The Piglet (2011)
Tournament of Cookbooks
Wildcard Round, 2011
The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual
Frank Falcinelli, Frank Castronovo and Peter Meehan
Frank Falcinelli, Frank Castronovo and Peter Meehan
• Received my two Piglet cookbooks, one small and dark, one big and white. Alas, opening the packages exhausted me. Now, too tired to cook.
• Wake up rejuvenated and sit with my Piggies. Gravitate to The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual, because who doesn’t enjoy companionship, plus it looks really expensive. Right off, am resentful of the fact that I can’t find the recipes easily. There is just so much business -- endless amounts of chit-chat, two versions of the same dish, ruminations, ponderings. Sadly, not scintillating enough (sample sentence: “We are not our grandmothers.”) to excuse its length and breadth. It seems to me the Pythagorean balance of text-to-recipe has been sorely violated; the effect is distressing, like sitting next to someone really blabby on a cross-country flight.
• Also vaguely resentful of the size of the Frankies cookbook. Totally get the clever this-could-be-a-first-edition-of-Hemingway conceit, but because it’s small and fat and tightly bound, the book won’t stay open without being weighted down by -- well, in my case, by a large bowl of nickels for the old slot machine we keep (don’t ask me why) on our kitchen counter. It’s not that I don’t have cookbook holders -- I’m married, right? And had a kitchen shower before my wedding, ok? -- indeed, I have more cookbook holders than I can count. And yet, I always end up with my cookbooks slapped down on the counter or propped up against the tea kettle; in fact, if I could get all my cookbooks spiral-bound, I would. At least a cookbook should be big and spine-bendable. This one isn’t.
• Why am I harshing on Frankies? Maybe they didn’t like the design either. So, onto the matter at hand. Set out on a Sunday afternoon to make the long-simmering tomato sauce -- the Sunday sauce, as they call it -- which is the basis of the whole Frankies worldview. Such a simple recipe, which I, a sometimes-unconfident cook, appreciate. But too simple, it seems. The sauce, which ought to blow your mind if this book is any good, is just tomato-y and sauce-y and nothing more. Can this be? Puzzled by the sauce flop, I mixed up Frankies meatballs, and they were fantastic, nearly redeeming the so-so sauce. Braised short ribs are also quite nice.
• All the while, Plenty, big and bright, beckons. It’ll be a hard sell in my house -- all those vegetables, you know -- but the book is so splendid, the photographs so appetizing, that it might just lure vegephobic Husband and Son into its grip. Or they can have hot dogs on the side.
• Also, I am excited because Plenty calls for some outré ingredients that I had picked up on impulse while at a Middle Eastern market/café and then promptly forgot how I had been told to use them. Sumac? Za’atar? What?
• By the way, I want whoever took the pictures in this book to do my next author photo. Sex on the page.
• Due to this book being from England, the recipes require some conversions. But there’s an app for that.
• First up, Chickpea, tomato and bread soup. Oh, yes, indeed! And then Egg, spinach and pecorino pizza! Carmelized endive with Gruyere! I am smitten. I’m also in love with the name of the writer -- Yotam Ottolenghi -- a mellifluous vowel parade which I am sure is an anagram for something. I am scaring Husband with my sudden zeal for eggplants -- excuse me, aubergines -- and lentils. But really, I haven’t been this excited by a cookbook in quite a while.
• I’m sorry, Frankies.
Susan Orlean has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1992, and has written profiles, Reporter at Large, columns, Talk of the Town, and Popular Chronicles on subjects ranging from taxidermy to umbrella inventors to figure skater Tonya Harding. Prior to joining The New Yorker, Orlean was a contributing editor at Rolling Stone and at Vogue, where she wrote about figures in both the music and fashion industries. She has also contributed to Esquire, Smithsonian, and The New York Times Magazine.
In addition to her magazine work, Orlean is the author of seven books including My Kind of Place: Travel Stories from a Woman Who's Been Everywhere; The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup: My Encounters with Extraordinary People; Saturday Night; and Lazy Little Loafers. In 1999, she published The Orchid Thief, a best-selling narrative about orchid poachers in Florida. The Orchid Thief was made into the movie, "Adaptation," written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Spike Jonze. She is currently writing a cultural biography of the dog actor Rin Tin Tin, which will be published in 2011.
Susan received her B.A. with honors from the University of Michigan in 1976 and attended Harvard University as a Nieman Fellow in 2004. She lives in upstate New York with her husband and son.
When we asked our readers which of the 16 original contenders they'd vote for as the best cookbook of 2010, The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual received an overwhelming show of support. One person confessed: "I initially bought it as a gift for a friend and couldn't part with it so went out and bought another..."
Perhaps our favorite comment was the following: "Frankies Spuntino, hands down. Love the illustrations and it teaches you how to grow an avocado tree."
According to one of our readers who voted for Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty, "This guy is a genius with vegetarian food. I've been following him for months on guardian.co.uk. He's amazing."
Another person wrote: "I love the way Yotam mixes up classics, and creates new combinations of ingredients."
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