“Inexperienced home cooks and those in a hurry to put dinner on the table will appreciate this friendly, accessible collection.” —Publishers Weekly
“A comprehensive collection of everyday recipes that will encourage anyone who is short on time, but still interested in cooking fabulous food at home.” —Library Journal, starred review
“You might just learn a few breezy techniques for weeknight French-style dining with this new one from Pépin.” —Epicurious
Foodies of a certain vintage may remember Jacques Pepin as the handsome and sophisticated French chef who was a sort of inverse Julia Child on PBS-TV. Whereas the very American Julia (who was Pepin’s longtime friend and collaborator) wanted to help Americans improve their cooking with French techniques, the French-born Pepin was all about demystifying French food. This led to more than 30 cookbooks, a column in the New York Times, 24 James Beard Foundation Awards, and nearly 40 years of public television, to name just a fraction of the chef’s illustrious career.
Pepin’s newest cookbook, Quick & Simple: Simply Wonderful Meals with Surprisingly Little Effort (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), harkens back to his career of making good food more accessible to the American home cook. He says, “I was always inspired by home cooking — aside from the most sophisticated dishes that I’ve done as a professional chef, the bulk of my cooking has always been very simple. I am very Cartesian — I like to break things down to their simpler components, and that’s what I do in this book.”
With the pandemic still raging, the need for communal nourishment and support has never been timelier. Pepin says his hope is that “the simplicity of the recipes will bring people to the kitchen, hopefully, and give them confidence. With that, they will begin to cook with the family, share what they cooked, and get a lot of comfort. Especially right now.”
Readers may be surprised by the shortcuts Pepin takes in the book, but home cooks will love them. In his essential pantry, Pepin lists such surprises as bouillon cubes, potato flakes, steak sauce, jarred mayonnaise, pickles and pumpkin puree. But these are among the ingredients that, with a little magic from Pepin, become quick and delicious meals. And what Pepin can do with just four or five ingredients! He takes small potatoes, boils them, then tops them with sour cream, chives and red caviar to make an easy and elegant hors d’oeuvre. For Bow-Tie Pasta with Mushrooms, he sautés chopped mushrooms with garlic and scallions, tosses them with cooked bow-ties and a little cooking water, and sprinkles on some grated cheese. Easy!
The quick and simple magic continues when he turns something as basic as canned beets into a savory Borscht and uses apple cider to transform butternut squash into a sweet autumn soup. One of my favorite recipes is Linguine with Clam Sauce Gloria, which tastes best with fresh cherrystones, although canned clams are fine, too. Pepin tosses in a bit of jalapeno with the garlic, parsley and white wine to give this comfort food classic a bit of zing.
In fact, there are influences throughout the book from Latin and Asian cuisine; Soy-Garlic Broiled Striped Bass (see recipe below) is served with the Asian flavors of garlic, ginger, scallions, dark soy sauce and toasted sesame oil. Grilled Chicken Breasts with Sunflower-Cilantro Sauce borrows as much inspiration from garlic and herb-infused Caribbean sauces such as Puerto Rican sofrito, as it does Italian pesto. And the latter recipe couldn’t be easier: chicken breasts coated with oil, salt, pepper and oregano and allowed to marinate while a jalapeno is tossed in the blender with parsley, cilantro, garlic, sunflower seeds and olive oil. The chicken is grilled and served with the piquant sauce and juicy slices of ripe tomato.
Many of the recipes in the cookbook could be thrown together by a home cook within 30 minutes; simple entrees like Five-Spice Steak, Scaloppini of Turkey with Scallions, and Grilled Rosemary Pork Chops could be made in even less time. And if you skip his fondness for gratins (save them for special occasions), easy sides such as Potatoes Persillade, Corn, Poele, Buttery Peas and Lettuce or Broiled Eggplant Japonaise will still have dinner on the table in a half-hour.
With all this good food made easy and accessible for families sheltering from the pandemic, what does Pepin love to eat when times are difficult? “Soup and eggs, all kinds of both are always comforting to me,” he says. And Quick & Simple has plenty of quick and easy recipes to fill your own comfort food cravings.
Soy-Garlic Broiled Striped Bass
Once considered a sport fish, striped bass, which has tender white flesh, is now raised commercially. The skin is left on, so the fish should be scaled. Marinate the fish for at least 30 minutes or as long as overnight (refrigerated) to absorb the flavors of the marinade.
Serve the fish with Potatoes with Walnuts and Croutons (page 179), Parsley Potatoes with Butter (page 171), or hash-brown potatoes.
4 skin-on fillets striped bass (about 6 ounces each and 1 inch thick)
4 cloves garlic, peeled, crushed, and chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
One 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
4 scallions, cleaned and minced (about 2/3 cup)
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
Place the fillets skin side up on a work surface and, using a sharp knife, cut 2 diagonal slits about 1/4 inch deep through the skin of each one. (This helps the fish absorb the marinade more readily and cook more evenly.) Place the fillets in a plastic bag, along with the garlic, ginger, scallions, soy sauce, sugar, and oils. Seal the bag and toss to mix the ingredients well. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 10 hours.
At cooking time, preheat the broiler. Drain the fillets and arrange them skin side up in a single layer on a cookie sheet lined with nonstick aluminum foil or in a gratin dish from which they can be served. Broil, 4 to 5 inches from the heat source, for 5 to 6 minutes. The skin will brown and bubble and the heat will penetrate the fish through the slits in the skin and cook the flesh. Serve.
NOTE: This preparation also works well with sea bass or black bass, as well as red snapper and other white-fleshed fish fillets.
The winner of sixteen James Beard Awards and author of twenty-nine cookbooks, including A Grandfather’s Lessons, Jacques Pépin Heart & Soul in the Kitchen, and Essential Pépin, Jacques Pépin has starred in twelve acclaimed PBS cooking series. He was awarded France’s highest distinction, the Legion of Honor.
is a writer, editor and dabbler in arty stuff. A fourth-generation journalist (on her father’s side) and millionteenth-generation mother (on her mother’s side) she has written, edited, photographed and illustrated for newspapers, magazines, websites, blogs, videos and books. Known for her persnicketyness about grammar, she occasionally leaves in an error to delight people of similar inclination.