“Repertoire: All the Recipes You Need,” by Jessica Battilana. Little, Brown and Company. $32

In late December, when the new year approaches, I often make a food vow: This year, I will finally attempt fermenting or try my hand at Jim Lahey’s famous no-knead bread recipe or actually use the silver I inherited to throw an elegant party. One such vow has been on my list for years, showing up repeatedly because I never manage to keep it: I will develop a repertoire, 15 to 20 dishes that I can cook blindfolded, that cover any situation, and that always come out perfectly.

“Repertoire: All the Recipes You Need,” by Jessica Battilana. Little, Brown and Company. $32.

That is the premise of Jessica Battilana’s “Repertoire: All the Recipes You Need.” Or, as she puts it in a note to readers on the book’s inside cover, “A good recipe behaves. It makes you a promise and keeps it. And when you cook a good recipe, you learn from it – and add it to your repertoire. It’s like a musician learning a new favorite tune: A favorite recipe becomes part of you.”

In line with her straightforward premise, Battilana divides the book into just three parts: Ways to Start, Mains and Sweets. The recipes are a nice combination of how we cook today, say Pretzel Rolls or Roasted Carrots with Burrata and Salsa Rustica (that latter one is high up on my to-try list); international, say Curry Noodles with Beef and Sweet Potatoes or Tortilla Soup; and American classics, such as Sweet Corn Fritters or Sweet and Tart Lemon Bars. “Repertoire” also includes a recipe for Maine Truck Stop Baked Beans, which Battilana tells readers she based on Dysart’s, “one of my favorite places in Maine”; though Battilana lives in California, her wife is a Mainer. As a group, these are mostly familiar recipes, neither exotic nor electrifying. But isn’t that the point? As she writes, “These are real recipes from real life, and they really work.”

The many photos in “Repertoire” make the food look tasty and approachable, aided by occasional step-by-step technique photos, one showing, for instance, how to stuff, shape and roll Green Onion Flatbreads, another how to slice and pound pork loin for saltimbocca. The writing is solid and useful; it’s not flowery, cliched or self-indulgent: I wish I could say that about all cookbooks today.

I tested five recipes. One, for Candy Pork, I adored and instantly added to my own repertoire. It was that happy but too rare combination of very delicious and very simple, and while it was cooking, it filled the house with fabulous smells. Two I liked, for Lamb Ragu with Creamy Polenta, and Scottish Oat Cakes with Butter and Dates, and will probably make again. One had a combination I will definitely repeat for a showstopper holiday dessert – pavlova with lime curd and mango – but I prefer my own recipes for the components. And one cookie recipe was fine, but underwhelming. I’ve marked many more in “Repertoire” that I’m eager to try.

That said, while I might make the Pretzel Rolls as a lark or the labor-intensive Green Onion Flatbread (it looks fabulous) if I find myself with a lot of free time and a rainy day, will either enter my culinary repertoire? I doubt it. Moreover, based on this book, Battilana eats meat more often than I do, and because she’s cooking for a family, some of her choices in the kitchen are, perforce, different from mine. That’s OK. This is Battilana’s “Repertoire,” and plenty of it appeals. Grodinsky’s Repertoire will have to (continue) to wait.

Peggy Grodinsky can be contacted at 791-6453 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: @PGrodinsky

Candy Pork

Our reviewer scattered each serving with toasted sesame seeds and thinly sliced scallions. Battilana suggests serving the meat with rice and sauteed pea shoots or greens.

Serves 6

8 ounces palm sugar, finely chopped (dark brown sugar can be substituted)

3/4 cup fish sauce

3 tablespoons canola oil

4 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 2-inch-by-3-inch chunks

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 cup thinly sliced shallots

One 2-inch-by-1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and julienned

2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

2 to 3 Thai chilies (substitute 1 serrano chile), stemmed and crushed

3 cups coconut water

Put the palm sugar in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook until the sugar melts, 8 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently so the sugar doesn’t scorch. When the sugar is smooth and completely melted, remove the pan from the heat and slowly stir in the fish sauce. The mixture may seize; if it does, return it to low heat and continue stirring until smooth.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. In a large Dutch oven over high heat, heat the canola oil. Season the pork pieces on all sides with salt and pepper. When the oil is hot, add some of the pieces of pork and sear until well browned on all sides, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet and repeat with the remaining pork. When all the pork has been browned, reduce the heat to medium and add the shallots. Cook, stirring, until the shallots are softened, about 2 minutes, then add the ginger, garlic, and chilies and cook 1 minute more. Return the pork and any accumulated juices to the pot and add the caramel sauce and coconut water. The pieces of meat should poke above the level of the liquid; if they’re completely submerged, transfer the meat and liquid to a different pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat so the liquid is simmering. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven.

After 15 minutes of cooking, uncover the pot; the liquid should be simmering gently. If it’s bubbling too vigorously, reduce the oven temperature to 275 F. Cook for 70 minutes – the meat should be tender but not falling apart. Uncover the pot and continue cooking for 30 minutes more, until the exposed bits of pork are caramelized and the meat is tender. Remove from the oven and serve with steamed rice.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.