Welcome to my first cookbook review! While I definitely don’t fancy myself a cooking expert (up until yesterday, I wasn’t quite sure what “deglaze” meant), like many kitchen-curious foodies out there, I rather enjoy planning and executing unnecessarily complicated menus for my friends and family and will go to great lengths to pull it off–including forking over $18 for a ball of fresh-off-the plane imported cheese. Oh yes. Believe it. I get excited about my foods, man.
As I mentioned in my last post, I was planning on giving A16: Food + Wine a go this weekend, and I’m happy to report that the meal turned out wonderfully.
Burrata with Olive Oil, Sea Salt and Crostini
Bruschetta with Ricotta and Peperonata
Roasted Asparagus with Walnut Crema and Pecorino Tartufo
Monday Meatballs (accompanied by Aglianico, an Italian red wine)
Braised Cannellini Beans with Garlic, Marjoram and Oregano
Honey Panna Cotta with Panzanella of Blackberries and Buckwheat Cookies
The Occasion: Prepared for my boyfriend, Dr. J (names have been changed to protect the innocent), my little sister, the Little Sybarite, and her boyfriend, John Matrix, in celebration of Dr. J’s political science dissertation, which is pretty much finished after years of hard work.
The Experience: While the menu sounds pretty darn complicated and required some ingredients that you just can’t find at Safeway, it’s definitely doable, if you know where to get your ingredients and take the time to actually read the recipes and learn about what Campania cuisine is all about.Don’t let the fancy Italian words fool you: These recipes, like most of the recipes in the book, are quite easy to put together–it’s the prep time that really bogs you down. Some recipes had a lot of different parts to it; take, for example, the panna cotta. You make three parts separately, the panna cotta (a creamy, pudding-like dessert), the cookies and the panzanella, which is essentially blackberries soaked in sugar, lime and basil.
Nate Appleman, A16’s chef, is a big believer in slow food–taking your time and really getting to the essence of food. No Rachel Ray shortcuts here. Of course, I didn’t fully grasp that concept–I had to make a couple of concessions, such as using canned cannellini beans instead of soaking dried beans overnight and boiling them for two hours straight, because I didn’t shop for ingredients the day before, nor did I start prep work until the morning of the dinner. Big mistake.
I pretty much ran around town Saturday morning, frantically searching for the perfect ingredients and calling around for missing ingredients, while also balancing cost. After springing for that $18 ball of burrata, I was a little more conscious of how expensive this meal was getting.
Actually cooking the recipes was pretty easy, in retrospect–directions were simple and clear, and there were no ambiguities. Also, there are some great general tips on how to create food: I found the section on Meatballs 101 particularly enlightening. You also get a great backgrounder on authentic, southern Italian cuisine, and for anyone whose Italian cuisine lexicon is pretty much limited to words like “veal parmigiana,” “Fettuccine Alfredo” and “lasagna,” it’s refreshing to expand your knowledge. Also, there are lots of pretty pictures. Those help. Did I also mention the recipes are nothing short of amazingly delicious?
Clockwise from top left: Bruschetta with Ricotta and Peperonata, a bell pepper-based condiment; Burrata with Olive Oil, Sea Salt and Crostini (yes, this is a $9 chunk of imported burrata, an incredible mozzarella-style ball stuffed with ricotta and cream; worth every penny. Although you can get American-made burrata for less than $5 at a specialty store, as I sheepishly discovered after the fact); Roasted Asparagus with Walnut Crema (a hummus-like cream) and Pecorino Tartufo (a fancy sheep’s milk-based cheese with truffle bits); Braised Cannellini Beans with Garlic, Marjoram and Oregano; Monday Meatballs; and Honey Panna Cotta with Panzanella of Blackberries and Buckwheat Cookies
Everyone left the table full and happy.
Best suited for: The intermediate home chef. If you’re just learning to boil water, then you might want to start off with one of the simpler recipes that don’t require fifteen different steps to create (like the burrata with sea salt and crostini). But these recipes are probably best suited for someone who’s comfortable in the kitchen and have the patience to do the prep required. Also, a general understanding of cooking terms help, like “sweating” (cooking veggies over low heat so they release their juices without browning too much) or “deglazing” (which, as I learned, means adding liquid to a hot pan and scraping up the bits and pieces in the pan left behind by other ingredients). All in all, this puppy has earned a permanent place on my cookbook shelf.
Overall Rating: A for Awesome.