Waste nothing. The scraps, peels and remnants of one meal are not meant for the garbage but to serve as the foundation for another meal, explained Tamar Adler in her 2011 book, “An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace.”
Now a contributing editor at Vogue, Adler has been a Harper’s Magazine editor, a personal chef and cooked for over a year at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. In “An Everlasting Meal” she celebrated a simpler, more rustic and self-sufficient philosophy of cooking and life, peppered with recipes that celebrate ingredients rather than mask them. The book is inspirational: It invites browsing in a dormant kitchen on a luminous afternoon. And it is poetic, with chapters called “How to Paint Without Brushes” and “How to Teach an Egg to Fly.” Writes Adler in one of many beautiful turns of phrase, “If cheese is milk’s leap toward immortality, aioli is garlic and egg’s collective shot at the firmament.” After reading Adler’s work, one finds a new appreciation for (among other humble beginnings) homemade mayonnaise, a pot of boiling water and Parmesan rinds.
In her second book, “Something Old, Something New,” published in 2019, Adler revived classic recipes like oysters Rockefeller and steak Diane, offering readers modern, simple takes on the traditional and the daunting. She has another book on the way, due for publication next fall. She explained it will be an encyclopedic reference detailing what to do with leftovers.
Adler spoke with the Aspen Daily News recently from her home in New York, sharing some helpful tips on preparing one’s pantry for fall, favorite cocktails and the perfect meal to cap off a day of powder skiing.
Aspen Daily News: How do you adapt your cooking to the change in seasons i.e. summer to fall?
Tamar Adler: [In my family] we’re pretty seasonal eaters in that during the summer we eat stuff that grows around here in the summer and [in the winter] we eat the stuff that grows around here in the winter. My [5-year-old] son eats whatever is in his wheelhouse at the moment. In the spring we eat a lot of salads. [Fall] is setting up season; there’s no time to do anything but prepare things for the winter. There’s just about one weekend left to shell beans and freeze them. It’s a lovely but harrowing seasonal ritual. But it’s the only way I have found to eat seasonally and affordably.
ADN: What are some of the things that go into that fall “setting up?”
TA: We’ve got to make enough fruit leather to last the next three to four months and put up [jar] tomatoes. When we’ve done that, we end up having a pretty resilient wintertime stock of food. I feel slightly embarrassed to say it, because it sounds a bit “Little House on the Prairie,” a little cliched, but it matters to me to not have to buy stuff grown by people living far away.
ADN: What does making three or four months of fruit leather look like?
TA: At the end of summer all of the fruit that has been aging in the fridge often coincides with the first apples ripening. To get through the winter it would take six or seven jars of cooked and pureed fruit. …I turn [all the fruit] into puree and freeze it in jars, so we can thaw it out later in the winter and use it [to make fruit leather]. Turning the fruit into puree really just means sticking it in the pot until it’s thicker … the exact ratio of fruit doesn’t really matter.
I make fruit leather because my son doesn’t eat apple sauce. Fruit leather is a kid-food thing, and it’s one of those double-packaged things — half of it goes into the landfill.
ADN: Pureeing, like several other cooking methods featured in your books, seems like one of those things that, to us amateurs, sounds like more work than it really is.
TA: People just getting started cooking have this great handicap in that they tend to undersalt and undercook things. Most of the time if you just let things cook a little bit longer and season them more strongly that’s where the deliciousness is.
My advice for half of the food in the world is heat a pot, add olive oil and cook things until they’re tender and delicious. There are all of these things in cooking that happen naturally if you feel permitted to cook things longer. The only reason new cooks undercook and underseason is anxiety. There’s a sense that overdoing it is a problem. Overdoing it is less of a problem than underdoing when it comes to cooking vegetables. It’s a pretty reliable thing to cook this way.
It’s obviously better to undersalt than oversalt because it’s easier to get salt in than out. It’s also better to add less liquid than too much. I feel like we’ve swung too far in the opposite direction from the overcooked [vegetables] of the 1950s. Especially in the winter, when we need to be warmed, I think every vegetable and bean probably needs five or 10 minutes more cooking than it’s afforded, and I always encourage people to let anything cook until they find themselves instinctively reaching for another bite of it when they taste for doneness.
I find doing a bunch of stuff at once saves me time. There are also conditions I didn’t account for in [“An Everlasting Meal”]; I didn’t have a child at that point. I can’t come home from the farmers market and cook all the vegetables with a 5-year-old. As a person with a child, if you don’t work from home, it can be intimidating to say, “I’m going to cook all of the greens at once.” I rarely have to cook dinner right before dinner, because I work from home. If you don’t get home until 5 you might have time just to cook that one squash.
ADN: Do you have any tips for preparing one’s kitchen/pantry for fall — things to stock up on?
TA: I feel like fall is when I start thinking about cold-weather flavor adders. I always pickle a lot of chiles and buy olive oil in bulk. I freeze a bunch of pesto. The things that can add a lot of flavor. A big chunk of Parmesan. If you can’t shell fresh beans, this is when I would stock up on dried beans. I always buy 15-pound bags of rice.
ADN: What’s your favorite fall cocktail/drink?
TA: I am a martini year-round person. [Although] fall is old pal season.
ADN: What would you make for dinner after a long day of powder skiing?
TA: I’m a big — this is heresy by the way — everyone in my family likes pasta alfredo after skiing. I make it the not super-traditional way. I make it with heavy cream, parmesan and butter. It takes like 20 minutes. It’s just better mac and cheese. That’s our go-to, after-ski meal. If we’re skiing with friends, I like making fondue, but to do that you have to shred all the cheese before you go skiing. The nice thing about alfredo is that you can eat a lot of it, and it’s no harder to make 3 pounds than a little.
Leftover alfredo can go on becoming more alfredo sauce, if you have a little left you can heat it up and add more butter or put it on rice. It’s not that different from other sauces, like hollandaise on asparagus. Alfredo is also amazing on garlic bread. In my third book, I have a recipe for turning leftover alfredo into ranch dressing — the only real different ingredient is butter. It’s all just variants on dairy.
ADN: Can you you tell us a little about that third book?
TA: I just turned in the manuscript. It’s supposed to come out next fall — right now it’s called “The Everlasting Meal Cookbook,” which is paradoxical since “An Everlasting Meal” is all about how you don’t need recipes. It’s literally an encyclopedia of potential leftovers and what to do with each one. Right now, it’s organized A to Z, but I don’t know if it will stay that way. It’s about what to do with leftovers, everything from Halloween candy to empty bottles of Sriracha. There’s 3,500 recipes in all. If people want to recipe test, they should contact me via instagram: tamar.e.adler.