Former Chez Panisse chef David Tanis coming to the Triangle

aweigl@newsobserver.comOctober 8, 2013 

  • Meet the author

    New York Times food columnist David Tanis has two book events in the Triangle:

    • 1 p.m. Oct. 24, lunch at Fearrington Village. Diners will receive a copy of Tanis’ book, “One Good Dish,” and be served a lunch of dishes from the book. $68. To reserve your spot, call 919-542-3030.

    • 5 p.m. Oct. 24, book signing at Southern Season, 201 S. Estes Drive, Chapel Hill, 919-929-7133.

    Signed copies of Tanis’ book also will be available for purchase at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill.

Some cookbook authors offer 30-minute solutions to the weeknight meal. Think Rachael Ray. Others offer meticulous kitchen projects. Think Martha Stewart. Others still go the gut-busting macho route, creating food so huge that you can barely take a bite. Think Guy Fieri.

But some cookbook authors inspire us to slow down and take the time and effort to prepare a beautiful simple plate of food. Their recipes are an antidote to what can become a daily grind of mindless eating. The ladies behind the Canal House cookbooks, Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer, are such authors. Chapel Hill chef Andrea Reusing channeled it in her cookbook, “Cooking in the Moment.” The current master of this style is David Tanis.

Tanis is a former executive chef at Chez Panisse, the Berkeley, Calif., restaurant started by Alice Waters and known for stripping food down to its most simple and delicious. Tanis has just published his third cookbook, “One Good Dish.” He has two events later this month in the Triangle.

For many years, Tanis split his time between the U.S. and France, working six months at Chez Panisse and living the rest of the year in Paris. His first cookbook, “A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes,” published in 2008, was inspired by the supper club meals that he and his partner, Randal Breski, who also formerly worked at Chez Panisse, used to throw at their Paris apartment. The book offered seasonal menus of usually three-course meals, and the same is true of his 2010 follow-up cookbook, “Heart of the Artichoke and Other Kitchen Journeys.”

As Tanis’ life has changed in recent years, his latest cookbook, “One Good Dish,” is also a departure. Tanis left Chez Panisse a year and a half ago. He’s now living in New York’s East Village and writing a weekly recipe column for The New York Times. While the supper clubs are no longer a regular occasion, he keeps his hand in the professional cooking world by catering lunches for small groups of people.

Instead of well-composed menus, his latest book focuses – as the title implies – on one dish.

“Maybe you don’t have time to cook that three-course meal, but you certainly have time to cook one good dish and save yourself from the horrors of fast food and takeout,” Tanis said.

Tanis continued: “I think there’s something really appealing about this book. It doesn’t feel challenging. It feels like it’s going to be good. But it doesn’t feel like, ‘Oh no. I have to gear up for a day in the kitchen to produce this meal.’”

The book offers recipes as simple as garlic toast topped with roasted red peppers or chopped tomatoes or just slightly more elaborate with Gorgonzola, sauteed onions and walnuts. Those dishes, along with others like Moroccan carrots or cold chicken with spicy scallion oil, are described by Tanis as indoor picnic food. Other recipes may take a little bit more time, like the Tunisian meatballs with couscous or the Spanish garbanzo bean stew, offer to help return the mindfulness to our eating and cooking.

“There’s something really nice about just making one dish for yourself and sitting down to eat it,” Tanis said. “Even dining solo, you want something good.”

To see a printable recipe, click on the link below:

Tunisian Meatballs

Tunisian Meatballs Cookbook author David Tanis wrote about this dish, “Fear not: although the ingredients list is long, this is really a very simple recipe, parts of which can be prepared in advance.” From “One Good Dish,” by David Tanis (Artisan, 2013). For the sauce: 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 1/2 cups finely diced onions 3 garlic cloves, minced 2 tablespoons tomato paste A 1-inch piece of cinnamon stick Large pinch of saffron, crumbled Salt and pepper 3 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water For the meatballs: 1 1/2 cups cubed day-old firm white bread 1 cup milk 1 pound ground beef or lamb 1 large egg, beaten 4 garlic cloves, minced 1 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon pepper 2 teaspoons paprika 1 teaspoon ground ginger 1 teaspoon turmeric 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin 1/4 teaspoon cayenne 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander 1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, plus 1 tablespoon for garnish 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, plus 1 tablespoon for garnish 2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions, plus 1 tablespoon for garnish All-purpose flour for dusting Olive or vegetable oil for shallow-frying For the couscous: 1 cup giant couscous, medium couscous, or m’hamsa 2 tablespoons butter 1/2 cup golden raisins, soaked in hot water until softened, then drained Salt 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

MAKE the sauce: heat oil in a wide heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook, without browning, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, tomato paste, cinnamon stick, and saffron and stir well to incorporate. Season generously with salt and pepper and allow to sizzle for 1 minute.

ADD broth, bring to a simmer, and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Remove from heat. The sauce can be made up to a day in advance and refrigerated.

MAKE the meatballs: put bread cubes and milk in a small bowl and let bread soak until softened, about 5 minutes, then squeeze dry and transfer to a medium bowl.

ADD ground meat to bread and mix gently with your hands, then add egg, garlic, salt, pepper, paprika, ginger, turmeric, cumin, cayenne, cloves, coriander, and nutmeg, and mix well to distribute the seasonings. Add 2 tablespoons each of parsley, cilantro, and scallions and knead for a minute. The meat mixture can be prepared up to a day in advance and refrigerated.

ROLL meat mixture with your hands into small balls about the size of a quarter. Dust lightly with flour.

HEAT 1/4 inch of oil in a wide heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Fry meatballs, turning once, until barely browned, about 2 minutes per side. Drain and blot on paper towels.

ADD meatballs to sauce, bring to a simmer over medium heat, cover, and cook for about 20 minutes, until sauce has thickened slightly and meatballs are tender. Taste sauce and adjust seasoning, adding salt or cayenne as necessary.

COOK couscous according to the package directions, then fluff gently and stir in butter and raisins. Season with salt and the cinnamon and toss well. Spoon couscous into shallow bowls and top with meatballs and plenty of sauce. Garnish with remaining parsley, cilantro, and scallions.

NOTE: Regarding browning the meatballs, dusting them in flour before lightly frying helps keep them tender and thickens sauce, but they can be browned without flour if desired. Or, instead of frying, they can be briefly broiled before simmering. And if you don’t want the sauce, just finish the cooking in the skillet and serve the pan-fried meatballs crisp and hot.

Yield: 4-6 servings

Weigl: 919-829-4848; Twitter: @andreaweigl

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