Unlike other cookbooks that sit pretty on your living room bookshelf, Mark Bittman’s newest release, “How to Cook Everything The Basics: All You Need to Make Great Food,” stays in the kitchen. Even the venerable New York Times food writer uses the book as a reference while putting together his sensible and delicious meals. “You think I remember everything that’s in there? No!” he says with a chuckle. The book — a collection of 185 classic recipes along with instructions for fundamental techniques — is a refresher for seasoned cooks and a confidence-boosting bible for newbies in the kitchen. With 1,000 step-by-step photographs, it’s the next best thing to having mom watch over you as you boil a pot of pasta for the first time.
Why did you want to publish “The Basics”?
It goes back 12 years, actually, to the publication of the original “How to Cook Everything,” when there were three complaints. One — which is very amusing — is it doesn’t have a recipe for chicken pot pie. Then the more serious complaints were that it was overwhelming — and some beginners did not like it. They picked it up and they said, “I don’t even know where to start.” Those people would come up to me and say, “I don’t want to cook everything. I want to cook something.” The other complaint was that it didn’t have photographs. Some people would say, “I don’t want to cook anything that I don’t know what it’s supposed to look like.” So I just keep pushing to do something that really addresses these issues.
What’s your game plan when shopping for groceries?
I go to the produce section and buy everything that looks good. And then I keep a really well stocked pantry. I want people to say, “I’m going to the store to buy what looks good, and then I’m going to come home and there’s a cookbook I can look at that’s going to tell me what to do with the stuff I just bought.” And that’s “How to Cook Everything.” And hopefully Mark Bittman tells you what to do with it.
What do you say to people who are afraid to cook?
People are afraid to drive also, but everyone eventually gets in a car and drives. No one drives well the first time. And very few people are going to cook well the first time. It means you need to be willing to make mistakes, and there’s a level of maturity that indicates. You have to say, “I have to go through a learning curve on this. Learning curves can be fun. I’m not going to be very good at it — but if I apply myself, after a while I’ll be good at it, and that will be really cool.” And that’s the attitude you need to have.
What appliances do you recommend for small spaces?
An appliance that I think is worth getting is a food processor, because I think it’s really useful. Blenders are less important, but are nice to have. I think little gadgets are much more important: a set of three or four really good knives, a good vegetable peeler, a cheap mandoline, a grater, like a microplane, for parmesan. I don’t have much more than that.