Chatting with Alice Waters: Here's How to Stock Your Pantry for Easy Meals

Stock your home pantry like renowned Chef Alice Waters, then cook from it like a pro.

When it comes to stocking your home pantry like a professional chef, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better adviser than Alice Waters. Her new book, aptly titled My Pantry, is an eloquent exploration of what Waters keeps on hand in her kitchen all the time. It explores how to make several staple ingredients, like vanilla extract, candied citrus peel and ricotta cheese. It also gives recipes that utilize items from a well-stocked pantry, like superfood granola or Chocolate Nut Bark ( recipe below for you to enjoy at home).

My Pantry blends Waters' lovely writing with her highly craveable food and speaks to how a home pantry can evolve its staple items over time. “My travels to Morocco, Australia and Mexico have influenced what I keep on hand, especially spices,” Waters told FN Dish. “My pantry has also changed through my thinking about the importance of school lunch nutrition — whole grains, fruits and vegetables first.” You can find more about her work improving youth nutrition through better food resources for schools with her Edible Schoolyard Project.

What does Waters say every home cook needs to keep in a well-stocked pantry? The list is surprisingly simple. “You must always have olive oil, vinegar, garlic and spices,” she said. “Plus brown rice, farro pasta and preserved tomatoes.” According to Waters, a good home cook keeps 10 to 15 items on hand at all times, and with My Pantry you’ll find yourself making delicious meals from your pantry shelves multiple times a week. How does Waters choose what to make when she’s cooking from her pantry? “I pick whatever looks inspiring to me or what works with what I have on hand. You can make a delicious simple meal with only three or four ingredients.”

You can order your own copy of My Pantry here.

Chocolate Nut Bark
Yield: About a 9-by-11-inch rectangle

Chocolate nut bark makes a beautiful handmade gift and is a perfect small dessert to have on hand for unexpected guests. I vary the nuts sometimes, but I always seem to come back to a combination of hazelnuts, pistachios and almonds. Sometimes I also throw in some chopped dried sour cherries to add a fruity, tangy dimension. This recipe is not complicated, but you will need to temper the chocolate, a process of heating and cooling that gives the final product a glossy sheen and smooth texture. The tempering process is not superfluous. When melted chocolate has the proper molecular structure, it solidifies with a shiny surface and will break into pieces cleanly. This method of tempering was inspired by the example of Alice Medrich, a great chocolatier in Berkeley, Calif., who adds chunks of chocolate to hot, melted chocolate to slow the melting process and build the proper molecular structure.

Butter or neutral vegetable oil, for the pan
12 ounces good-quality bittersweet chocolate, 65 to 70 percent cacao
1 1/2 cups chopped or sliced toasted nuts

Have ready an instant-read thermometer, a heatproof spatula, a plate and a butter knife. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and coat a 9-by-11-inch section of the paper with butter or oil.

If the chocolate is in large blocks, chop it into 1/4-inch chunks and set aside 4 ounces. Sift the chopped nuts in a coarse-mesh sieve to remove any loose skins.

Heat a few inches of water in a saucepan until barely simmering. Put 8 ounces of the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and set over the water. (The water should not touch the bowl.) As the chocolate begins to melt, stir constantly until it is about 75 percent melted. At this point, check the temperature with the instant-read thermometer. If the temperature exceeds 100 degrees F, remove the bowl from the heat and let the chocolate cool, continuing to stir. When the temperature reaches 100 degrees F, add the reserved 4 ounces of chocolate and continue to stir over the simmering water until all of the chocolate is melted. Check the temperature again, and once the chocolate has reached 90 degrees F, turn off the heat and test to see if it has tempered properly by drizzling a little chocolate onto the blade of the butter knife and setting it aside on the plate in a cool place. Continue stirring the chocolate for 3 minutes, then check to see if the chocolate on the butter knife has hardened. If it has, it is tempered. If it hasn’t, test again; the chocolate will have cooled a little more and it usually tempers perfectly the second time.

Add half the nuts (3/4 cup) to the chocolate and stir to combine. Pour the mixture onto the prepared section of the parchment paper, using the spatula to spread it to a rectangular shape about 7 by 9 inches. Evenly sprinkle the remaining nuts on top.

Set in a cool place to harden. I like to leave the nut bark in a large block for storing in an airtight container and then break off pieces to serve on a dessert plate. Use within 1 month for best flavor.

Variations

• Vary the combination of nuts or add chopped dried sour cherries to the mix, decreasing the nuts proportionately.

• Add 1/4 cup chopped candied citrus zest to the nut mixture, decreasing the nuts by ¼ cup.

• Scrape the melted chocolate (without nuts) into a pastry bag and pipe out individual candies. Top with toasted pistachios or hazelnuts and sour cherries. It helps to have a second person on hand to do this job, as the chocolate may harden before you have a chance to top it!

Reprinted with permission from My Pantry, by Alice Waters, copyright © 2015, published by Pam Krauss Books, an imprint of Crown Publishing Group, Penguin Random House LLC. Photograph copyright © 2015 by Amanda Marsalis.

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