It started out as a “school-girl” crush. That was the late 70’s (the decade, not my age, thank you).

Now, well, I hear his voice in my head.  It’s OK, lots of cooks hear it too. It’s a voice of good, not evil. No romance, just guiding kitchen words; Cut it this way, tuck your left-hand fingers under, and don’t refrigerate those tomatoes, s’il vous plait.

It’s Jacques Pepin doing the talking. The cookbook author and affable PBS television star is set on automatic pilot in my cranium. They are intra-noggin reruns of Pepin’s culinary instructions dished up in his lilting French accent. Those teachings are as much a part of me as the birthmark on my left ankle.

For Pepin, the consummate teacher, it’s more about techniques and methods than recipes (although his recipes are scrumptious):how to hold a knife, how to mince a shallot, how to carve roast chicken.

(Crush girl shoots video with culinary icon, oh my, I’m weak in the knees. That must be why I forgot to close the cupboard behind me before we started shooting.)

From his earliest books in the 70s, “La Technique” and “La Methode,” to his eleven TV series, there was something to learn from every page or viewing. I thought my favorite show and companion cookbook would always be the 1999 “Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home” in which Pepin co-starred and co-wrote with Julia Child.

The two friends diced, debated and devoured, in such an enchanting way. They clowned – big time.

But his newest book “Essential Pepin” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $40) and 26-episode series that team with it, offer stiff competition. They showcase his all-time favorite recipes from his six-decade career, showcasing dishes made with fresh ingredients that are simple to prepare yet power-boosted with flavor.

There are more the 700 dishes, and of course, lots of technique tips along the way, many of which can be found in the snazzy DVD that is included with the book. It provides Pepin’s words and visuals so that viewers can develop skills that insure success, everything from how to angle a knife to easily remove corn kernels from cobs, to the best way to cook crepes.

My DVR is set to record his new shows. I watch them at quiet times, so I can take in new info for my brain to replay when I’m cooking.

Thanks, Jacques.

I  love this colorful vegetable gratin with zucchini and tomatoes. It’s very simple to prepare and the flavors sing of a summer garden. Often I use thyme instead of oregano because there is so much of it in my garden, and it tastes delicious. Also, I like to use La Brea Bakery’s rosemary and olive oil bread, and if the truth be told, I probably use a little more bread and cheese than the recipe calls for. Bad Cathy, good gratin.

Zucchini-Tomato Gratin
Yield: 6 servings
4 zucchini (about 6 inches long, 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds)
3 large ripe tomatoes, about 1 1/2 pounds, cut into 12 slices
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 thick slice rustic whole wheat bread, cubed, about 1/2 cup
Leaves from 3 fresh sprigs of oregano or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Trim zucchini and cut each in half crosswise. Cut each half lengthwise into 4 slices. Arrange alternating slices of zucchini and tomato in a 12-by-9-inch gratin dish; drizzle 1/4 cup olive oil on top. (The gratin can be prepared to this point up to a day in advance, covered and refrigerated.)

3. For the topping: Combine cheese, bread, oregano, salt and pepper in a food processor; process until bread is in small crumbs. Transfer to bowl and stir in olive oil (I just add oil to the breadcrumbs in the processor and pulse to combine.) Sprinkle topping over vegetables. Bake 35 minutes, or until vegetables are tender and moist and the topping is nicely browned.
Nutrition information (per serving): 140 calories, 38 percent of calories from fat, 5.9 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 35 mg cholesterol, 19.5 g carbohydrates, 2.2 g protein, 420 mg sodium, 3g fiber
Source: adapted from “Essential Pepin” by Jacques Pepin (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $40)

Couscous is so fast and easy to prepare. Jacques Pepin makes a multi-herb puree to mix with the “instant” (pre-steamed and dried) couscous. Once the boiling water mixture is added and the pan is covered, it only takes 10 minutes for it to complete its off-heat “cooking.” It is an ideal dish to serve with fish.

Green Couscous
Yield: 4 servings
1 cup loosely packed fresh herb leaves (a mixture of chives, parsley, tarragon, and basil)
2 garlic cloves, peeled
3/4 cup boiling water, divided use
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup couscous
1/2 teaspoon salt
1. Process herbs, garlic, and 1/4 cup of the boiling water in a blender or mini-food processor for about 30 seconds, or until smooth.
2. Melt butter in a saucepan. Add the couscous and salt and mix well to coat the couscous with the butter. Add the herb puree and the remaining 1/2 cup boiling water and mix well. Cover and let stand off the heat for 10 minutes. Fluff the couscous with a fork and serve.
Nutrition information (per serving): 120 calories, 20 percent of calories from fat, 2.6 g fat,2 g saturated fat, 0.5 mg cholesterol, 21 g carbohydrates, 3 g protein, 65 mg sodium, 0.8 g fiber
Source: “Essential Pepin” by Jacques Pepin (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $40)

Pepin writes that sweet basil lends a delightful fragrance and a slightly licorice taste to this dessert-style stew, adding that it is best if made a day in advance and refrigerated. He says that the flavors get more intense that way, and the juices thicken slightly. Serve with warm slices of brioche or pound cake and ice cream or sour cream sauce (recipe included).

Stew of Red Summer Fruit
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
Stewed Fruit:
1 tablespoon grated orange zest, colored portion of peel
1/3 cup pomegranate juice
1 cup mellow dry white wine (such as Chenin Blanc or Gewurtztraminer)
1 cup crème de cassis
1/4 cup strawberry jam
1 pound firm red Santa Rosa plums (about 10), pitted and cut into wedges
1 pound Bing cherries, pitted
4 large fresh basil sprigs, tied in a bundle with cotton kitchen string
1 pound seedless grapes
1 pound blueberries
1 pound strawberries, washed, hulled, and cut into wedges
1 pint sour cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup water
Garnish: Fresh mint leaves, preferably with flowers
1. For the fruit: Combine the zest, pomegranate juice, white wine, cassis, and strawberry jam in a large stainless steel saucepan or Dutch oven; bring to a boil. Boil for about 1 minute. Add the plums, cherries, and basil, bring to a strong boil, and boil for about 1 minute.
2. With a slotted spoon or a skimmer, remove the fruit from the boiling liquid and put it in a bowl. Put the basil back in the cooking liquid and add the grapes. Return to a boil and cook for 30 seconds. Transfer the grapes to the bowl, and add the blueberries and strawberries to the saucepan, with the basil. Return the mixture barely to a boil, remove the fruit, and add it to the bowl.
3. Drain as much juice from the fruit as you can and return to the saucepan. (You should have approximately 3 cups.) Boil the juice to reduce it to 2 cups, and pour it on top of the fruit, with the basil. Let cool, then remove and discard the basil. (The fruit can be made ahead and refrigerated for several days; serve cool, not cold.)
4. For the sauce: At serving time, combine the sour cream and sugar with the water in a bowl and mix until just slightly liquid. Spoon about 3 tablespoons of the juices from the fruit onto each rimmed plate. Swirl about 1 tablespoon of the sour cream in a design in the juice, using a spoon or the point of a knife. Spoon the fruit into the center of the plates, arranging it attractively. Decorate with mint flowers, if you have them, and leaves, and serve.
Nutrition information (per serving): 310 calories, 22 percent of calories from fat, 7.5 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 56g carbohydrates, 4g protein, 81 mg sodium, 4.5 g fiber
Source: “Essential Pepin” by Jacques Pepin (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $40)

This is a very simple way to poach salmon fillets. The fish goes into boiling salt water; when the water comes back to a boil, it is covered and sits off the heat for 10 minutes. Easy. Decades ago, Pepin probably would have instructed us to make a court- bouillon (broth flavored with herbs and vegetables) to use for poaching the salmon. This is much less time consuming, and the fish is delicious. As for the ravigote sauce (fresh tomatoes, capers, green onions, garlic, parsley, lemon juice, and olive oil), it is easy to prepare and a perfect partner with the fish. I like to add some fresh corn kernels, either raw, cooked or grilled (this is especially nice of the tomatoes aren’t summertime flavorful).

Poached Salmon in Ravigote Sauce
Yield: 4 servings
2 plum tomatoes (5 ounces), halved, seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch pieces (3/4 cup)
1 tablespoon drained capers
2–3 green onions, trimmed (leaving some green) and chopped (1/3 cup)
1/3 cup chopped onion, rinsed in a sieve and drained (I like to use red onion)
2 garlic cloves, crushed, peeled, chopped (1 teaspoon)
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon zest, colored portion of peel
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 skinless salmon fillets (about 5 ounces each, about 1 1/2 inches thick)
1. For the sauce: Mix all the ingredients together in a small bowl. Set aside.
2. Bring 3 cups of salted water to a boil in a large stainless steel saucepan. Add the salmon to the pan and bring the water back to a boil over high heat (this will take about 2 minutes). Immediately turn off the heat, or slide the pan off the heat and let the salmon steep in the hot liquid for 5 minutes. (The steaks will be slightly underdone in the center at this point; adjust the cooking time to accommodate thicker or thinner steaks and to satisfy your personal taste preference.)
3. Remove the steaks from the liquid with a large spatula or skimmer, drain them well, and place on four warm plates. Sponge up any liquid that collects around the steaks with paper towels, then spoon the sauce over and around the steaks and serve.
Nutrition information (per serving):  495 calories, 40 percent of calories from fat, 22 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 28 mg cholesterol, 14g carbohydrates, 60 g protein, 427 mg sodium, 1.6 g fiber
Source: “Essential Pepin” by Jacques Pepin (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $40)

Former Register staffer (and friend) Laurie Busby tells me that her 3-year-old son Jack stops playing when Jacques Pepin comes on the screen. He is glued to the tube, hanging on every word. Nice work, Jack. You’ll know how to do things the right way when you are old enough to hold a knife, or turn on the flame.