August 7, 2013
There is something awfully meta about cookbooks from "urban rustic" restaurants. They're books about food that the authors often first learned about in other books.
That doesn't mean they're not good, but that they need to be approached from a certain angle. Chefs may have similar goals to Italian mamas, but they often use different methods. It's amazing how much technique can go into making a dish that almost exactly resembles what someone ate in a little farmhouse somewhere.
"Franny's" — the cookbook from Andrew Feinberg and Francine Stephens, who co-founded the eponymous Brooklyn pizzeria-cum-restaurant and the Bklyn Larder food shop that followed it — is a case in point. The book is full of seemingly simple, big-flavored dishes you will want to make at home. But read closely and there's often an unexpected twist. Generally, these are most successful when they hew most closely to the way a home cook (as opposed to a chef) might actually think.s
A perfect example of where this works is the delicious zucchini soup. The first trick is that the 1-inch sections of zucchini are browned on one side only — that gives real depth to the flavor without obscuring the pure taste of the vegetable that comes from the raw side. Then the zucchini is simmered in water, not stock — again, a traditional Italian technique for letting simple flavors shine, rather than building layer upon layer of complexity as you would get if you used a more assertive broth.
When it comes to the more chef-y stuff, sometimes it seems well thought-out: The authors are particular about what kind of bread pairs with what style of crostini topping, and about how thickly purees should be spread so as not to overwhelm the other ingredients.
But sometimes it seems just a little much, though I'm sure somewhere there is someone who will make the pork cheek and beef tongue terrine, which begins "Check your pig's head: it should be fairly clean, but if there is a lot of residual hair, use a disposable razor to shave it."
— Russ Parsons, Tribune Newspapers
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