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Salt+Spine Cookbook Club
sep 26, 2020

A Chat with Jessica Battilana (+ Nectarine Crisp) ...

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 featured guest.
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!"
#TalkCookbooks and join us for a Virtual Dinner Party with Jessica on September 30th, click here to register!
Recipe

Apricot-Nectarine Crisp

Author Jessica Battilana

Like so many simple things, fruit crisps are easy to get wrong. The problem is usually with the topping, which can be so fine it sinks into the fruit or else padded with unnecessary ingredients, like oats or, even worse, lemon zest. Mine is straightforward: just sugar, walnuts, and flour drizzled with melted butter. Using melted butter causes the mixture to form into craggy clumps, a nutty, rich gravel to spread over the fruit. At once sweet and tart, fuzzy like babies' cheeks, Blenheim apricots become silky and jammy when baked. I add in some nectarines - you can vary the proportion of fruit to your own taste, but I like a mixture that's two-thirds apricots, one-third nectarines by weight. If apricots aren't in season or aren't available where you live, you can use any seasonal fruit you prefer. A handful of raspberries or pitted cherries would be a nice addition to the apricots and nectarines. As summer wears on, this crisp can be make with peaches or plums, and when stone-fruit season finally comes to an end, there are apples to look forward to. Bake the crisp until the topping is a deep brown and the fruit juices look thick and sticky.

Yield   Serves 6

Ingredients

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

½ cup finely chopped walnuts

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

¼ cup packed dark brown sugar

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature, plus more for the pan

2½ pounds apricots and nectarines; apricots pitted and quartered, nectarines pitted and sliced

1 teaspoon tapioca pearls, or all-purpose flour

Vanilla ice cream, for serving (optional)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375℉.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, walnuts, ¼ cup of the granulated sugar, the brown sugar, and the cinnamon. Drizzle the butter over and stir with a fork until the mixture clumps together; break up any large chunks with your fingers, but don't break it up too much.
In a large bowl, combine the fruit, the remaining 6 tablespoons granulated sugar, and the tapioca. Mix well to combine and let stand 10 minutes.
Butter a 2-quart gratin or casserole dish. Transfer the fruit to the prepared dish and spread in a thick, even layer. Top with the crumble mixture, distributing evenly. Place on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any bubble-over and transfer to the oven. Bake until the bubbling juices look thick and the topping is well browned, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Serve warm or at room temperature, accompanied by a scoop of ice cream.

Notes

Excerpted from REPERTOIRE Copyright © 2018 by Jessica Battilana. Used with permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York. All rights reserved.