#122 | Almonds, Anchovies and Pancetta
Almonds, Anchovies and Pancetta
By Cal Peternell
Intro: Welcome to the Cookery by the book podcast with Suzy Chase. She's just a home cook in New York City sitting at her dining room table talking to cookbook authors.
Cal Peternell: My name's Cal Peternell and I'm the author of most recently, "Almonds, Anchovies and Pancetta." I also wrote "12 Recipes" and "A Recipe for Cooking," and I'm the host of the "Cooking by Ear" podcast.
Suzy Chase: Growing up in the late '70's and early '80's, it's my understanding that meat was the center of the American plate. I mean the message, beef, it's what for dinner got drummed into our heads. Talk about the idea of being vegetable focused.
Cal Peternell: You know, if you go farther back than that, because I know what you're talking in the beef, it's what for dinner campaign and all that. But if you go farther back, all the way back, people have been eating this way for a long time. Where they eat a lot of vegetables, grains, greens, beans and they use a little bit of the right kind of meat, mostly cured pork or cured fish, to add a little flavor to it. And also, it's an economical way to eat, where you don't have to have a big roast, you can have just a little smoked pork, like a ham hock or something like that, that you throw in with the greens or a little bit of cured anchovies that you put in your salad or you put ...
So that you can feed a lot of people with a lot of vegetables and just add that little extra deliciousness with a small amount of the right kind of meat. And it's really the way that I like to eat and my family likes to eat now. And I think a lot of people like to eat that way.It's not that we're vegetarians, it's just that we really love vegetables and we want to eat a lot of them.
Suzy Chase: Take me through the thought process of narrowing down this cookbook to three main ingredients.
Cal Peternell: Well, I always had this fantasy about opening a restaurant that would be called Anchovies and Pancetta because those would be the only kinds of meat that were served there. That we'd be doing, like I say, lots of vegetables and salads and stuff and just be seasoning them with the meats like that. And I was actually at an event in New York at the 92nd Street Y, and I was talking about that and I said maybe I could write a cookbook like that and my editor and agent were both in the audience and they both perked up and we talked about it afterwards and we came up with this idea that we could come up with a book that had three chapters for each of those ingredients, so it's almonds, anchovies and pancetta.
And I guess the way I chose them is there's more than those three ingredients flavoring the dishes in this book. So there's almonds in the almond chapter, but also other kinds of nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts. And in the anchovy chapter there's also things like bottarga and shaved bonito and fish sauce and of course in the pancetta chapter there's all kinds of cured pork. But those are the ones that I use the most to deliver a little extra fat. Of course, anchovies and pancetta deliver salt as well. But there's something more that they bring, because you could just add salt.
I've come to believe that they represent a certain amount of time and also if you think about in a way as sort of like an artifact of the time that it took for it to either grow on the tree or the fish to reach maturity in the ocean or the livestock, the pork, the pigs on the farm. But then if you cure fish or pork, there's extra time that's going into it. It's sort of a short cut, because I love to do long cook dishes, like last night I cooked a pork shoulder and I seasoned it the day before and then I brought it to room temperature for a couple of hours and then I braised it for a couple hours and I love that.
But you don't always have time for that. So by using these ingredients that already kind of, one of the things that they have in them in addition to salt is time. Not the herb, but actual hours. And so you're kind of short cutting. You're getting that depth of flavor that you might get from long cooking, but you're just doing it in the moment, because that pancetta has already got the time in it. That gives it that depth.
Suzy Chase: Speaking of salt, you say cooking is so much about salt. Why is that?
Cal Peternell: Well, these ingredients, of course, the nuts aside, there's so many things are considered delicious delicacies now that are born out of the ability to use salt to preserve food. So that when you have an abundant catch, you eat all the fish you can right now, but you can't eat it all now, so you have to figure out a way to make it last, in case tomorrow there's no fishing in that. And salt is what allows you to do that. And the same with pork. There's a scene that I've always loved from "Grapes of Wrath," when the Joad family is packing up their farm and getting ready to head west and they have a couple of pigs and they slaughter them and they keep the chunks of meat and they pack them in these barrels full of salt. And then they roast the rest of it. The ribs and the bones and the stuff that won't really work being salted and they just have a feast of pork.
But they can't eat it all, so they pack it in salt and bring it with them and eat it over the months on the road. And I feel like that, salt is what makes that kind of thing possible and these foods that we all love, things like baklava and umeboshi and on and on, were born out of that kind of planning ahead, being sort of thrifty and they only can happen because of salt. I think also then, on a flavor level, salt, as my friend Samine says, salt makes things taste more like what they are.
Suzy Chase: Yep.
Cal Peternell: It sort of emphasizes their own innate flavor and I think that sometimes people are a little shy about salt, about using salt. Or they feel like they're not that confident, they don't know quite how to use it. Which leads one to my one rule about cooking, which is that you always need to taste your food and one of the things you're often tasting for is salt.
Suzy Chase: I just got maldon salt. What's the one way you use maldon? Because I'm not sure exactly what to do with it.
Cal Peternell: Yeah, I think maldon is great. I love maldon salt. I actually kind of ... you've probably done this too. You frame one of those beautiful little pyramids and you do a snack on it.
Suzy Chase: That's the only thing I've done with it.
Cal Peternell: Yeah. I mean, maldon of course, you're not going to throw a handful of maldon salt into your pasta water because it's all about the texture of those little crystals. It's a finishing thing and I think, I like to put it on, like if you were ... Hard boiled eggs is a great place to put it. If you butter a piece of bread and put a slice of radish on it, like french style, that's a great place for that kind of salt. And there's maldon, there's other salts that are being produced like that now.
They're about the texture, so you want to use it in a place where you're going to notice that texture. So just finishing things and also, it's quite beautiful, so you want to be able to see it.
Suzy Chase: So I'm always striving to become a more instinctive cook. How can this cookbook help us home cooks with that?
Cal Peternell: What I try and do with my cookbooks is set a tone that allows you to relax and really cook and I really try to be not too demanding of my reader. I find some cookbooks, even ones that I really admire, there can sometimes be this kind of demand for ... you have to have the right piece of equipment or have to have just the very best ingredients that can sometimes actually be a barrier to cooking. So I always say, you should cook with what you have now. You should think about those ingredients and think like, you know, I should try and get better turnips, these were okay, but next time I'm going to ... I saw those really beautiful ones at the farmer's market I'm going to try and get those or if you only ... so many dishes start with onions, carrots and celery and if you're missing the carrot, it doesn't mean you shouldn't go ahead and cook with onions and celery. But you should think about like, what does the carrot bring to it? What am I missing here and maybe next time I should add some carrots. They last a long time in the fridge, I'll just make sure I have them.
Likewise with equipment. If all you have is a thin aluminum pan, it doesn't mean you shouldn't cook dinner tonight, but you should start looking when you're at the flea market next time for some nice cast iron that's going to make you a better cook. And as far as being ... I think that also, I often offer alternatives to ingredients. If you don't have this, you could use this. Or if you don't ... In this book, if you don't love anchovies, than honestly I think if you think that you don't love anchovies, you actually do love anchovies, you just haven't really had them the right way.
You can use the almonds often in the place of those. So I think being instinctual cook comes down to ... The honest truth is you have to cook a lot. You have to find the pleasure in cooking that will encourage you to keep cooking and that will eventually make you a better and more instinctual cook, because you've already done it before and you're remembering, oh yeah, the other time when I did this it worked that way so it'll probably work that way again. Or it didn't work out and so this time I should to do it a little bit differently.
I don't think people should cook a recipe just once, I think they should cook it a couple of times until they feel like they kind of really get what's happening with that combination of ingredients.
Suzy Chase: In the almond section you have a recipe for almond butter and cucumber sandwiches with shallots. Describe this and why is this recipe personal and private for you?
Cal Peternell: I think we all have our guilty snacks, our guilty pleasure thing that maybe we don't ... we try to run out of the store before anyone sees us with it in our hands. I have mine. They're salty snacks, I won't say exactly what they are, but-
Suzy Chase: Cheez It's?
Cal Peternell: Yeah, it's something like that.
Suzy Chase: Okay, go on.
Cal Peternell: But then we also we have that thing. I don't know if you have it, but definitely these things that, especially when I'm working and I'm by myself and I'm just hungry and I go in the kitchen and I start looking around. And those little sandwiches came out of that. Out of having that combination of ingredients and just thinking, oh that could come together in a really great way that would satisfy what I need right now. Some nice bread, I like to use the dense, grainy bread that I think of as being more Northern European kind of bread and either toasted or not. Spread it with some nice almond butter. A couple slices of cucumbers, a little bit of shallots or scallions that you squeeze a little lemon or lime juice so it tempers them a little bit and you put that on top there and it's like a little open faced sandwich.
It's the kind of thing that it felt like, oh this is my snack and nobody else would really go for this, that combination of things. But then I started to think, you know, actually I think probably everybody has something like this. And so, I included that in the book, not only because I think it's delicious and I think other people might too. But just to encourage people to try to get back that instinctive thing that's ... And something we talk about on the podcast is we think people have gateway dishes that they're afraid to cook. They feel like they don't have the instinct for it. But if you can show them that one thing that they can make and have success with, it can give them the confidence to like, oh if I could make that little sandwich that good, maybe next time I could do something more with it. Or, you know, it's not that far off from another dish. That I should try that. And you build on that and your confidence grows and you become better.
Suzy Chase: Yeah. I think a lot of cooking is confidence.
Cal Peternell: Yeah. And I think every time I take a lift, you know ride, I always ask my driver, do you cook? And a lot of times they'll say now and I push and I'm like, well really? Because it's hard for me to imagine someone who never cooks anything. And you know, usually they'll admit, they might say, yeah no, I don't cook. And I'm like what about toast? Do you make toast? And most people will admit that they do. And I feel like, that's cooking. That's a step. In my first book in 12 Recipes, the first chapter is about toast, because we've all had toast, it's just okay, and then you also, hopefully you've had that time where you're like, oh my god, this is something really different. And it might be because the bread was really great of it might be because someone swiped a clove of garlic over it and poured on some delicious olive oil.
Or it might be just because you're really hungry. But thinking about what you're ... Being attentive to what you're doing. Being present with the ingredients that you have, I think can start to give you that confidence of like oh, I get it. I get what's happening here in the kitchen and can lead to more confidence and eventually to a certain amount of innovation.
Suzy Chase: So moving on to the anchovies section, you have a recipe for artichokes and new onions baked with anchovies and bread crumbs. Talk about how you and Russell Moore used to make this dish together at Chez Panisse.
Cal Peternell: Russ and I go way back. We were chefs together at Chez Panisse for many years. And we also would cook a lot together at my house or his house with friends. There was something that would happen when he and I would cook. And there's a few other friends who are cooks that this same kind of synergy happens where we know each other well enough. We've cooked together well enough that we truly collaborate and kind of flowed together. It's almost like, I don't know if this sounds goofy but it's a little bit like a dance.
Sometimes we don't have to talk too much, we just kind of have this thing where we're really on the same page and if you've ever had that kind of an experience of crafting something together with someone, it can be kind of profound and really comforting in a way. That you have a kindred spirit. And in the book I talk about how my wife and I cook together and I guess we have something similar, but she ... It's not really her thing. I mean, she likes to be with me and we like to chat while she's spinning the lettuce and I'm making the vinaigrette or whatever. There's just something more that happens with someone who's really on the same page with you. And that's a recipe that Russ and I came up with when we were still cooking at Chez Panisse and we just wanted to make this little bundles of ... you know. It was spring, the artichokes were beautiful, the new onions were amazing. I don't know if you are familiar with new onions, but they kind of look like a giant scallion.
Suzy Chase: Yes.
Cal Peternell: They're just a great thing to eat raw, to fry, to roast. They work so many ways and they're really lovely too, sometimes they're kind purple. So we roast the onions, we cook the artichokes and we curled the onion around the artichoke and put a little bit of anchovy on there and some bread crumbs. Of course, we put lots of olive oil and baked it and you know, bread crumbs and anchovies all kind of come together and there was like this little loose bundles that we served with grilled lamb. But they're great any way.
They do take a little bit of work because there's artichokes involved and whenever you're cooking with artichokes there's a certain amount of prep. But it's totally worth it and the season for them is coming up. You know spring time is when those ingredients are at their best.
Suzy Chase: So you mentioned your wife, Kathleen Henderson, who's an artist. And I'm going to read a blurb from "Art in America." It says Henderson's scenarios generally take place against a stark background of blank white paper. That made me think of you plating food on a blank white plate. Do your artistic styles converge at all?
Cal Peternell: They do. And maybe not though in the way you might expect. It's interesting that you point that out, the white plate, white paper thing, because I do think that ... it just makes me think about ... It's something I said to Alice Waters when I was still at Chez Panisse and when we travel we'd eat in all the restaurants that are getting the buzz and stuff. And I came back from a trip one time and I said Alice, I think the fact that we're just putting food on a regular flat ceramic plate is an incredible innovation right now, because if you're eating at these places where food is served on a stone or a log or a little dish that you carry and you have to hold in your hand and pull the pin before you eat it or someone's spraying bubbles at you. I ate a dessert one time that was served on a pillow full of lavender smoke. So it's funny to think about food being just served on a plate and what that's like. No one's doing that.
Suzy Chase: So for the pancetta section of the book, I made your recipe for brusselsssprouts with pancetta, ginger and cilantro on page 147.
Cal Peternell: Oh, great.
Suzy Chase: So let's talk about that dish.
Cal Peternell: Yeah.
Suzy Chase: First, can you describe it?
Cal Peternell: I came up with this recipe for brussels sprouts that includes a little pancetta. You could use bacon too. But that it brings in some Asian flavors like ginger, cilantro and basically you roast the brussels sprouts. If they're big, which they usually are, a little bit too big to roast whole, I cut them in half, I toss them with a little oil and salt, put them in a nice hot oven. Sometimes you got to splash a little water on the tray if things are starting to get too dark before they get cooked through, because to me, I want them to cooked all the way. I don't want to be crunching so much on them.
And then you just saute a little bit of pancetta, like I said you could also use bacon and in fact, if you were vegan, you could use almonds here for vegetarian. You cook the pancetta a little bit. You throw in a little bit of ginger, let that sizzle. Maybe do this thing that I love to do with herbs, so many times herbs are added right at the end, but cooking herbs in the pan does an amazing thing. It kind of infuses the flavor into the fat that you're using. It also fats the color. So I throw in a good handful of cilantro and let it sizzle in there with the pancetta and ginger and then throw the brussel sprouts that are already cooked in. Toss it around. Squeeze on lime juice. Taste it, see if it needs a little more lime juice. And that's it. And it's kind of, it's both familiar but also a little exotic because it's got a little ginger and cilantro.
How did yours come out?
Suzy Chase: It was amazing. I'm going to make it for Christmas.
Cal Peternell: Oh yeah? Good, perfect. Yep.
Suzy Chase: The cilantro and the ginger is so unexpected. You just don't, you're like, what is that, oh my gosh.
Cal Peternell: Excellent. I'm so glad to hear that. And it looks nice too, right? It's sort of-
Suzy Chase: It's so pretty.
Cal Peternell: Yeah. And you could put a little, I don't know if it's in the recipe, I don't think it is. But you know, like so many things, a little bit of hot pepper flakes if you want something a little spicy would be nice in there too.
Suzy Chase: So, you have a podcast that I adore called "Cooking by Ear." Can you tell us about it?
Cal Peternell: So "Cooking by Ear" is a podcast that my partner, Kristina Loring, my podcast partner and I came up with. We had this intention to find a way to make a podcast that could teach you to cook. That you could actually cook along with in real time. And I called my guests or I'd send them email and we'd agree on ... and I asked them, what would you like me to teach you to cook? And we come up with a dish that works in the time that we have and I show up at their house and the guest is sort of a proxy for the listening audience, because we felt like we need to make it ... I have so many years of experience cooking and I can get a little too chefy maybe sometimes.
Like with the books, I wanted to be very approachable and inclusive. And so having a guest who's not a professional cook brings me back to the level of the lay person who's cooking along. They keep me in line a little bit if I'm going too fast or if I'm not explaining something enough. So we get ourselves set and when you download the episode of "Cooking by Ear," you also get an ingredients list, a shopping list. So when you have your ingredients together and you're in the kitchen and you got air puffs and fans and you're ready to go, you hit play, and you cook along with us in real time. The episodes are 40 to 50 minutes.
For example, the first episode was with the actress, Frances McDormand, who's just wonderful and funny. So we went to her house and while we cut the onions you cut the onions. And then while the onions are cooking, it takes a little while, so we talked to Fran about how she decided to be a pig in "Mom" or we talk about how her husband, Joel Coen, loves to make pies. And then when the onions are done and we start cooking the risotto you do the same. And then while simmering along we talked to Fran about the way her mother would make these salads or whatever.
And at the end of it, you're cooking along with us, of course you can hit pause if you're timing is off or if you get called away for something for a second. But the idea is, 45 minutes later, you've not only heard these funny stories about Frances McDormand and got to sort of get to know in a more intimate way because you're in her kitchen with us. But you also have a pot of risotto done and you've learned to make it. I don't know if you've heard the one with Fran, but it's hilarious and there's a lot of other ones that are really funny and sometimes sad and poignant. And worth a listen.
Suzy Chase: I did. I loved that she gave you a tour of her kitchen. So in my head I have this visual of her kitchen.
Cal Peternell: Yeah, yeah. And she showed us some of her favorite plates and things like that.
Suzy Chase: Yeah. Uh huh.
Cal Peternell: Yeah, and we've been really lucky and for me, I've learned as much from our guests as hopefully they have learned from me. But we've been really lucky with getting amazing people to join us in the kitchen and I found that when you are around food and you're eating and you're cooking, you have a task, that it opens a door a little wider into people's lives. In season one, we also cooked with the amazing poet, Tommy Pico. Director Mira Nair who made "Mississippi Masala" and "Monsoon Wedding." We cooked with Alexander Payne who made "Sideways" and "Downsizing." He was really hilarious.
We went to New Orleans and switched the format up a little bit and the hip hop artist, Big Freedia showed us how to make her booty pop and potatoes, which was-
Suzy Chase: Okay, stop. What else did she show you how to do?
Cal Peternell: She gave me a lesson, I'm not going to say that she taught me how to twerk, because I absolutely cannot twerk.
Suzy Chase: Oh my god.
Cal Peternell: She gave me a twerking lesson and I can tell you, she summed it up ... actually she got very excited because she said that we gave her a new hook for a song.
Suzy Chase: Yeah, then she had to write it down.
Cal Peternell: Yeah, she ran and wrote it down and she ran and told the boyfriend that she just got it and goes like this. You put your hands on your hip and you arch you back. You put your booty in the air and you shake it like. Or twerk it like that.
And it turns out I can't really get low enough. I need to do much more Pilates or something in order to deal with it.
Suzy Chase: Squats?
Cal Peternell: In order to be able to twerk right. Have you ever tried to do it?
Suzy Chase: No.
Cal Peternell: No. Yeah. I thought like, oh my god, I'm going to hurt myself, they're going to have call 911.
Suzy Chase: Throw something out. Well I think it's great. There are so many food podcasts out there just talking about food. But I think it's so brilliant that you're in the kitchen and we can hear your conversation and the cooking sounds. I love it. So that takes me to my segment called my last meal.
Cal Peternell: Yeah.
Suzy Chase: What would you order for your last supper?
Cal Peternell: I was thinking about this and it's a dish that I've been a little bit obsessed with and I'm not alone and it's spaghetti cacio e pepe. Do you know cacio e pepe?
Suzy Chase: Yeah. You know it's funny, I interviewed a cookbook author yesterday and she said the very same thing.
Cal Peternell: Okay, well that's because it's the most delicious and comforting. I would demand that it's spaghetti cacio e pepe and it's made with one very, very long strand of spaghetti that just goes on and on and on. And I would slurp it up slowly.
Suzy Chase: Never ending.
Cal Peternell: And I'd ask for a glass of cheap red wine to go with it.
Suzy Chase: Where can we find you on the web, social media and where can we find your podcast?
Cal Peternell: My website is calpeternell.com. On social media I'm @calpeternell, one word. And the podcast is available everywhere you get your podcast, Apple Podcast, Stitcher, you know, all the podcast places.
Suzy Chase: Wonderful. Well thanks so much Cal for coming on "Cookery by the Book" podcast.
Cal Peternell: Yeah, thanks for having me, it's been a real pleasure.
Outro: Follow Suzy Chase on Instagram at cookery by the book and subscribe at cookerybythebook.com or in Apple Podcasts. Thanks for listening to "Cookery by the Book" podcast, the only podcast devoted to cookbooks since 2015.