117 of 119 people found the following review helpful
You buy this book for culinary inspiration and insights into how the very greatest chefs think. It's most proper neighbors on your bookshelf are titles such as Eric Rippert's `A Return to Cooking', James Beard's `Delights and Prejudices', and Mario Batali's `Simple Italian Food'. Each of these volumes, in their own very personal ways explore the authors' inspirations and love of food.
This volume combines monographs on ingredients, personal memoirs, and exacting techniques into a web of very enlightening recipes and insights.
Paul Bertolli is the owner and executive chef of the restaurant Oliveto in Oakland, California and a former head chef at Alice Waters' Chez Panisse. Unlike Jeremiah Tower, Bertolli makes no mention of Waters except for the obviously shared devotion to fine, local ingredients. Instead, I am delighted to see him acknowledge assistance from Harold Magee and several other culinary academics.
If Mario Batali gives us the college courses in proper Italian cuisine, then Paul Bertolli gives us the post-graduate training, citing in the introduction the Elizabeth David epigram that `Good Cooking is Trouble' meaning that good cooking requires painstaking effort with lots of circles and switchbacks in one's path to mastery.
The book is in no way a traditional cookbook and anyone who buys it just for the recipes will be missing over half the value. The eight chapters comprising the bulk of the book deal with some materials and techniques at the heart of Italian cuisine.
The first topic deals with respect for fresh ingredients. This begins Bertolli's illuminations on the life of ingredients such as polenta, artichokes, zucchini, spring vegetables, eggplant, olives, mushrooms, and pears. The book reveals something new and exciting about each material and breaks a few rules along the way. In explaining the methods for curing olives, the author also begins offering the reader an entrance into a wonderland of new ways to be involved with our food.
The second main topic is an essay on `Ripeness'. It stresses that good cooking does not come from recipes but from looking at and listening to your ingredients.
The third topic is tomatoes and looking at them for color, juice, essence, shape, sauce, conserva, complement, braise, container, condiment, and side dish. This section contains many tomato based recipes, but the real gem is the discussion of `conserva', a preparation similar to tomato paste, but a much more potent carrier of flavor.
The fourth topic is an essay on the techniques for making balsamic vinegar plus the ways of using young, middle-aged, and old balsamico.
The fifth topic is a primer on pasta making. This takes one beyond Mario's well method into a world of fussiness about the quality of the wheat which rivals the obsessions of the very best artisinal bakers. This chapter is worth the price of admission.
The sixth topic is entitled `Bottom up cooking' and introduces at the reader to meat `sugo' which is created by the repeated browning and deglazing of meat and broth until you reach a concentration of flavor I have never seen discussed before in depth, although it is similar to the French notion of `jus'.
The seventh topic treats pork and the many ways of curing pork including the making of sausage and ham. While there is enough information here to give one a credible start at salume, the author points out that this is a skill which requires a substantial amount of practice. Even if one never touches a sausage casing or a meat grinder, this chapter is well worth the background it gives to assist one in respecting their ingredients.
The last major topic is devoted to menu building, mostly by working backward from the dessert. This section should be very familiar to Chez Panisse devotees, where daily menus were built upon the produce of the day. Like Chez Panisse and some other very high end restaurants, Olivato presents fixed price tasting menus with several courses, each paired with an appropriate bottle of wine.
I suspect there are people who will buy this book and be disappointed because all they wanted was a book of good Italian recipes. If that is what you want, check out Marcella Hazan, Lidia Bastianich, or Giuliano Bugialli. This book has very good recipes, but it includes so much more. I give Bertolli and his editors extra credit for giving a complete list of all the recipes at the beginning of the book, since the recipes are not organized by chapters one commonly uses to find them.
The book also includes a better than average list of sources to support the author's emphasis on excellence. There are few photographs and very few color photographs. I don't miss them.
57 of 57 people found the following review helpful
There are many cookbooks out there that treat food as secondary. Their first concerns are time [Rachel Ray's focus on 30 minute recipes], waistlines [a new diet cookbok every day], money [cooking on a budget], impressing the neighbors [cooking quick, vapid, and flashy tray-foods], etc. It's remarkable, even in our food-neurotic culture, that so few cookbooks deal first and last with FOOD. Paul Bertolli's Cooking by Hand isn't just focused on food, it is passionately, single-mindedly, worshipfully, crazily in love with food and with ingredients, and with food's ability to draw friends and family together. This lusty focus generated a book like no other. In it, Bertolli efuses about tomatoes, engages in much hearty gesticulating about pork trimmings, goes on for seven pages about home prosciutto-making, writes a tear-jerking letter to his infant son about balsamic vinegar, and philosophizes at some length about terroir as a metaphor for human development. And, somehow, he pulls it off. His enthusiasm is infectious. My overwhelming sense of Paul Bertolli after reading this book [and cooking from it] is that he is totally, profoundly, madly in the thrall of good food. He makes other chefs look tepid or undercommitted. I'd probably have a hard time working for him, in the face of such over-riding passion every day, but I will be travelling 1,000 miles to his restaurant this fall because he's ignited in me a hunger that eschews caution.
I am happy to report that the recipes stand up to all the heavy breathing. The conserva of tomatoes has revolutionized my sauce-making. The illuminating instructions for sugo have caused some very quiet, almost prayerful pasta courses at my table. The Bitter Orange Cake with Compote of Blood Oranges is one of those foods that will end a meal in such a way that you will feel haunted for weeks until you get it in your mouth again.
I highly recommend this book, both as cookbook and as a gospel.
56 of 62 people found the following review helpful
on October 18, 2003
This book is brilliant, at once over-the-top and completely accessible; it will raise the level of anyone's game. It is conceptual, grouping related dishes by modes of thought like Colicchio's "Think Like a Chef", only written at a more literary reading level. It is an unapologetic account of what happens in a particular and remarkable restaurant kitchen like Keller's "The French Laundry Cookbook", only free of that book's pretensions and skyscraper food. While one can only hope to lift the odd stunning technique from Keller, one can aspire to cook from Bertolli cover-to-cover, and be thrilled every step of the way. In short, this book is everything that is right about Italian cooking. For a reader searching for the most insightful words in print on Italian, French, Chinese, Japanese and southeast-asian noodles, "Hand" is essential reading for the Italian pasta chapter alone. One immediately craves a hand-turned stone flour mill; improvising a cellar for curing meats will have to wait.
47 of 52 people found the following review helpful
on September 2, 2003
Paul Bertolli's first book, "Chez Panisse Cooking", is a wondrous book of recipes and thoughts, and his years at Chez Panisse produced many meals that helped validate that restaurant's stellar reputation. His new book, "Cooking by Hand", definitely satisfies expectations. The essay style of Bertolli's ideas and approaches goes even broader and deeper than before, with more fascinating information and suggestions for achieving elemental cooking that coaxes the true and utmost tastes from the ingredients. His descriptions of how to find the most flavorful cornmeal for polenta, the curing of prosciutto, and numerous other techniques is seldom shared information that is both fun and instructive to read. My only demerit for the book is the lousy paper that it is printed on. I'm suprised that Clarkson Potter, charging [so much] for this volume, cheaped out on paper where the type bleeds through the pages and the nice black and white photos are not given the resolution they deserve. These deficiences are in marked contrast to the high quality of authorship and overall concept. Hopefully a later edition will remedy these shortcomings. Meanwhile, enjoy this book - a valuable addition to the cook's library.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on November 13, 2006
I have thoroughly loved reading this cookbook. Even if you never make any of these recipes, you will love learning how this great chef looks at the world of ingredients. Fortunately, the lion's share of his insights surround common foods which you and I enjoy all the time, such as tomatoes and artichokes. His chapters on pasta and "bottom-up" cooking are wonderful culinary reading. This book would make a great gift for someone who loves to cook but already has the big name cookbooks.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 15, 2007
another perfect example of a book that combines philosophy with cookery with the result of a flawless melding of the two. as a culinary professional, i have found this book to be incredibly inspiring. i have used the recipes and techniques in the book both at work and at home, with great success. sometimes when i am exhausted after a long days work, i just open this book for a pick me up, whether it is the story of his son's batteria (the balsamic vinegar array) or his charcuterie recipes (not found in many other cookbooks) or the spare illustrations (so rare in these days of gastro-porn) there is clearly something special about this book.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on December 5, 2007
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"...
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on December 25, 2004
If you enjoy cooking, and wish to establish yourself further in the trade (as an amateur or professional) this book is imperative. I've used and adapted more recipies from this book than any other I own. Bertolli strives to describe what you should be looking for, smelling, and feeling in a product. However, you'll find his writing much easier to deal with if you've already a background in the kitchen, or have some basic knowledge of fundamental culinary techniques. Overall, this is a fantastic book, particulary the chapters on Tomatoes and Balsamico. Enjoy!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on March 2, 2012
I have this book in my library here at the restaurant and twice over the past two years it has been stolen just before the chef/thief was fired. Odd recommendation but honestly, if a book is stolen, it must be good. Out of the hundred or so food/cook related books on our shelves, this is the one that has been repeatedly pilfered. I wouldn't mind so much if I thought these guys would actually read and learn from it, which I seriously doubt since they were fired for being lazy. I remember being a college student who thought that if I owned a book it meant I knew what was in it. Wrong! Took me a while to learn I was Wrong! Now I keep Cooking By Hand locked in my office. One of these days I intend to cook my way through it. Front to back, preferably in an agriturismo in Umbria. This book makes nostalgia boil over.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 17, 2011
Paul Bertolli's cooking by hand is my second favorite cookbook next to Alice Water and The French Laundry. Just charcuterie section alone, I will give 5 stars. This is not a picture book and if you want to be a good home cook or professional one. This is a must read. I can't wait for his next book. He cowroted a Chez Panisse cookbook as well. Take pasta section, he wrote the important of flour from grain to flour, color, choosing, the feel, fragrance and kinds of flour. It covers3-4 pages already. I can go on and on about his book from front to back. I love everything about it.
If you want coffee table book, this is not good choice. If you want a book that will stay next to your bed which you will read every day or in kitchen cabinet so you can read for reference, this is a perfect one. Buy it.