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The star baker talks home cooking in advance of the launch of her new book, Tartine All Day.
Liz Prueitt has a lot going on. She’s working to open a commissary kitchen that will ease the production demands of both the San Francisco restaurant, Tartine Manufactory, and the bakery she founded with her husband, Chad Robertson. There, the Tartine team will fold mountains of laminated dough and stir gallons of jam while the Guerrero Street shop undergoes a renovation. “We’re also building out two properties in Los Angeles,” she notes, and “just for fun, we’re in the process of selling our house, and trying to get a new house. So we moved two weeks ago... because we weren’t doing enough stressful things.”
She’s quick to say it’s an atypical time, but that her daughter, Archer, was taking it well: “She was like, ‘great, I get to have taquitos,’” Prueitt laughs.
I tell her that it’s actually a perfect time for this interview, and for her new book, Tartine All Day, which focuses on recipes for home cooks to make during busy times. I’m not in the process of moving or renovating a bakery, but I feel like I need to ask her for permission to not cook when times are tough. She grants it: “When you’re living in a sea of boxes,” Prueitt says, there’s always takeout. “There’s a few favorites we always go to,” she says, name-checking Nopalito, Pizzeria Delfina, and Del Popolo.
In an interview with Lucky Peach, Prueitt once said that no one ever went to Chad wondering, how do you make it work?, a question often asked of working mothers. Gender-role routines exacerbate the pressure many of us feel when it’s suddenly 6 p.m.: “There often becomes a clear division of what each partner tends to do. We all get in our ruts,” she says, and that often includes an expectation of who will get dinner on the table. “Breaking out of those expectations is really challenging, and it really takes thought,” she says. She laughs as bit as she says, “Chad will turn to me, and say, ‘What’s for dinner?’ I’m like, ‘I don’t know, you tell me! What’s for dinner?’”
But Prueitt believes that home cooking can happen even during busy weeks, and that home cooks can benefit from the lessons she learned in culinary school and the restaurant world. When it seems too daunting or time-consuming to make a roast chicken dinner, she offers this advice: “You can pick up a smallish chicken and roast it literally in 30 minutes, if you know how to do it the right way. That means making sure that your chicken is not too cold, and if you can spatchcock it you should, and put it in a really hot oven that already has a baking stone heated up in it.” She says she throws “every single thing I want to have for dinner” into the roasting pan, cutting vegetables into appropriate sizes so that they’ll be ready at the same time, or waiting to add quicker-cooking ingredients toward the end of the roasting time.
She’s big on leftovers, which can unfold in generations of dishes. The chicken carcass can cook with the pan drippings in a pot of lentils; roast beef can find a home in a soup with vegetables the next day. “I grew up with a mother who was very, very creative with leftovers, and she was very good at it.”
Prueitt is rueful about cooking from an empty fridge. “I love having a lot of odds and ends in my refrigerator. Since we just moved, I have a brand new, cleared-out fridge to cook from, because everything’s moved out of our old place except for the refrigerator stuff. I really miss having a little batch of bean paste from Japan, and all these little tasty things that you gather along your travels.”
Among those items: preserved lemons and fresh green sauces like chimichurri or salsa verde, which Prueitt uses to top a quick soup made in the blender that’s featured in her book. “I think that that’s a really overlooked, delicious, fast dinner, to make a blended soup. It’s a little bit in the smoothie category, in a sense,” she says, “but part cooked greens and part fresh raw greens, a little bit of yogurt if you have yogurt, vegetable or chicken stock.” She includes sauerkraut juice for its bright tang, and often uses peas for sweetness, but she welcomes substitutions. “It’s very forgiving,” she tells me. “If you don’t have one of the ingredients, there are lots of alternatives.”
While they’re famed for massive croissants and naturally leavened breads, it’s a little known fact that Prueitt and Robertson have a history as soup-makers: “Just after culinary school, we were living in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and the very first entrepreneurial thing we did, while we were working for someone else, was that we had a little soup company. We made soups, just the two of us, to sell to this store. It was an ice cream shop and when they weren’t selling ice cream, they would sell our soup.”
“I could just make soup every time of the year, all day long,” she adds. “I love the creativity of it, and the ever-changing aspect of it, and that it can be made equally delicious for any type of diet that anybody would have.”
Photos reprinted with permission from Tartine All Day: Modern Recipes for the Home Cook by Elisabeth Prueitt, copyright (c) 2017. Published by Lorena Jones Books/Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Photography credit: Paige Green (c) 2017.