Rustic, complex and delicious
Start the meal with chef Chris Cosentino's Italian-inflected seasonal appetizers
Chris Cosentino is executive chef at the Italian restaurant in San Francisco and chef/co-founder of Boccalone, which makes astisan salumi. (Michael Harlan Turkell Photo)
Instead, we are treated to a feast of recipes for starters that reflect Cosentino's passion for the seasonal bounty of the earth. The chef's rustic Italian-inflected aesthetic reveals itself through the simple flavors and photographs of dishes like treviso, pomegranate and pistachios (winter) and grilled peaches, gorgonzola and dandelion greens (summer).
The spare simplicity of the titles belies the thoughtful complexity of the recipes — this guy knows his stuff, while possessing an unwavering commitment to seasonality. This is a book you can bring to the farmers market as a guide and an inspiration.
Best of all, most of the recipes are approachable. You'll only need eight ingredients to re-create Cosentino's broccoli rabe and potato frittata (including sea salt!), and we saw five of them on our most recent market visit.
Don't be fooled — this book is not vegetarian. And the ideas are not all as easy as a stroll through the pumpkin patch. Modern cooking techniques are sprinkled liberally throughout the pages, and a seemingly straightforward recipe for pan-roasted grapes, turnips and grape leaves calls for pan-frying the leaves — if you can find them outside of the Napa Valley — not to mention the four varieties of grapes he lists.
That said, Cosentino takes on tasks like preparing quail ("Pound the bird flat," he instructs. "You don't need to kill it — it is already dead.") with humor and complete focus. His casual language feels as if he's in the kitchen with you, and his hand-drawn diagrams are completely accurate … and charming. You will never cut corn kernels incorrectly again, once you see the picture captioned "Perfectly cut kernels: not too deep, look like teeth."
We caught up with Cosentino in a recent phone interview about his book, his cooking style and his upcoming visit to Chicago, where he will demo recipes from his book at Printers Row Lit Fest on June 9.
Q: Why a book about appetizers from the King of Offal?
A: Offal is not the majority of what I do. Plus I have to admit there was fear in the publishing industry's heart about a book like that. The first course sets the tone of the meal. Everything's approachable. And it's not that hard to get people to eat vegetables, unless they are under the age of 7.
Q: What do you say to people who claim your cooking is not "authentic" Italian?
A: What is authentic Italian? In St. Louis, fried ravioli is considered authentic. Italian is a philosophy. You take what's best and work with what's right there. That's what this book is about.
Q: You have a lot of tricks you whip out when cooking with vegetables. In your book, you season a roasted olive and cherry tomato dish with tomato leaves. You make tomato French toast. What other tricks do you have in your arsenal?
A: Oh, I have lots of tricks. Pappa al pomodoro is literally just bread and tomato. I say why not make it sexy, crisp it up, caramelize the sugar in the tomato, still have that mushy porridge in the middle. I cook my porcini (mushrooms) with sprigs of Douglas fir. Porcini grow under pine trees … hmm, what do you know, it works together!
Q: We love the introductions to the recipes in "Beginnings." They sound very personal, as if you are telling a story. Did you write this book or did you "talk" it?
A: I talked it. When I was a kid in school, we were taught to never write like you speak, red pencils and grammar every single day. Here I am, dyslexic and ADD, it was hard. Writing the foreword, my editor Jennifer Newens hammered me for 21/2 hours about my recipes. She took my words verbatim, and it sounds like me being who I am and encouraging people to cook at home. If cooking comes from the heart, then it's good.
Q: You are coming to Chicago to promote your book at the Printers Row Lit Fest on June 9. Where will you eat when you are here?
A: I love Chicago. Paul Kahan is one of my favorite chefs. He's like Abe Froman, the (sausage) king of Chicago. I always go to the Publican. This time I need Paul to take me to the Weiner Circle for a hot dog.
Chris Cosentino is at Lit Fest
Chef Chris Cosentino demonstrates recipes from "Beginnings: My Way to Start a Meal" on the Good Eating stage at 3 p.m. June 9. Cosentino is chef of Incanto restaurant and artisan salami maker Boccalone, both in San Francisco. He will also compete in Bravo TV's fourth season of "Top Chef Masters," premiering July 25.
We will run a complete Good Eating stage schedule on June 6.