cook the books club – heat

Our current reading assignment for Cook the Books is  Heat {An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany}, by Bill Buford.

I thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Buford’s telling of his experiences in various professional kitchens, particularly the tales of Mario Batali’s kitchen in his three-star restaurant, Babbo.  Based on my limited professional kitchen experience, I found his account to be entirely believable. Although most of my restaurant experience has been from the other side of the heat lamp as a server, I have witnessed first hand the ginormous egos that take up most of the room in these kitchens already lacking in space.

About twelve years ago, I had the opportunity to work in the kitchen of a restaurant.  Friends of mine owned a small bistro that served a variety of foods, including steaks and gourmet burgers along with a few Greek specialties.  I was between careers, at another “what am I going to do now?” interval in my life.  They were short a cook and knowing first hand my abilities and my passion for food as we had shared many meals together, he asked me if I wanted to cook with him at the restaurant.  Before I said yes, I considered the effect this might have on our friendship because we were very close friends and I didn’t want to jeopardize this.  My curiosity or my thirst for a challenge got the better of me and against my better judgment, I decided to give it a go.  Before I go any further, I have to explain something here.  He is Greek, as Greek as they come.  Not that there is anything wrong with that but if you can imagine the healthy ego of a European man combined with the ginormous ego of a chef, you will understand why there was no room for me in that kitchen.  I squeezed in anyways and had a little fun in the process before I decided I could no longer breathe.  When I told him that I didn’t think that the restaurant kitchen was for me, he said, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!”  We laughed about that for a long time.  I am glad that I left before it was too late to laugh.

Near the end of the book, Mr. Buford comes to a realization.

“Alarmingly, we then left to get something to drink (Mario was parched), when he put the question to me again: so, a restaurant?  And I realized: no.  I did not want a restaurant.  When I started, I hadn’t wanted a restaurant.  What I wanted was the know-how of people who ran restaurants.  I didn’t want to be a chef: just a cook.”

As I read this, I found myself nodding.  That was me: just a cook.

Throughout the book it is said over and over again that a good pasta dish is about the pasta, not the sauce.  So I decided I would make fresh pasta for the first time and then at Mr. Batali’s suggestion, top it off with just a basic tomato sauce in order to let the pasta take center stage.

Mario Batali’s Basic Tomato Sauce


  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 Spanish onion, 1/4-inch dice
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves, or 1 tablespoon dried
  • 1/2 medium carrot, finely grated
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans peeled whole tomatoes, crushed by hand
  • Salt
  • Spaghetti, cooked al dente
  • Whole basil leaves, for garnish
  • Grated Parmesan, (optional)


In a 3-quart saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and cook until soft and light golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the thyme and carrot, and cook 5 minutes more, until the carrot is quite soft. Add the tomatoes and juice and bring to a boil, stirring often. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes until as thick as hot cereal. Season with salt and serve. This sauce holds 1 week in the refrigerator or up to 6 months in the freezer.

When ready to use, the cooked pasta should be added to a saucepan with the appropriate
amount of sauce. Garnish with basil leaves and cheese, if using.

Note: I used a fresh pasta recipe from Giada de Laurentiis and the recipe will follow in a later post.

This is my submission to “Cook the Books” which is hosted by Rachel of the Crispy Cook, Deb of Kahakai Kitchen and Jo of Food Junkie, not Junk Food.


9 thoughts on “cook the books club – heat

  1. i read this book last year…twice. the first time i read it, i was left with a bit of disdain for batali…who i loved previously. the second time i read it, i mellowed towards him, understanding that this was just 1 person's perspective and it didn't take away from the fact that mario is a genius in the kitchen. your pasta looks wonderful, by the way!

  2. Not sure I could have lasted even one day in that restaurant kitchen you worked in, so kudos to you. A homemade pasta with fresh tomato sauce is a kitchen masterpiece any day, I say.

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