Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Bottega Favorita for Susie!

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I justify cookbooks like other women justify shoes.  Do I really need it?  Do I have one similar that maybe is a little outdated, stained, lose binding?  When will I use it?  Is it worth it if I only cook one or two things out of it?  Of course it is very easy to say yes, yes, yes.  A cookbook to me is like a novel.  I read it, I go back to it, I flag pages, plan recipes, admire the photos.  So last Thursday I went to Williams Sonoma and met Frank Stitts.  His new cookbook is Bottega Favorita and I probably would have bought it even if I couldn't have it signed.  
He made the Capellini Gratin to taste, it was very yummy, and scented the store like an Italian trattoria!  He is a genuine man, very kind to the staff and the customers, and really makes some of those celebrity chefs look like oafs.  I was chatting with the staff before the signing and we were talking about my blog, so he signed my book appropriately enough, "To Susie, Here's to Cooking and Blogging.  Frank Stitts"  I  gave him my card, so perhaps he'll drop by the blog sometime!
I had browsed the book before, but I approach a cookbook like a novel.  Start at the beginning. I am one of those people who reads the forward and the acknowledgments. Go to the movies with me and you WILL watch the credits to the bitter end!  So I started at the beginning of Bottega. The forward is pretty long for a cookbook, but I dove in without looking at the author. By the time I finished, it is four pages, I wanted to go to Bottega and The Highlands and I wrote down the author, Warren St. John to read one of his books.  This is a forward that really comes from the heart.  This is a patron, a foodie, a fan and he also has the gift of prose.  I am anxious to find one of his books.  So, not even past the forward yet, I have to say that Frank's wife Pardis has the most beautiful coat on in the photo in the forward.  I am not a clothes hound, so if it catches my eye, it's got to be darling!
The rest of the book, is a cookbook.  Lots of photos, original recipes. One chapter is called Cin Cin! and Cheers! (say chin chin, Chantal taught me that when I was 5!)  and is full of cocktail recipes, including homemade limoncello.  They look refreshing and sadly for those who know me, they look like hives on ice.  I have an alcohol allergy that seems to appear in the presence of citrus.  But alas, I will try Harry's Bellini on a spring day to celebrate something great!  Just one.  
There are dozens of recipes  I found inspiring.  I never use bottled salad dressing,  I sort of wing it in the blender every night.  I like looking to see other formulas, and use them as a guidepost.  I realize most people read a recipe, follow it to the T, and consider it finished.  I read a recipe, alter it to fit my taste and ingredients, make it from there and then consider how I will do it next time! I think chefs and cookbook authors understand to some they are the authority and people expect the recipe to be perfect as is, to others (like me) they are making suggestions and planting ideas to foster creativity of the home cook.

My first Bottega recipe I tried was Bucatini with Clams, Pancetta, Hot Chili and Rapini.  My finished dish looked nothing like this recipe, but it was certainly the inspiration.  I love Bucatini.  It brings me back to this restaurant in Rome.  We toured the Vatican and Palatine Hill all day in a downpour.  All 26 of my family members came into this restaurant and they led us to the banquet room.  We had great food.  Christina had the biggest Calzone, I had this spicy bucatini, my mom had marinara sauce that was divine.  I looked all over Memphis for Bucatini, to no avail.  When I found it at the Italian market in Florida, I bought 5 packages.  I can't make it without spice, it just wouldn't be right.  So the Bucatini in this recipe did not change.  I opted for shrimp instead of clams for Christina.  My grocer doesn't carry rapini, so I went for Swiss Chard which I love.  There is no substitute for pancetta, it is one of my favorites, so I kept that.  
The recipe also called for 2 dried chiles.  That was a little vague for me.  I have bags of dried chiles from New Mexico, but I was unsure if it would give me the heat I needed.  I brought home a large quantity of dried seasoning from Italy.  Crushed red pepper, dehydrated garlic, carrots, onions.  It is very colorful.  I was a little afraid the peppers had lost their zip since it is a little old, but thankfully no.  There was just enough heat in a tablespoon of this.  It turned out to be the perfect meal for the flu.  Garlic, olive oil, hot peppers, lemon...this is the Italian cure for sickness.  Chicken soup? How boring! 

Bottega Spicy Bucatini Susie's Way
Olive oil
4 cloves of garlic
2 fat slices pancetta, chopped 
Heat...dried crushed red pepper (1 teaspoon) or dried Arrabbiata seasoning (1 Tbsp)
1 bunch of Swiss Chard, chopped, with a little of the stem
Shrimp, about 1/2-3/4 pound
3/4 cup white wine
1 pound Bucatini
2 T butter (I misread this and 2 T made a wonderful sauce!)
Juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper
fresh Italian parsley

Heat the olive oil and brown the garlic cloves.  Add pancetta and chiles,and cook until the pancetta begins to get a little brown.  Add the chard and cover to wilt.  Remove the cover and add wine and shrimp.  
Meanwhile cook Bucatini in salted boiling water until al dente.  Do not discard all the pasta water.
When the shrimp is cooked through, remove from heat.  Add the Bucatini, butter, lemon juice and toss.  Add salt and pepper and parsley to taste.  Add a Tablespoon or two of the pasta water to any leftovers to keep them juicy for tomorrow!

A few notes.  Bucatini is hollow spaghetti, you need a sturdy pasta for this dish. The dried seasoning, chiles or whatever, soften when added early and the flavor is much better than adding dried red pepper at the end like you would on a pizza.  Bake it on the pizza sometime, big difference!  Finally, pasta water.  This is good stuff.  It's a little starchy and salty, but adds depth to a dish that needs liquid.  I always save a few tablespoons to add before I store the pasta dish as leftovers.  

So, a wonderful way to jump into a cookbook.  I feel better, and the dish was spicy and flavorful.  Sorry Pasquale that you weren't here, it was right up your alley!  I can hardly wait to hit the dessert chapter.....Zabaglione Meringue Cake, this one will be made exactly to Frank's specifications, I'm adventurous but not dumb!   Buon Appetito!

Buy the book at Amazon.com

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