Magazine article Sunset


Magazine article Sunset


Article excerpt


A new biography of cookbook author Paula Wolfert celebrates her visionary life and recipes. By Margo True

"START SMALL," Paula Wolfert said to the four of us from Sunset. We were standing in her kitchen in Sonoma, learning how to feed homemade vinegar. "Swamp it with too much wine, and it'll be dead." As in the cookbooks that have made her famous, Wolfert's instructions were exacting, earthy, and colorful. To this day, we use (and feed) a crock of her vinegar in our Test Kitchen.

Wolfert has lived an epic life. Over nearly 40 years, she traveled across the Mediterranean and the Middle East, collecting traditional recipes with passionate and rigorous curiosity. She often lived with families in the countries she visited, and her nine cookbooks popularized dishes we now take for granted, like preserved lemons, tagines, and cassoulet.

In 1994, she relocated to Northern California from her native New York-a move that, at the time, San Francisco magazine compared to Barry Bonds being traded to the Giants. San Francisco, with its farmers' markets full of Mediterranean produce and specialty shops stocked with couscous and bulgur, made her realize the time was right to publish her groundbreaking 1998 Mediterranean Grains and Greens (a theme that's been copied by many others since).

Wolfert also opened up readers to the joy of slow cooking. A menu Sunset published in 2004 from her book The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen, for instance, included slow-roasted pork shoulder, glazed carrots with green olives, and a dessert of baked butternut squash, topped with toasted walnuts and crème fraîche (and yes, you can still find the menu at

Always brimming with stories, Wolfert probably would have gotten around to writing a memoir. But in 2013, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and stopped writing. And yet her life story is being told, with the release of Unforgettable: The Bold Flavors of Paula Wolfert's Renegade Life this April.

After a dozen publishers turned down writer Emily Kaiser Thelin's proposal for a book on Wolfert, Thelin banded together with editor and cookbook author Andrea Nguyen, photographer Eric Wolfinger, and designer Toni Tajima to launch a Kickstarter campaign. More than 1,100 donations poured in, allowing the team to selfpublish the book, which weaves stories from Wolfert's life with SO choice recipes.

In the introduction, Thelin writes, "[Paula] popularized a basic approach to cooking that all good chefs now embrace: respect and reverence for foods of tradition and place." The book is a testament to Wolfert's enduring appeal.


Unforgettable: The Bold Flavors of Paula Wolfert's Renegade Life (Mortar and Pestle Press, $35) is available at



Wolfert learned how to make these herby, tangy skewers on an adventure in the Caucasus Mountains. The onions are traditionally grated by hand, but the marinade comes together in seconds in a food processor. It's also delicious with chicken thighs or extrafirm tofu. Pomegranate molasses is made from fresh pomegranate juice cooked down to a syrup with lemon juice and sugar; concentrate is simply fresh pomegranate juice brought to a boil, then simmered until reduced. They are interchangeable in this recipe, says Wolfert.

½ cup (75 g.) coarsely chopped yellow onion (Vi medium onion)

4 tbsp. (60 ml.) pomegranate molasses

2 tbsp. olive oil, plus more as needed

½ tsp. …

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