Alumna cookbook author shares recipes from “Repertoire”

Photos by Ed Anderson

“THESE ARE REAL RECIPES from real life, and they really work,” says Jessica Battilana ’00, describing the recipes in “Repertoire,” her first solo, full-length cookbook. Battilana spent many years co-authoring books with renowned chefs Charles Phan, Chad Robertson and Matthew Jennings before venturing off on her own.

While Battilana was growing up, sharing food was always a part of her family’s daily routine, enjoying a meal during the holidays like many families or coming together with snacks after stacking wood outside. It was her mother’s love and enthusiasm for cooking that originally sparked Battilana’s interest in the culinary arts.

During her time on campus as a history major and English minor, what resonated most with Battilana was the power storytelling had in giving someone a voice and showcasing their identity. She felt the same passion for the culinary arts and its ability to spark connections. “The idea that I would do something with food was not so far-fetched,” she says.

Lamb Ragu with Creamy Polenta

Lamb Ragu with Creamy Polenta

Serves 4-6

INGREDIENTS
For the ragù:
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup finely diced carrots
½ cup finely diced fennel
½ cup finely diced celery
1 ½ pounds ground lamb
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup red wine
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup canned whole tomatoes,
crushed by hand
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2-inch strip orange zest
(removed with a vegetable peeler)
For the polenta:
5 cups water
1 cup polenta
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons mascarpone
¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano,
plus more for serving
Kosher salt

In a large high-sided pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the carrots, fennel, celery and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 8 minutes.
Increase the heat to medium-high, add the lamb and cook, breaking up the chunks of meat with a wooden spoon, until the meat is no longer pink, about 5 minutes.
Add the salt, fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, stock, tomatoes, rosemary and orange zest and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat so the liquid is gently simmering, cover partially, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened and the flavors have melded, about 1½ to 2 hours. Season to taste with additional salt.
While the ragù cooks, make the polenta: Bring the 5 cups of water to a boil in a large saucepan. Gradually add the polenta, whisking constantly as you add to prevent lumps from forming. Reduce the heat so the polenta is bubbling gently (I describe the look and sound of polenta at this stage as “La Brea Tar Pit”) and cook, stirring frequently until the polenta is tender, about 1 hour. If the polenta becomes too thick, add a bit of hot water to loosen it. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter, mascarpone and Parmigiano, and season to taste with salt. If you’re not serving the polenta right away, transfer to a heatproof bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and set over a saucepan of simmering water. You can hold the polenta like this for an hour, replenishing the water in the saucepan as needed.
To serve, spoon some of the polenta into a bowl and top with a few spoonfuls of ragù. Serve immediately, accompanied by grated Parmigiano.

After graduation, she began her career in the food industry, including an internship at La Varenne, a cooking school in the Burgundy countryside of France, where she tested recipes and learned how to make French classics. A few years later Battilana began working as a reservationist at Chez Panisse, the Berkeley restaurant founded by chef Alice Waters and known for its devotion to local, organic food. She soon began to put food — and writing — at the center of her life, taking a job in Sunset Magazine’s test kitchen and writing the Repertoire column for the San Francisco Chronicle, work that led to creating cookbooks.

“Repertoire” is more than just a book of recipes. Not only does Battilana detail cooking techniques and tricks, she introduces each recipe with a personal anecdote or story, giving people “a window into my life beyond the recipe, which makes it unique,” she says.

Cider Braised Chicken with Fall Vegetables

Cider Braised Chicken with Fall Vegetables

Serves 4-6

INGREDIENTS
5 small parsnips (about 10 ounces)
1/3 pound pancetta or bacon, diced
8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 3 pounds)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small onion, finely diced
2 small garlic cloves, peeled
1 1⁄2 cups hard dry apple cider
1 cup chicken stock
3 medium carrots, peeled, cored, and cut into
1⁄2-inch-thick batons
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 cups brussels sprouts, halved

1. Preheat the oven to 325° F. Peel the parsnips and cut into 1⁄2-inch thick batons. With the tip of a paring knife, pry out and discard the woody core from each parsnip baton. In a Dutch oven over medium heat, add the pancetta. Cook the pancetta, stirring, until the fat has rendered and the pancetta is browned, about 6 minutes. Remove the pancetta with a slotted spoon and transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate.
2. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season on both sides with salt and pepper. Increase
the heat in the Dutch oven to medium high and put the chicken in the pan, skin-side down; cook in batches if necessary. Cook until golden brown, about 6 minutes, then flip the chicken and cook until browned on the second side, about 5 minutes more. Transfer to a rimmed plate. Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion and garlic to the pan. Cook, stirring, until the onions are
softened and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Pour in the hard cider and chicken stock and use a wooden spoon to scrape any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
3. Add the parsnips, carrots, and thyme sprigs to the pot, followed by the chicken and pancetta.
Cover the pot, transfer to the oven, and cook for 30 minutes.
4. Remove from the oven and use a slotted spoon to transfer the chicken, parsnips, and carrots to a high-sided serving dish. Bring the braising liquid to a boil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the brussels sprouts and cook until tender, about 5 minutes, then pour the braising juices and sprouts over the chicken, parsnips, and carrots. Serve immediately.

Much of the book’s inspiration comes from Battilana’s family, and she credits her children, whom she is raising with her wife, Sarah Picard ’99, for pushing her to think in new ways. “I don’t have time to go to four different stores [to find ingredients]. The book became an exercise in exploring the recipes we turn to again and again, and why.”

Everything in “Repertoire” is made with ingredients you can find at any grocery store, and through its unique narrative describes not just how long to cook ingredients, but what they should smell like and even sound like. Battilana hopes that her book can become a staple in kitchens everywhere, whether you are just starting out or have been cooking for years.

“The nice thing about cooking is you can start at any time,” says Battilana. “If you hone a small number of recipes, it’s instantly rewarding.”
– By Jess Ayer

This article appeared as “From Heart to Table” in the winter 2019 issue of the Alumnae Quarterly.

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