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A Twist of the Wrist: Quick Flavorful Meals with Ingredients from Jars, Cans, Bags, and Boxes

Nancy Silverton

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Jan 01, 2007
Category: Food and Wine

Nancy Silverton is one of the last chefs in the world I would have expected to write a cookbook that urges you to use prepared foods.

Worse, prepared foods in quality meals.

Even more unlikely: meals you can prepare with the fewest possible steps and the least preparation time.

That’s because Nancy Silverton is a Serious Chef. Trained at the Cordon Bleu in London. Apprenticed at Michael’s in Santa Monica. In 1989, with her husband and a partner, she opened Campanile restaurant and La Brea Bakery in Los Angeles. Turned them into national brands. Sold the restaurant for a Brea Bakery for major money, sold an 80% stake in the bakery for $56 million.

So she definitely has the time and resources to embrace “slow cooking,” homemade dinners, 101% natural ingredients.

And, in fact, Nancy Silverton is famed largely for her hand-crafted,  artisanal breads. And for her elaborate sandwiches. Like her BLT: smoky bacon, Boston lettuce, and sun-dried tomatoes on toasted sourdough bread with a spoon of pepper mayonnaise. And for views like this: "If someone asked me to fillet a whole fish, I wouldn’t have a clue.”

Still, it’s a stunner — even she thinks so — for her to praise pasta sauce in a jar. Frozen pie crust. And, yikes, leftovers.

To come to these conclusions, she remembered how frenzied she was when she was raising three children and running two businesses. So she shopped for a year. And not just in supermarkets. She trolled gourmet stores. She clicked around the web. And she found that prepared foods had greatly improved since she started avoiding them, all those years ago.

Warning: To recreate her collection of cooking supplies, you’ll have to exert some effort. You’ll need to visit a high-end gourmet store. And you may need to shop on the Web, where sane prices are undermined by ridiculous shipping charges.

Other modest warnings: You won’t find a pre-mixed vinaigrette dressing that’s worth serving. (At least, she didn’t.) In season, if you want pesto, she favors a mortar and pestle. And commercial salt-by-the-pound won’t do. Silverton favors sea salt. And kosher salt. Two bowls, always handy.

Good news for vegetarians: Silverton discovered her love for cooking when she became the vegetarian chef for her college dorm. There are pages and pages of salads and soups that are either animal-free or easily could be.

Most recipes take between 30-40 minutes to prepare. This dessert takes only 10 minutes. It does, however, require saba, a grape-based syrup available only at high-end gourmet stores or, from, at about $42 for a 16.9-ounce bottle.

Strawberries and Ladyfingers with Sour Cream, Muscovado Sugar and Saba

Serves 4
Preparation time: 10 minutes

1 pint ripe strawberries, hulled and cut in half
1 and 1/2 tablespoons saba, plus more for drizzling
1 cup sour cream (or creme fraiche)
3 tablespoons light bright muscovado sugar
8 store-bought ladyfingers

Place strawberries in a medium bowl. Add the tablespoon-and-a-half of saba and mix.

In a small bowl, mix the sour cream and sugar.

Spoon the sour cream onto four plates. Place two ladyfingers, side by side, on each plate.

Spoon the strawberries over the ladyfingers and drizzle saba over each serving. Serve with the bottle of saba on the table for extra drizzling.

To buy “A Twist of the Wrist: Quick Flavorful Meals with Ingredients from Jars, Cans, Bags, and Boxes” from, click here.

To buy “The Food of Campanile: Recipes from the Famed Los Angeles Restaurant” from, click here.

To buy “Mark Peel & Nancy Silverton at Home: Two Chefs Cook for Family & Friends” from, click here.

To buy “Nancy Silverton’s Sandwich Book: The Best Sandwiches Ever — from Thursday Nights at Campanile” from, click here.

To buy “Nancy Silverton’s Pastries from the La Brea Bakery” from, click here.