Though the ingredients in your pantry and fridge likely vary by season or recipe, most home cooks have a couple of staple ingredients they reach for on repeat. They're the items that form the foundation of a delicious dish: perhaps a high-quality olive oil to drizzle on salads or tart block of parmesan to scatter on pasta. For cookbook author and chef Cal Peternell, those staples are surprisingly obscure.
In his latest cookbook, Almonds, Anchovies, and Pancetta, the San Francisco–based chef spotlights his three go-to ingredients and explains why the nut, fish, and cured meat are must-haves. "People have cooked this way forever—using cured meats and fishes as a seasoning element—and it's the way I like to (mostly) eat these days," he says.
All three ingredients are excellent at adding texture and depth of flavor, turning a bland dish into a memorable one. "Anchovies and pancetta bring not just salt but a concentration of time—the time it took to salt or smoke or ferment them is revealed through flavor," he says. While almonds aren't salty, he considers them the meat of the plant world, making them ideal for vegans and vegetarians. "Nuts deliver fat content that is comparable to bacon and pancetta. I chose almonds for this book because they seem most versatile to me. [They] act as a thickener when ground very finely, add crunch when roughly chopped, [and] provide rustic heft when crushed for adding to cooked greens."
Intrigued by Peternell's ingredient choice? Test out his theory with three recipes from his new cookbook to include almonds, anchovies, or pancetta.
Salsa Rustica With Egg and Pancetta
Kosher or sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp. cooking oil, olive or vegetable
3 ounces pancetta, cut into thin matchsticks
1 almond-size garlic clove, pounded
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
3 tbsp. good olive oil, plus more if needed
Hard-boil the eggs: Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil, slip in the eggs, and cook for 9 minutes. Cool and peel, then chop, grate, or push through a spider—I prefer the eggs to be pretty chunky. In a medium bowl, season the eggs with salt and pepper and set aside.
Meanwhile, warm a small skillet over medium-low heat, add the cooking oil, then the pancetta, and cook until it’s the way you like it: soft, crispy, or in between. Drain and set aside both the pancetta and the fat.
Add the pancetta, garlic, parsley, olive oil, and a pinch of salt to the chopped eggs. Mix well, taste, and consider adding a tablespoon more of the olive oil or a tablespoon of the reserved pancetta fat. Spread everywhere, as if it were good news, which it is.
Steamed Clams With Almond and Parsley Butter and No Linguine
1/4 cup almonds, toasted
3 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup loosely packed parsley leaves, finely chopped
2 tbsp. cooking oil, olive or vegetable
2 garlic cloves
Crushed red pepper flakes
3 lbs. small clams, such as Manilas or Littlenecks, well washed in cold water
1/4 cup dry white wine
A great loaf of rustic bread
Finely chop the almonds either by crushing with a rolling pin and chopping with a knife, or in a food processor. In a medium bowl, stir the almonds, butter, and parsley together until smooth. Don’t add salt—the clams will do that. Set aside while you cook the clams.
Heat a large skillet to medium and add the oil, then the garlic and crushed red pepper flakes. Swirl the pan and, before the garlic browns at all, add the clams and wine. Cover the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until all the clams have opened. If a few won’t open, that’s okay; let them keep their deep secrets. Add the almond and parsley butter and stir so that it melts and mixes with the clam broth. Serve hot with spoons, bread, and napkins.
Cauliflower With Almond Aillade
1 almond-size garlic clove (or more)
Kosher or sea salt
1/4 cup peeled raw almonds
3/4 cup good olive oil
1 tsp. lemon juice or vinegar (white wine, Champagne, or cider)
2 tbsp. finely chopped parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large cauliflower head cut into Ping-Pong-ball-size florets
Put a large pot of water on to boil for the cauliflower while you make the aillade.
Pound the garlic in a mortar and pestle with a pinch of salt, add the almonds and pound to a chunky paste, not entirely smooth. Stir in 1 tablespoon of water and then begin adding olive oil in a thin stream, like making mayonnaise. When half the oil is in, add another tablespoon of water if it’s getting very thick, then keep stirring in the remaining oil. Add the lemon juice or vinegar, chopped parsley, black pepper, and a pinch of salt. Taste and adjust with more lemon or salt and add a splash of water if it needs more flow.
Add salt to the pot of boiling water and taste that it’s right. Add the cauliflower and cook until tender—about 5 minutes, but tasting a piece is the only way to really know. Stir a couple of tablespoons of the cooking water into the bowl of aillade to get it in the mood. Set aside a little more cooking water for possible adjustments, then drain the cauliflower and put it in a mixing bowl. Stir in the aillade. Taste and adjust for flavor with salt or lemon, and for texture with a splash of cooking water or oil.
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