots of olive oil, then pureed and frozen in cubes), nuts, flour..."
You recently moved all the way across the country - what has been the most surprising part of your journey?
"It’s been a lot of fun to get to know the different food artisans on this side of the country. There are so many people doing interesting things. In many ways, Maine, where I am now, reminds me a lot of Northern California, where I spent the last 16 years. There’s so much agriculture and aquaculture, so much good food. But the seasons are so fleeting!"