And now, the end is near, and so I face . . . the final curtain. My friend, I'll make it clear, I'll state my case, of which I'm certain. I've lived a life that's full . . . traveled each and every highway, but more, more than this, I did it . . . MY WAY!
Applying Frank Sinatra's anthem "My Way" to a cookbook may be a bit of a stretch, but since Jonathan Waxman put it right on the cover of his new book Italian, My Way, that's how it's going to be. In all honesty, though, the more time I spend with this book, the more appropriate the comparison becomes.
Jonathan Waxman came to Italian cuisine via a career as a professional trombonist, culinary school at La Varenne in Paris, and cooking alongside Alice Waters at Chez Panisse in Berkeley. He's from the Bay Area, and applies that Northern California approach for fresh, seasonal ingredients to French technique while staying true to Italian sensibilities. It's a trifecta for accessible, flavorful food that includes recipes for Italian staples like spaghetti alla carbonara and tiramisu and updated classics like nettle soup, shaved fennel salad, and clam pizza.
There is a risk when big-name chefs write cookbooks. Waxman avoids some of those pitfalls, but not all. Most Italian ingredients are widely available at supermarkets across the country, plus Americans are generally quite familiar with Italian food. That said, I wish he gave more information in the recipe headnotes (and suggestions for substitutions) for ingredients like burrata and baccala. He addresses issues with sustainable seafood head-on, however, in a recipe for swordfish.
This cookbook is relatively slim considering it contains over 150 recipes. It's also entirely in black and white, making it feel more like a book you can splash and splatter on and less like a coffee-table book that is just meant to inspire and make your mouth water. Recipes are mouth-watering, though, like shaved asparagus salad, handkerchief pasta with pork meatballs, grilled t-bone lamb chops, and lemon raspberry crostata. I wish there were more photos throughout the book, however, because no matter how easy someone tells me trofie pasta is to make, I don't think two steps in the instructions are enough for most people.
The appendix includes dressings and sauces as simple as aioli and pesto, and more involved like Bolognese. I love that Bolognese is in the appendix alongside salad dressing, because it should be considered a staple condiment. There is a helpful glossary of terms to help you decipher everything from pappardelle to punterelle, and in the case of Parmigiano Reggiano, a great description about the production and aging of the cheese.
Check back tomorrow for Part II of this week's Cooking the Books and a recipe from Italian, My Way.