The Piglet (2011)
Tournament of Cookbooks
Round Two, 2011
The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual
Frank Falcinelli, Frank Castronovo and Peter Meehan
Frank Falcinelli, Frank Castronovo and Peter Meehan
I never thought I’d own a cookbook with the word “choke” in the title, yet Heart of the Artichoke (and other kitchen journeys) has proved itself a welcome addition to my kitchen library. Likewise, Frankies easily ranks on my top-ten list, although it looks and feels like a church hymnal -- complete with gold leaf cover -- contains hardly any photos and will not, even with the aid of steam roller, stay open.
Despite its unwieldiness, Frankies reads like a witty field guide to the Italian American kitchen -- honest, informative and worth keeping on your night stand. It begins with “Tomato Sauce,” the only Italian sauce -- “Call it marinara (we do), call it gravy (we don’t), call it whatever your grandma called it," takes you through a few primer chapters -- “Equipment,” “Pantry," “Olive Oil” and “Antipasto" -- and then, gets you cooking. Each of these sections is worth a read, even for the more advanced cook. After perusing “Equipment,” I bought and properly used a hand cranked cavatelli maker. Who knew?
Take the first dish I cooked and tested from Frankies, Tagliatell with Braised Lamb Ragu. From the start their guidance is honest and likable. “It is a two-day dish: the lamb gets braised on day one, and you make the sauce and pasta and put the dish together on day two.” And it continues. “The next thing to pay attention to is to what you’re braising your meat in. The ideal braising liquid is veal stock. If you’re skipping that, use water, not the canned stock crap.” Ouch, no wonder.
That tagliatell was begging to be cooked. I went with the two-day approach and used lamb stock pilfered from a well-known restaurant. Going with the two-day plan was indeed the right call -- something I’d not have done in the past. See, the light cooking comes in on the second day when you serve the dish, which means your kitchen looks clean and presentable at meal time. Good advice. The recipe is spot on, tarragon is definitely the best herb to use, and the meat is insanely tender and flavorful. All the while the guests think it was made effortlessly; such are your skills and such is the state of your kitchen.
After, I played with the Pork Braciola Marinara dish and a few others, including a chocolate tart, because I normally purchase desserts, but Frankies' recipes made me feel like I knew what I was doing in an Italian kitchen. Each had practical tips and straight-to-the-point advice. Even the tart worked.
On the other hand, the cookbook that answers the question “what am I going to cook tonight?” is Tanis's Artichoke. Every recipe is wonderfully simple, easily workable, and as clear as a bell. Adjacent, you'll find a photo of what your dish will look like when you are done -- no tweezers, no airbrushing, no exaggeration. Sure, none of the recipes pushes the culinary envelope in terms of skill, tools or ingredients required, but you will want to make all of them as soon as you open the book. I hovered over every one thinking, “I want to eat that," not “I want to see if I can cook that." In short, this book makes you hungry, not competitive.
Predictably, Tanis injects the “local ingredient” theme into his book's story and dices the content up between seasons. These are nice and quintessentially San Franciscan touches, but after the first read, I ignored all that. I cooked “Bollito Misto Tongue and Brisket with Two Sauces” out of season, because seeing it gave me an intense case of food lust. (Isn’t tongue always in season anyway?) The dish is drop-dead simple and outrageously good. I thought I was one of the only ones who like tongue (it's why I was surprised to find it in this cookbook), but I was wrong. Even my eight year old loved it. In fact, ever since I received a copy of Artichoke -- some seven weeks now -- I’ve been cooking regularly from it, and tonight, I’ll be having the “Fragrant Lamb with Prunes and Almonds” (a recommended variation is rabbit, but with three young girls at home, bunny is a non-starter). In short, Tanis hit the nail on the head with this cookbook; it's simple, delicious, helpful and usable.
In a race between two very good books, Artichoke is the winner. My guess is that you, like me, will cook regularly from it -- you can’t help yourself.
Forty-seven year old CEO and Co-Founder of La Colombe Torrefaction, the country’s premier coffee roaster, Todd Carmichael is inarguably cut from unique cloth. An entrepreneur, philanthropist, world record holder, contributor to the Huffington Post and Esquire, and self-professed “culinary freak,” Todd is rarely at rest.
Todd has effectively combined his knowledge of coffee and his love of exploration with this passion for social and ecological causes. In 2007, Todd worked to created Afrique, a unique blend of African coffees. Proceeds from sales of Afrique help to house, support and educate over 100 children at the Trinity School in Kampala, Uganda. In 2008, Todd became the first American to cross 700 miles of Antarctica, solo, and unaided, setting a world record of 39 days, 7 hours and 49 minutes.
The first line of Tanis' intro says it all: "I'm a restaurant chef who has always preferred to cook at home." None of the recipes in Heart of the Artichoke are pretentious or overwrought, and they're organized in ways that will surely appeal to all the other home cooks out there. ("The Promise of Old Bread" is my personal favorite section heading.)
I too was seduced by the Franks and bought the cavatelli maker. The pay-off was worth it. In fact, every recipe I've tried from that cookbook has been a delicious success. Each one is written with an approachable, sometimes quirky, casual descriptiveness, and yet, each is also terse and precise.
Inspired by The Morning News' Tournament of Books, we got together with
our friend Charlotte Druckman and created the Tournament of Cookbooks.
Here on Food52, you can watch the action and weigh in on the results as
the 16 most notable cookbooks of the year vie for the coveted Piglet
trophy. The tournament features top food writers and chefs as judges.
Play will take place over the course of 3 weeks, with a decision
published each weekday.
The 2011 Judges