Back to the Cutting Board: Luscious Plant-Based Recipes to Make You Fall in Love (Again) with the Art of Cooking

Image of Back to the Cutting Board: Luscious Plant-Based Recipes to Make You Fall in Love (Again) with the Art of Cooking
Release Date: 
September 4, 2018
BenBella Books
Reviewed by: 

Aromatic scents emanating from the family kitchen. Standing on a chair at the counter while Mother cooks. Hips touching while we patiently wait to taste the chocolate covered spoon. These memories recapture the intimacy and love connection that materializes in the hearth of the home and that are forged into our memories for eternity.

In Back to the Cutting Board, Christina Pirello helps us retrieve these hidden treasured memories and encourages us to return to the kitchen. In her eighth cookbook this doyenne of plant-based food explores what it means to take time out of our busy schedules and focus on “falling in love with the art of cooking.”

Christina Pirello is a “woman” for all seasons. She is an Emmy Award recipient for her PBS production of Christina Cooks and wears many diverse hats. As a Renaissance woman, she is versatile and multitalented. She is a Lecturer at the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College, television personality, columnist for Huffington Post and the Examiner, cookbook author, creator and founder of the Christina Pirello Health Education Initiative, and much more.

Pirello grew up in a large Italian and Irish family where food was abundant. She discovered being in the kitchen with her mother to be a haven away from the noise and chaos of her brothers. This was a place where her mother lectured her on health and the advantages of eating fruits and vegetables.  

At an early age she found where her place in life would be centered. For her, the kitchen was transformed into a realm of tranquility and harmony. Her kitchen conjures up images of meditation and peaceful serenity much like a yoga retreat where one slows down and reflects. From an early age Christina found her passion. This passion, however, goes beyond the act of preparing and cooking food. 

The title of this current book, Back to the Cutting Board, is ingenious. In this title the reader can discern Pirello’s philosophy and what is important to her. First, family. The cutting board found in her kitchen is a family heirloom made by her carpenter grandfather. Today she uses it to make pasta and bread dough. This cutting board is a link between Pirello and her Italian roots.

Second, health and wellness. The board is used to cut, chop and prepare food that will contribute to one’s health. As Pirello states, “if you want to be in control of who you are, how you look, and how you feel, then you must take charge of what you feed your body.” Using the cutting board becomes a link between our food and our wellness.

Third, it represents how we think about ourselves and our self-image. It represents the positive energy that one exudes. The food one prepares tastes only as good as the positive energy one instills in it.

Pirello writes about her cutting board as though she were writing about an old friend. We soon discover that it is her cutting board and her much beloved knife that she cherishes as she would a longtime girlfriend. The reader can only become enamored and infatuated with this remarkable woman.  

Christina Pirello knows first-hand how food and health go together. Her life was altered when she was diagnosed in her mid-twenties with stage four leukemia. At this time her future husband and love, Robert Pirello, entered her life with a possible cure. With a diagnosis that gave her just nine months to live she agreed to follow Robert’s directives and eat a macrobiotic diet. With whole grains, powerful greens, and beans she not only healed but was awakened to a new way of seeing the world. As she says those days “have become a part of the tapestry of who I am, but not only who I am.”

Pirello sets forth on a path toward healing not only for herself but for the world.  She teaches us that the way we eat, the way we grow our food and interact with our environment plays a huge role in our wellbeing. “Our day-to-day health is our responsibility. No one can take care of us better than we can.  I know we are all busy and often over-scheduled but the least we can do is try to keep ourselves as healthy as possible.” She is an avid advocate. 

Always the teacher, Pirello gently helps the reader reframe how they think about their food. Both the novice and seasoned cook will find her recipes accessible. There is no recipe too complicated to carry out. She has perfected the art of preparing dishes that are full of flavor and texture that will appease even the most critical and skeptical.

Back to the Cutting Board is divided into seven chapters. In the first chapter the reader is brought back to reality about the art of cooking. Cooking is not a competition. Cooking is not a challenge to win on television. Cooking in the kitchen signifies being “surrounded by generations of grandmothers spiritually advising and guiding the cook in her wisdom.” 

It is here that the author is at her best, teaching and instructing the reader on the basics. The reader learns the rules of the kitchen, what the plant-passionate kitchen looks and feels like, what one needs in an essential pantry and the necessary tools. Pirello, our teacher and guide, continues by tutoring the reader on the techniques of using a knife. With beautiful photographs and step by step instruction the techniques of using the knife are revealed.

The book continues onward with meal planning guidelines. With beautiful language and a knack for writing, Pirello escorts the reader through a maze of vegetables and grains and their appropriateness at each meal. At times the author’s macrobiotic training and expertise join the conversation and chapter two includes a discussion on an ancient theory of food and the dynamic cycles of nature. Read on and return to this valuable lesson when there is time for it to be absorbed. Her background in macrobiotics reappears with uncommon ingredients such as kombu, burdock and miso, known for their healing value.

The remaining chapters flow easily with specific focuses on vegetables, soups, whole grains, plant proteins and desserts. Each recipe is laid out in a forthright manner. The directions are easily applied. The preface to each recipe includes a tidbit from the author with her own personal insight.

The author identifies for her reader the uniqueness of each recipe whether it’s pointing out the intense sweetness of certain vegetables or the strengthening benefit of burdock. The squash and sweet corn chowder is a “calming and sweetly satisfying starter course.” It is a relaxing soup which is quickly put together. This is a concept echoed by Julia Child who wrote “You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces—just good food from fresh ingredients.”

The Essential Plant Proteins, usually a main entrée, are creative and the photographs entice the reader. The corned beef is not missed in this author’s version of the Reuben sandwich. 

Desserts arrive as the finale with traditional endings being converted to their healthy alternative with a creative twist. Rather than creating desserts with refined sugar, Christina offers some delicious options using brown rice syrup as a sweetener. The pecan squares are an indulgence as are the chocolate brownie cupcakes. 

Back to the Cutting Board represents Christina Pirello’s vision. She writes:

“I think preparing food and feeding people brings nourishment not only to our bodies but to our spirits. Feeding people is a way of loving them, in the same way that feeding ourselves is a way of honoring our own createdness and fragility.”