Many cookbooks have come and gone from my bookshelves over the years, but a handful or two have managed to hang around, surviving my many moves and purges due to their ability to deliver great, inspiring recipes, and occasionally, their good looks. One such book is The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, a large volume of recipes, stories and excellent cooking advice from the chef and owner of another old favorite: Zuni Cafe in San Francisco.
I was fortunate to live just up the hill from Zuni Cafe for over 13 years. However, I was unfortunate in that I was mostly broke during that time so I cannot claim that I dined there with much frequency. But when I did, it was always a special experience that lingered long after the slow trudge home back up the hill. So when chef-owner Judy Rodgers released her cookbook of Zuni Cafe recipes, it immediately became a part of my cookbook collection.
It did not immediately become a favorite, however. While I enjoyed having Rodgers' roast chicken with bread salad recipe on hand (this was before the internet made it readily available), I really didn't get a chance to explore its depths until I started having dinner parties. And then it became worth it's weight in gold (well, perhaps 'its weight in duck fat' would be a better comparison). The recipes are so thorough and the dishes so universally loved that it's a rare instance when The Zuni Cafe Cookbook is not included in a dinner party plan.
In many ways, this cookbook also taught me how to cook much more than it taught me how to follow a recipe. For that reason, at first glance some of the recipes many seem long and tedious. But don't be fooled. They're just very thorough and accurate, and they don't pass on the opportunity to give detailed information about how to choose ingredients, why a particular method will work here, how to handle timing, and how to gage doneness.
The Zuni Cafe Cookbook is very Mediterranean in its palate and its recipes are mostly hearty peasant foods that have been elevated with seasonally available ingredients and the occasional truffle. But the recipes I adore the most are the simpler ones that hardly require that I look at the book anymore: eggs fried in bread crumbs, that famous roast chicken, a farro salad made with fresh ripe tomatoes, handfuls of basil and a couple of anchovies.
Do you own The Zuni Cafe Cookbook? What are your favorite recipes?
Find the book at your local library, independent bookstore, or Amazon: The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers
(Image: Dana Velden)