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).

Thursday, July 28, 2016

100th Post

Welcome to A Serious Bunburyist’s 100th post! I reached this milestone after five years of exploring pasta, reviewing cookbooks, documenting family recipes and concocting libations. My first post featured a Venetian pasta machine called a torchio or bigolaro. So it seems only fitting that this 100th post introduce my latest pasta making machine (of sorts): a KoMo Fidibus Classic Grain Mill. The plan: to further explore making pasta using freshly milled wheat, including Emmer (Triticum dicoccum), Spelt (Triticum spelta), Einkorn (Triticum monococcum) and Khorasan (Triticum turanicum).

Information on small scale milling for home bakers abounds, but precious little exists for the inquisitive pasta maker.  Paul Bertolli’s 2003 masterpiece Cooking by Hand discusses milling flour for pasta at Bertolli’s Oliveto restaurant and includes a number of pasta dough recipes calling for freshly milled flour.  Marc Vetri’s 2015 Mastering Pasta: The Art of Practice of Handmade Pasta, Gnocchi and Risotto extols the virtues of making pasta with freshly milled flour. Mastering Pasta also contains a lot of helpful milling tips (e.g., use a #35 sieve to sift freshly milled farro to make farro semolina flour). I plan on using these cookbooks as a jumping off point for my exploration.

So here’s to reaching 100! I hope you find the coming posts helpful and informative.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Pasta Grannies + Torchio

Regular readers of A Serious Bunburyist know that I celebrate all things torchio. My maiden post (here) shared a dough recipe that I developed for my new Venetian pasta press because, after buying my torchio (here), I found relatively few torchio-related pasta recipes in cookbooks or on the Internet. So I began to experiment with semolina, tipo 00 and extra-fine durum flour and different flour-to-liquid ratios to make a dough that consistently worked in a torchio. Well, things have come a long way since my first post in 2010: you can now learn how to use a torchio to make bigoli, gargati and other pasta shapes from excellent pasta-centric cookbooks such as Thomas McNaughton’s Flour + Water Pasta. You can also now find excellent torchio-related information on a myriad of websites and even glean useful torchio tips on social media apps such as Instagram (of all places!).

Being a torchio evangelist, I want to share a fascinating new video created by Vicky Bennison for her Pasta Grannies project ( Bennison and her team travel across Italy filming women using traditional pasta-making techniques that are at risk of disappearing with the passing of a generation. The following video features a group of Sardinians using a torchio to make a long, tubular pasta called sos cannisones.

I find this video really interesting because it shows a different approach to making pasta with a torchio than I typically employ. While I primarily use a blend of wheat (sometimes adding Extra Fancy Durum) flour, the Sardinians in the Pasta Grannies video use semolina. I use whole eggs enriched with egg yolks to make my dough; the Sardinians use water. I experiment with different flour-to-liquid ratios with the aim of achieving a very firm, quasi-pliable dough that does not stick when extruded. The sos cannisones in the video come out of the torchio so soft that a pasta grannie can easily cut it off her press with a karate chop. The grannies then dry the pasta by carefully placing the long, soft tubes, one-by-one, on linen sheets so as to avoid the pasta from touching.

I marvel at the wide, diverse world of pasta making. Thanks to Pasta Grannies for sharing the skills of these expert pasta makers with the rest of the world so that we can learn and carry on their culinary craft. You can subscribe to upcoming Pasta Grannies videos on its YouTube channel.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Nettle Liqueur

Makers of homemade Italian liqueurs, rejoice! In 2014 the Aboca Museum in Tuscany released an English version of Renato Vicario’s 2011 treatise on Italian liqueurs. This new edition, entitled Italian Liqueurs: History and Art of a Creation, presents over 140 Italian liqueur recipes. This in and of itself warrants enthusiastic applause. But Vicario’s work also includes an excellent history of liqueurs; a section on methods and techniques; a concise botanical dictionary; a pharmaceutical glossary; and a comprehensive resource section to help the reader find herbs and spices. Like Oretta Zanini De Vita’s Encyclopedia of Pasta, Vicario’s Italian Liqueurs represents an ark: his work preserves regional recipes for aperitifs, digestifs and bitters (amari) that, with time, risked disappearing.

Vicario organizes his collection of Italian liqueur recipes into five sections: Fruit; Berry; Citrus; Herbal; and Other. In each of these sections I found both the familiar and the very unfamiliar. Under his Fruit chapter, Vicario includes recipes for an apple, a cherry and a wild plum liqueur, but also instructions on how to make an apple seed and a peach stone liqueur. In his Citrus section, Vicario includes a recipe for limoncello (actually three different versions), Orange Elixir (my bottle will be ready in time for Christmas!), and Mother-in Law Milk (which is very similar to Liquore latte di vecchia (here)). In his catch-all Other section, Vicario shares recipes for nut, egg and spice liqueurs, and a recipe for Tomato Elixir made with green tomatoes and tomato leaves.

Italian Liqueurs’ largest—and to my mind, the most interesting—chapter covers 63 different herbal liqueurs. Vicario includes recipes for a diverse range of herbal aperitifs, digestifs and bitters such as: Absinthe Liqueur; Alpine Bitter; Artichoke Digestif; Cardoon Bitter; Carnation Liqueur; Eternal Youth Bitter; Juniper Essence; Melissa Water; Mugo Pine Elixir; Linden Liqueur; Piemontese Bitter; Rhubarb Tonic; Sunflower Liqueur; and Trappist Bitter. And these drinks are just the tip of the herbal liqueur iceberg.

Throughout Italian Liqueurs Vicario stresses the importance of carefully sourcing a liqueur’s ingredients. He writes: “…the most important part of liqueur preparation is the choice of the ingredients. You MUST use the freshest, best ripened, most organic and delectable herbs, plants and fruits you want to add to your liqueurs....Use everything local and in season: this is possibly the most important consideration in the selection of your ingredients and it cannot be stressed enough. Please do not make a strawberry liqueur in January, if you live in the Northern Hemisphere.”

As I reside in the Northern Hemisphere and with spring currently awakening, I decided to try Italian Liqueurs’ recipe for Nettle Liqueur. Stinging nettles abound in my neighborhood; a short walk down my street and into the woods yielded bags of young nettle buds.  For this recipe, however, you only need a couple of handfuls (handled with gloves, of course). Here is Vicario’s recipe for Nettle Liqueur.

1 liter of 190 proof alcohol
1 liter of de-mineralized water
600 grams of sugar
40 nettle fresh buds (top of the new growth) (Urtica dioica)
5 peppermint leaves (Mentha piperita)

Put the fresh leaves and buds in a jar with the alcohol for 8 days. Then make a syrup by boiling the water and the sugar until the sugar has dissolved, and let cool. Add the syrup to the alcohol mixture in the jar and let it steep for 1 day. Filter the mixture and bottle. Leave in a cool, dry place at least 1 week before consuming.

So how does a nettle liqueur taste? To me: herbaceous, but not too green, and sweet with a hint of mint. If you make this drink, watch the color of the liqueur change during its preparation from a beautiful deep emerald green to a bright olive.

Like the majority of recipes in Italian Liqueurs, making Nettle Liqueur is a snap. In the first half of his book, Vicario describes how to correctly prepare liqueurs and why he recommends certain ingredients like 190 proof alcohol and de-mineralized water. He also explains how and why you filter liqueurs.

I recommend Italian Liqueurs to anyone interested in making homemade liqueurs. (I ordered my copy from Kitchen Arts & Letters in New York.) Vicario’s knowledge and enthusiasm for these regional drinks shines throughout his book. He begins his work recounting his childhood memories of his Emilian great-grandmother rolling pasta, canning tomatoes sauce, and making the family’s liqueurs that, he writes, were absolutely necessary on a well-stocked table. “Who had ever heard of not serving a Nocino, or at least a Ratafià at the end of a meal?” Thankfully, Vicario has authored a book that preserves these regional Italian recipes thus permitting us to make and offer these gracious beverages to our friends and family.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Rigatoni Die No. 98

About five years ago I wrote (here) about using a bronze pasta die designed for a restaurant pasta extruder in a Venetian hand-cranked torchio pasta press. Since writing that article, I’ve amassed fourteen bronze dies that I use to make pasta at home with my torchio. My latest die is a 13mm rigatoni (No. 98) from Emiliomiti (here).  

Oretta Zanini De Vita writes in her Encyclopedia of Pasta (2009) that rigatoni goes by a host of names throughout Italy: bombardoni; cannaroni; cannerozzi rigati; ciofelloni; gnocconi; maniche; rigatoni romani; rigatoncini; scaffittuni; scorzasellari (“celery peelers”); trivelli; and tufoloni rigati. The shape’s defining features are its tubular form and its ridges. Rigatoni’s name comes from the Italian word rigato meaning lined, striped or ruled. The shape’s ridges allow it to hold sauce better than smooth tubular shapes such as paccheri or ziti.

If dimensions interest you, The Geometry of Pasta (2010) by Caz Hildebrand and Jacob Kenedy gives rigatoni’s specs: length 1.8 inches; width 0.6 inches; and wall thickness 1mm. (Note: Emiliomiti sells a range of rigatoni dies. In addition to my No. 98, I own a No. 116 die that makes a 23mm rigatoni.) My No. 98 rigatoni die creates pasta that measures up pretty close to The Geometry of Pasta’s numbers—a tad smaller in width, but damn close on wall thickness. When using my torchio to make rigatoni with a No. 98 die, I cut after every half revolution of the torchio’s handle. This delivers two rigatoni just under 1.8 inches in length.

Most factory rigatoni consists of semolina flour and water, but I make rigatoni with an egg dough. To serve 2, I use 135 grams of Type 00 flour from Central Milling and about 69 to 72 grams of an egg mixture made with a whole egg and an egg yolk. I say “about” because I play around with the amount of liquid depending on how dry I want the dough. Less liquid produces a sandy mixture closer to what one uses to make a commercial extruded semolina and water dough. A hand-cranked torchio needs a dough with a higher percentage of moisture than a typical factory-extruded dough. Without this extra liquid, the torchio becomes really hard to turn by hand and the dough extrudes unevenly from the die (even after a hydration period). I aim for a dough that gives the finished pasta a rough, bronze die-finish, but that evenly extrudes without an excessive amount of force.

So after making rigatoni with a No. 98 bronze die, how do you dress it? A handful of sauces traditionally pair with rigatoni. If you’re a staunch traditionalist from Rome, consider making Rigatoni con la pajata (Rigatoni with veal intestines). Popes, Peasants, and Shepherds: Recipes and Lore from Rome and Lazio (2013) by Oretta Zanini De Vita and La Pasta (2010) published by Slow Food Editore both have a recipe for this classic Roman dish. Zanini De Vita writes that pajata “is the Roman name for the first section of the intestine of the milk-fed calf, used with its chyme. Today it is difficult to find, and lamb intestine is used instead of calf. Its flavor, however, is much stronger.” If finding pajata is difficult to find in Lazio, good luck finding it here in United States (if available at all).

Many other sauces traditionally compliment rigatoni. For pork lovers, try Rigatoni alla gricia made with guanciale (cured pork jowl) and pecorino cheese. Add tomatoes and onions to this sauce and you have a version of Rigatoni all’Amatriciana. Rigatoni alla carbonara is another delicious classic (again, made with guanciale or pancetta). Rigatoni can pretty much handle any hearty sauce that meets your fancy.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Parsley Salsa Verde

Last month I shared my picks for the five best cookbooks of 2015 (here). Like many cookbook commentators and critics, I really liked Travis Jett’s Gjelina, and the book made my “Best Of” list. From cover-to-cover, Jett’s cookbook offers tempting recipes for straightforward, bold food.

One of my favorite chapters in Gjelina is Condiments and Pickles. Lett shares his take on classics such as charmoula, gremolata, chimichurri and harissa. I particularly like his Parsley Salsa Verde, which is easy to make from ingredients readily available year round. Although many salsa verde recipes include mustard and/or egg, Lett keeps his version of this Italian sauce simple with grated lemon zest and red pepper flakes adding zing. He writes that the sauce “brings a lovely herbaceous briny note to things like grilled squid, grilled eggplant, and wood-roasted sunchokes.” I think it tastes really good with Roast Chicken (here). Lett’s recipe makes 1 cup / 210 grams.

3/4 cup [20 g] chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
10 anchovy fillets, rinsed and chopped
1 Tbsp capers, rinsed and chopped
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
Pinch of crushed pepper flakes
1 garlic clove
2/3 cup [160 ml] extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar

In a small bowl, combine the parsley, anchovies, capers, lemon zest, and red pepper flakes. Using a Microplane grater, grate the garlic into the mixture, add the olive oil, stir to combine, and season with salt. Allow to stand at room temperature for about 20 minutes.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Bring to room temperature, and stir in the vinegar just before serving.

Lett writes that “[a]s for most herb-based sauces, it’s a good idea to make the base ahead of time and then spike it with vinegar just before using to avoid oxidation.” If you want to mix things up, you can substitute basil for half of the chopped parsley to make a basil salsa verde. When my so-called Roman mint (calamintha nepeta) comes this this year, I’m adding some to the mix.

A quick note. I used 4 large salt-packed anchovies the first time I made this green sauce. I then tried the recipe with 10 oil-packed fillets. I prefer the salt-packed version because, to my taste, it has a better briny flavor. But give both versions a try and see what you like best.