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FOOD FINDS: Want to be a better cook? Alice Waters says start by stocking a better pantry

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When it comes to aspirational cooking, it’s tough to top Martha Stewart and Alice Waters.

But while you may never master Stewart’s frustratingly perfect souffles and multi-tiered cakes, most of Waters’ recipes fall on a more manageable spectrum (though you may falter at replicating the aspirationally high earnestness with which she presents them). And therein lies the difference: Stewart’s bar is based on perfection, Waters’ is keyed to finding simple comforts in each season.

And that is a pleasant notion to pursue. Waters, the driving force behind Berkeley, California’s iconic Chez Panisse restaurant and author of numerous cookbooks, deftly imbues her often basic and nearly always seasonal recipes with feelings you want to evoke. And you can come away feeling better for having chased the comfort found in her recipes.

All of this comes to play in her latest cookbook, a diminutive volume titled simply, “My Pantry.” In it, Waters walks you through not the basics you should buy, but those you should consider making. Things like tahini and chocolate nut bark, zucchini pickles and gravlax, fresh ricotta and vanilla extract.

You won’t make them all. Even Waters acknowledges this isn’t a to-do list of must-have items. They are basic, comforting foods you may want depending on your time and place and mood. And she’s happy to show you how.

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SLOW-ROASTED NUTS WITH SAGE LEAVES

“Roasting a mixture of nuts at a low temperature is a wonderful method,” Alice Waters writes in “My Pantry.” “At high temperatures, some kinds of nuts in the mixture may burn, but they won’t if roasted with the others at a low temperature. The delightfully crisped sage leaves are as satisfying as the roasted nuts themselves.“

Start to finish: 40 minutes (10 minutes active)

Makes about 3 1/2 cups

1 cup walnuts

1 cup almonds

1 cup pecans

1 1/2 cups loosely packed sage leaves

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

Heat the oven to 275 F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with kitchen parchment.

In a medium bowl, mix together the nuts and sage leaves. Add the oil and salt and toss gently until the nuts and sage are evenly coated.

Spread the nuts and sage on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Stir the nuts and return them to the oven for 10 more minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and break a few nuts open. If their centres are golden brown they are done; if the nuts still need more time, stir them and return them to the oven, checking every 5 minutes or so. You want them to roast fully, not burn. I usually find 35 minutes is about right.

(Recipe adapted from Alice Water’s “My Pantry,” Crown Publishing Group, 2015)

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J.M. Hirsch is the food editor for The Associated Press. He blogs at http://www.LunchBoxBlues.com and tweets at http://twitter.com/JM—Hirsch . Email him at jhirsch(at)ap.org

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