Falcinelli, Frank. The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion Cooking Manual. Artisan, 2010. ISBN 978-1579654153 256 pp. $30.00
When I heard a publisher booktalk this at the MA Library Association’s “Speed Dating With the Publishers” session, I made a note on the handout to read this title–it was heralded as being about the history of how a New York restaurant came to be, generously filled with favorite recipes integrated with family stories. In fact, this primer of simple Italian cooking covers classic techniques (like tying up a braciola to toss in your sauce) and new trends (the slow food movement, using fresh local ingredients).
The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion Cooking Manual is most useful for tips on how to do restaurant cooking at home: how to roast a pan full of vegetables and repurpose the leftovers; how to make a cipollini onion dressing that you can use on salad, veggies and sandwiches; a shortcut for palatable eggplant (instead of cooking for four hours, salt and let sit for a half hour to draw out the bitterness); a reminder to make sure the pasta water is heavily salted (it should taste like the sea!).
Much of the focus is on slow foods. There is a recipe for pasta from scratch with instructions for mixing by hand like Grandma, or using your stand mixer (everyone has a stand mixer right? and a cavatelli maker?), but also a note about when to use dried and why.
Like most cookbooks, The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion Cooking Manual begins with equipment and pantry items and concludes with a section on entertaining. Extras like choosing cheese for a cheese course, pairing wine and food, and entertaining are appended to the traditional soup, salad, entrees & desserts chapters. I consider myself to be something of a gourmand, and live with a classically trained chef who graduated from a Le Cordon Bleu affiliate–but I’d never heard of cheese broth, didn’t know that real Italian sausage is fermented, discovered some new cheeses and wines to try, and thoroughly enjoyed the fried versus simmered in sauce throwdown of the best method to cook meatballs (I’ve fried, baked, and simmered, and prefer simmered, like my Ma made).
Helpful charts direct aspiring cooks to purchase produce seasonally, roast vegetables to their appropriate doneness, and plan a Sunday Sauce “hang” (a large leisurely meal with extended family & friends). The hand-drawn illustrations add charm and character, from the daguerreotype style portraits of the chef-owners to the ingredients starring in the recipes. Diagrams of how to compose a plate of antipasti platter or tie off a hunk of beef extend the instructions of selected recipes.
The book did inspire me to action. First, I got hungry reading it. Then, I decided I needed to see how the Sauce recipe stacked up against my mom’s. The recommended San Marzano tomatoes were not “just about $.25 more” than what what one might normally use, as the text stated. The recommended cooking time for the sauce is four hours–and THEN you can put your meatballs in! Even after cutting the amount of olive oil in half, it seems too oily. It lacks a depthness in flavor, as it’s just olive oil, garlic, salt, red pepper flakes and whole (hand crushed) canned peeled (not seeded) tomatoes, but I think simmering some pork chops on the bone in it in the future will give me what I’m trying to achieve. help. I added wine, more salt & pepper and a pinch of sugar (my Italian friend Chris would say to put in some balsamic) and some red wine and will cook my meatballs in it later.
The published version will include photos and presumably, a table of contents and an index. I can see this purchase being a good choice for a college grad, newlyweds, or foodies.
This is a good choice for vegetarians, with many recipes that don’t include meat.