Appreciating Almonds, Anchovies, and Pancetta with Cal Peternell
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While the 42 Burners crew have ingredients they find themselves drawn to again and again, such as chiles for food director Sarah Carey or watercress for deputy editor Greg Lofts, they try not to play favorites. Not so for Cal Peternell, the host of the podcast Cooking by Ear and the former head chef of the renowned restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley (he left in 2017 after a 22-year tenure). He put some of his favorite ingredients right in the title of his third cookbook, "Almonds, Anchovies, and Pancetta: A Vegetarian Cookbook, Kind Of." On a recent visit to the test kitchen, Peternell talked about how he uses these ingredients to boost his vegetable-forward cooking, and lucky for the team, made one of the standout dishes from the book, a green bean salad with almond and anchovy dressing.
The impetus for the book came from Peternell's longtime fantasy of opening a restaurant called Anchovies and Pancetta, where the two ingredients would be the only kinds of meat served. He added almonds to the mix because he considers nuts to be the meat of the plant world. He says, "Almonds have a similar fat level and add a similar kind of accent to food. Plus I'm a California guy, and that's where almonds come from."
As Peternell started prepping the green beans, editor at large Shira Bocar mentioned how much she loves his descriptions of technique and size in the book. For example, garlic cloves should be almond-sized; pasta- or vegetable-cooking water should be "pleasantly seasoned, the way you'd want a spoonful of soup to taste," not salty like the sea; and a pinch of salt is different for everyone, but his pinch is approximately a quarter of a 1/4 teaspoon. He also provides lots of options and variations in his recipes (the salad calls for frisée, but it can be swapped out for romaine, escarole, Belgian endive, or curly endive). "I don't want anything to be intimidating or to set up any kind of barrier, like 'if you can't find the finest green beans, don't make this recipe,' which you sometimes see in cookbooks," says Peternell. "Keeping that in mind while I'm writing helps me use a voice that I hope is encouraging."
The food editors were also surprised to learn that Peternell doesn't use an ice-water bath when cooking green beans, because he thinks it rinses off the flavor. He simply drains them and spreads on a baking sheet or platter to cool. He makes the dressing in a mortar and pestle, pounding garlic, salt, and anchovies into a paste, then adding black pepper, pimentón de la Vera, red-wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, and olive oil. The final step is to toss the green beans and greens with the dressing and crushed toasted almonds.
The dish also sparked a conversation about what makes cured fish and meat such great ingredients to work with in the kitchen, something Peternell has clearly thought a lot about. He says, "What do anchovies and pancetta have in common? What do they bring to a dish? Obviously salt, but there's something more than that: age." Anchovies and pancetta take months to cure, and because they both have that element of time, they add that elusive slow-cooked, long-cooked flavor. And for this particular dish? Anchovies and almonds turned humble green beans into a crisp, crunchy, umami-rich wonder of a salad that the food editors couldn't get enough of (and are considering adding to their Thanksgiving tables!).
Watch a throwback video of Peternell and Martha making garlicky kale crostini and steamed turnips: