The really lovely thing, though, about Chez Panisse, is that it was always intended to be a neighborhood restaurant. It accomplished this so well that it became a world-class establishment, but it still feels cozy and homey, in a dignified way. One of the small touches we loved was the dish of roasted almonds that began the meal.
We gave them a try this week and were very satisfied. They would make a lovely gift, just special enough to fill a holiday gift bag, but not so novel as to be difficult or remote. Rather like Chez Panisse, in fact -- they are deceptively modest, delicious, and pitch perfect in taste.
• Buy The Art of Simple Food: $23 at Amazon. Published by Clarkson Potter.
Preheat oven to 375F. Lightly oil a baking dish or sheet with olive oil.
1 1/2 teaspoons hot water
1/2 teaspoon salt
Stir to dissolve the salt. Add and toss together:
1 1/2 cups [raw, whole] almonds
3 thyme sprigs, leaves only
1 winter savory sprig, leaves only
Pour into a cast-iron skillet or baking dish large enough to hold the almonds in mostly a single layer. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so, until the insides are golden brown. (Cut one open to see.) Once nuts start to brown they can burn very quickly. Watch out! Remove from the oven and pour into a mixing bowl. While still warm, toss with:
2 teaspoons olive oil
Taste and add more salt if needed.