Monday, December 19, 2016


Let’s end 2016 with a glass of cheer. Nothing too terribly strong, for I’m afraid we shall all need to keep our wits about us for the next four years. So I suggest we celebrate the holidays with a bitter-sweet Italian cocktail called an Americano.

Most mixologists agree that Milan’s Caffè Camparino served the first Americano in the 1860’s. Originally named the Milano-Torino cocktail after the Italian cities that produced the drink’s ingredients (Milan’s Campari and Turin’s Martini Rosso sweet vermouth), the blend proved so popular with American tourists that it earned the nickname Americano. So says legend.  Others opine that Americano derives from the word amaro, which is Italian for ‘bitter’. Either way, the drink tastes fantastic and is utterly refreshing.

The following recipe comes from the 2012 Polpo: A Venetian Cookbook (Of Sorts) by Russell Norman.

For one:

30ml sweet vermouth
30ml Campari
Soda water
Orange slice

Use a large tumbler filled with ice and pour the vermouth and Campari over the rocks. Top up with soda. Add the orange slice.

My current vermouth of choice for an Americano: Carpano Antica Formula. Just how antica is this formula? The mixture originated in 1786. If you want to experiment with the bitter in your Americano, pour Aperol or Gran Classico Bitter in place of Campari.

Once you master the Americano, you’re set to make a number of related cocktails. Swap out the Americano’s soda water for gin and you have a Negroni. Accidently pour prosecco instead of gin into your Negroni and you’ve made a Negroni Sbagliato. (Sbaliato means ‘wrong’ in Italian.)

Cin cin! Wishing you and yours A Very Merry Christmas. What does 2017 hold for A Serious Bunburyist? Look for pasta recipes using home-milled flour and a number of cookbook reviews.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Best Cookbooks of 2016

I offer up my list of the five best cookbooks of 2016. This year chefs penned most of my favorites.  Without further ado (and in alphabetical order), I present my picks.

The Del Posto Cookbook by Mark Ladner with Michael R. Wilson. Grand Central Life & Style.

Everything I Want to Eat by Jessica Koslow. Abrams.

Mozza At Home by Nancy Silverton with Carolynn Carreño. Knopf.

Taste & Technique by Naomi Pomeroy with Jamie Feldmar. Ten Speed Press.

Tasting Rome by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill. Clarkson Potter Publishers.

Why these cookbooks? Read on.

One of the most anticipated cookbooks of 2016, Mark Ladner’s The Del Posto Cookbook shares recipes to make the polished Italian food served at New York’s Del Posto restaurant. The book’s design and photography reflects the elegant, fine dining experience that earned Del Posto and its Cucina New Yorkese a 4-star rating from the New York Times in 2010. In addition to upmarket dishes (Lobster with Artichokes and Standing Rib Roast), Ladner refines beloved Italian classics (e.g., pasta fagioli, lasagne and jota) without killing their ability to comfort.

Jessica Koslow owns Sqirl, a hip restaurant in Los Angeles’s Silver Lake neighborhood. Everything I Want to Eat features the seasonal, market-driven food served at this uniquely LA spot. You’ll find simple recipes, like burnt brioche with house-made ricotta and seasonal jam (aka Famed ricotta toast), that contain few ingredients and come together quickly especially with store-bought ingredients. But Everything I Want to Eat will also put the confident home cook through his or her paces. Opt to tackle a tartine of smashed beets, smoked whitefish schmear and beet-cured salmon (smartly entitled Beets on Fish on Beets on Fish) and get ready to face two pages of sub-recipes for: Smashed Beets; Smoked Whitefish Schmear; Beet-Cured Salmon; Dehydrated Trout Skin; and Pickled Beet Powder. I’m in! I love looking at the groovy Angelenos in the sharp photographs that grace the pages of Everything I Want to Eat.

Head west on Melrose from Sqirl and in a few miles you’ll arrive at Nancy Silverton’s Osteria Mozza. Silverton with Matt Molina and Carolynn Carreño teamed up to pen The Mozza Cookbook (which made my 2011 Best of List). Now Silverton, again with Carreño, offers Mozza at Home, a collection of menus for “relaxed, family-style entertaining”. Like The Mozza Cookbook, Mozza at Home contains precise recipes. An old-school California-esque menu reads: Garlic-Rubbed Skirt Steak with Scallion Vinaigrette; Skillet Corn Bread with Honey Butter and Scallion Butter; Chris Feldmeier’s Santa Maria-style Beans; Charred Broccolini with Salami and Burrata; and Corn and Fava Bean Succotash Salad. Great cookbook.

Let’s stay on the West Coast and head north to one of the great restaurant cities in America: Portland, Oregon. Chef Naomi Pomeroy owns a number of restaurants in Stumptown, including the acclaimed Beast. Pomeroy with Jamie Feldmar subtitle their new cookbook: Recipes to Elevate Your Home Cooking. Pomeroy cooked with some of this countries’ great chefs and she shares the considerable knowledge she amassed in her excellent cookbook. Work through Taste & Technique and you will eat well and gain solid cooking skills upon which to build. A number of people have opined that Taste &Technique reminds them of the late, great Judy Rodger’s The Zuni Café Cookbook (2002). Point well made; Both cookbooks contain clear and detailed instructions to make delicious food.

Last, but not in any way least, on my list of the best cookbooks of 2016 comes Tasting Rome by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill. Both Parla and Gill currently live in Rome, but each hail from the US. This allows them to document the food of their adopted Eternal City with a unique perspective.   Parla and Gill’s book captures the zeitgeist of contemporary Roman cooking. Tasting Rome contains recipes from chefs and home cooks who make classic Roman dishes with slightly different ingredients and techniques. Its collection of recipes raises the question of what exactly is “authentic” regional food? Dishes—even those that make up the Italian food canon—evolve. Tasting Rome provides a fascinating snapshot of what’s currently going on in Roman restaurants and kitchens. I highly recommend this book.

I want to wrap up this post by sharing the titles of some of the other excellent cooking/food books that I purchased this year. Each contended for a spot on my top five list. In no particular order: A Super Upsetting Cookbook About Sandwiches by Tyler Kord; Something to Food About by Questlove; Land of Fish and Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop; and Taste of Persia by Naomi Duguid. Excellent books all. If you want to laugh hard and eat well, buy Kord’s book. Questlove’s thoughtful book explores creativity through a collection of interviews with chefs/food experts; it deserves a broad audience.

And is it too early to start thinking about 2017 and forthcoming cookbooks? (Of course not!) Chris Bianco of Pizzeria Bianco fame has a cookbook coming out next year. Joshua McFadden of Portland’s Ava Gene’s has written a vegetable-centric cookbook. Tartine’s Elisabeth Prueitt has a book due out next spring. So does Samin Nosrat. Wow, a lot to look forward to—at least cookbook-wise—in 2017.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Torta Sabbiosa

I recently purchased two Italian cookbooks written by Laura Zavan: Venice Cult Recipes (Murdoch Books, 2014) and Dolce (Murdoch Books, 2016). I bought Venice Cult Recipes on a lark because, well…its goofy title intrigued me. The first recipe I tried, Spaghettoni alla Busara (Spaghettoni with Scampi) turned out fantastic. I used my torchio (here) to make bigoli, a Venetian spaghettoni or thick spaghetti. Zavan’s recipe calls for whole scampi (or langoustines, red-claw crayfish or large prawns/shrimps).  My local market had a tank of live stripe shrimp, so I bought a couple of pounds. The briny, sweet shrimp cooked in shell with white wine, dried chilies and tomatoes transported me back to Venice. If you can’t find spaghettoni, don’t skip this recipe! Use bucatini or even fresh fettuccini instead.

Venice Cult Recipes so impressed me that I went looking for other books written by Zavan and found Dolce, subtitled “80 Authentic Italian Sweet Treats, Cakes & Desserts”. A quick read through the book looked promising. Zavan divides Dolce’s recipes into six major chapters: Tiramisú; Panna Cotta; Tarts & Tartlets; Cakes & Festive Cakes; Biscuits, Breakfasts & Snacks; and Ice Creams & Frozen Desserts. One of the recipes in the Cakes & Festive Cakes section looked particularly interesting: Torta Sabbiosa or Sandy Cake. Zavan writes that this vanilla-flavored cake, popular in Italy’s Veneto region, originated in Pavia at the end of the 19th century.  What attracted me to the recipe, apart from its Veneto connection, is that the recipe calls for potato starch (also called potato flour).  Zavan promised that using potato starch along with powdered sugar produces a cake texture reminiscent of fine sand (sabbia in Italian). Being a sucker for sablés, the crumbly butter cookie whose name means sandy in French, I had to try Zavan’s Sandy Cake. It tasted outstanding! This recipe serves 6 to 8.

 200 g butter, softened, plus extra, for greasing
½ vanilla bean
200 g icing (confectioners’) sugar, plus extra, for dusting
3 eggs, lightly whisked, at room temperature
100 g plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra, for the cake tin
100 g potato flour (potato starch)
1 pinch fine salt

Have the butter at room temperature for at least 3 hours ahead of time. Preheat the oven to 170°C (325°F).

Scrap out the seeds of the vanilla bean half. In a large bowl, beat the softened butter with the icing sugar and vanilla seeds until creamy. Add the whisked eggs, one spoonful at a time, mixing well after each addition until you have a thick and smooth consistency.

Sift the flour and potato starch together before gradually incorporating them into the mixture. Add the salt and mix through.

Grease and flour a 22-24 cm (8 ½ - 9 ½ inch) round cake tin. Pour in the batter and bake for 40 minutes, or until golden. Cool in the tin for 1 hour, then remove and dust with icing sugar before serving.

Zavan writes that Torta sabbiosa "is a quite substantial cake, more an afternoon snack than a dessert.” I hate to quibble, but Zavan is not entirely correct. A substantial cake? Yes. But I submit that one can enjoy this buttery cake as a snack and as a dessert (and at breakfast and at elevenses). This cake tastes delicious, anytime and anywhere, and only gets better if it sits in the refrigerator over a day or two (if the Sandy Cake isn’t gobbled up sooner).