My husband and I had the pleasure of visiting Chez Panisse this week -- a first for both of us. I had eaten upstairs in the café, but never downstairs in the evening dining room. It was a lovely meal, of course, full of the pleasures of comfort and excellence. (I share a dilemma with Dana: how to talk about a meal there without using the words delicate, seasonal, or perfect.)
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.
They tasted lightly smoky, with just a touch of herbs. The recipe for these is quite simple and it appears in Alice Waters' most recent book, The Art of Simple Food.
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.
Chez Panisse Herbed Almonds
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.