What is it that you’re cooking up if your ingredients are two bearded guys with an Italian last name and a book written in a witty prose?
Well, sounds like a great recipe for Brooklyn, if you ask me.
In fact, it seems only appropriate that I first saw Frankies Spuntino’s book at Whisk, in Williamsburg. As soon as I opened it, I was hooked. Finding a cookbook that entices me to actually read the introduction is a rare occurrence, but this one immediately did. I did not get it that time because I was short on cash, but this time around I got back from the US with a copy of it in my backpack. It was a really nice airplane read.
I decided to try a couple recipes – which have been a bit modified and reported below. It is nothing more than roasted vegetables with an oniony vinaigrette, but oh the deliciousness!
I hate how there are so few cookbooks that I love, so I decided it would be fun to review the ones I liked best, starting with this one. Here are a few reasons why I liked this book, and why I’d recommend it.
Although the book points out that the Frankies deal with modern Italian-American fare, I was surprised to see how traditionally Italian all the recipes seem. In fact, I’d say that all the recipes in the book focus on some of the simplest, tastiest common Italian preparations. In the specific case of this salad dressing and roasted beets that I made today, which also originally includes avocado, they mention how they never saw avocados on their trips to Italy and how they thought they would make a modern, appropriate addition to any fresh salad. there is none of the unrefined, low-end decadence that Italian-American preparations are known for, and this is what I would call a perfect pitch at modern Italian and American cuisine. All the foods are simply prepared and are hassle-free, which is exactly how any Italian person would go about their food.
There is a heavy focus on meats and, while I found a little disappointment in the complete lack of fish preparations (save for things with anchovies), I especially loved the guides on how to cook most fresh vegetables in the simplest way. The salads, while not numerous, are inspired from classics (like Puntarelle with an anchovy lemon dressing) but aren’t boring or overworked. The desserts take on a bit of french flair (one of the Frankies worked with Bocuse) and look delectable. I would say this book would be worth getting especially if you are a beginner, and even if you’re not a meat eater and are only going to use half of it.
Well, it’s Brooklyn all the way here. The writing is witty, funny and unusual for a cookbook. The prose is very colloquial, which is probably one of my favorite perks of the book. Finding cookbooks that tell stories and are enjoyable to read from cover to cover is not easy, and it is one of the features I look for the most when shopping for cookbooks. The book is sprinkled with anecdotes from the Frankies’ travels to Italy, and every piece of advice is given like it was your best buddy speaking.
There are just a handful of pictures in the book, but the few present are explanatory and sufficient. More pictures would be unnecessary, as cute illustrations make up for the lack thereof. I probably fell in love with the design of the book because it looks exactly like one of those old books with rough paper that our grandmas probably owned at some point in their lives.
WHAT DID I LIKE THE MOST?
I especially loved the little guides at the beginning and the end of the book. It all starts with well written guides on pantry items and kitchen equipment commonly used in Italian cooking. At the end, there are several interesting features, like how to assemble an Italian Sunday lunch, how to grow an avocado tree, and a guide on wines and foods from various regions of Italy. All these nice lifestyle perks provide a fresh twist to what is usually found in most cookbooks. Its nonchalant style would make it a cookbook most men would enjoy a lot, in my opinion.
WHAT DID I NOT LIKE?
As I mentioned, there is little to no addressing the seafood topic, if not for the jarred kind. Maybe it is, as a whole, a bit unbalanced in its contents. But, after all, the book is based on the most popular foods at the restaurant throughout the years and therefore based on their menus, so that is completely understandable.
Also, a well seasoned cook might not benefit much from this book, as it is very entry level (there is a whole chapter dedicated to preparing basic greens, which is a thing I personally liked and always comes in handy).
Overall, I picked it up for the feel of it but, being a consumer of simply prepared foods, I ended up loving the recipes as well. The book mainly aims to deliver the idea of the two cooks’ experience in Italy with all the feelings associated to it, and it does a great job at doing so. It is a great book to get a glimpse of what the Italian way of eating and living is, all rearranged in a hip New York fashion – which is always cool.
This beet and vinaigrette assembly is inspired by two recipes in the book, one being a beet and avocado salad and the other being the actual vinaigrette. I did change several things in the vinaigrette, and it still turned out to be the best salad dressing I’ve tried so far (not that I’ve tried many, to be honest). I used onions preserved in balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, which is not called in the original recipe, and I used a different kind of mustard.
You could use the dressing for simple lettuce too, or replace any roasted or grilled vegetables of choice. It would go wonderfully with any kind of greens. Italians are not big on vinaigrettes – it is usually just a splash of vinegar, good olive oil and salt over greens, and I love experimenting with these concoctions that have always been so unfamiliar to my surroundings. This vinaigrette, though, is so Italian while being American that I am sure it will gather many fans amongst a lot of the people around me.
Roasted Beets with Balsamic Cipollini vinaigrette
For the Beets
Beets, preferably small
Olive oil, salt, pepper
For the Cipollini Vinaigrette
(Makes a little less than 1/2 cup)
1/4 Cup Cipollini preserved in balsamic vinegar, chopped finely*
1 tsp Dijon Mustard**
2 tbsps white wine vinegar
A drop of honey
A squeeze of lemon juice
A good pinch of white pepper and sea salt
3 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsps light oil, either olive or vegetable like rapeseed
*(Or, if you can’t find them, use regular cipollini or pearl onions, or any kind of sweet yellow or white onion, and let them marinate for an hour in some good balsamic vinegar – just enough to cover them.)
** I actually used Sir Kengsinton’s spicy brown mustard – I brought it home from Sur La Table and it is probably the best purchase I made in LA!
MAKE THE ROASTED BEETS
Preheat the oven to 350 F˚.
Wash and scrub the beets well and trim them of their greens. Line a roasting pan with foil and toss the beets with enough oil to lightly coat them, sprinkle salt and pepper, add a good splash of water and cover with more foil.
Roast the beets for 1 1/2 hours, or until they are very soft and can be pierced easily with a knife. Check them halfway through, as you might need to add a water again.
let them cool completely or enough to handle, then scrub off the skins. Cut them into cubes or wedges, and dress with the vinaigrette.
MAKE THE VINAIGRETTE
Combine all the ingredients except the extra virgin olive oil in a blender, and process until you get a rough paste. Add the EV olive oil and process to a creamy dressing.
Alternatively, if you have no way of processing it, do what I did: chop the onions as finely as you can along with a couple teaspoons of the light oil, which will help making things creamy. It will be a little chunkier, but equally delicious.
Use right away. It keeps for a day in the fridge.
Writing a book review was fun! I will likely do it again for other Italian cookbooks published in the US that I tried and liked.
Do you have any favorite go-to cookbook, Italian or not? What is your favorite vinaigrette?