SIMPLE COOKING is a somewhat unusual cookbook in that Thorne often discusses the appeal of simply walking into the kitchen and throwing something together from the ingredients at hand. As much, if not more, commentary as recipes, the book is always entertaining, something not often said of a cookbook. Thorne is opinionated about food, and his opinions are well written, as are his recipes.
The author’s emphasis is on the word “simple,” not in the sense of easy-- “simple and easy aren’t near the same thing"--but in the sense of unadulterated. Thus the few pages on soups include recipes, but the reader becomes more enthused with the idea of browsing the produce aisles for fresh ingredients--potatoes, swiss chard, peas--and creating a good-tasting soup.
Thorne often seems also to mean simple in the sense of dishes created not in fancy restaurants or test kitchens but in the kitchens of ordinary people, peasants. Several sections are thus organized seasonally, according to the foods available fresh from the fields and gardens to the peasants of years ago and to the city dweller buying at the supermarket today--fresh green bean salad in the summer, pork-and-apple pie in the fall.
After the preface, which discusses the pleasures of rice and peas, the first two sections are called “Personal Passions” and “Perfect Pleasures.” These two sections cover an astonishingly wide variety of recipes, with no particular organization other than Thorne’s liking of the dish. Several recipes for cocoa and hot chocolate make the difference between the two clear: Cocoa is made with powdered cocoa and is thus more bitter; hot chocolate, according to Thorne, is a literal description, and he advocates a good imported bar. Apple pie can be made with dozens of variations. Strawberries are excellent with cream or macerated in red wine.
Thorne’s cookbook avoids the complaint he makes about other cookbooks: “The author and the cuisine remain on one side of the page and I on the other. All I get are recipes. And what I’ve found . . . is that recipes without the author, without the cuisine to which they were once a living, seamless part, die.” Thorne is very much present in this cookbook; his enthusiasm for dishes as diverse as macaroni and cheese and stuffed grape leaves passes on to the reader, who is encouraged to go beyond the recipes, to experiment and substitute, to experience the real “Joy of Cooking.”