Henry Fonda and Jane Darwell in "The Grapes of Wrath" (1941)
BEST FOOD AND DRINK BOOKS FOR
THE SUMMER by John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER: Centovini by John Mariani
BEST FOOD AND DRINK BOOKS FOR THE SUMMER
by John Mariani
A pile of truly dull cookbooks, wine books, and food reference books lands on my desk almost daily, and most are immediately relegated to the sales bin. But a few appear each season that impress me for their authority, their intriguing recipes, or, perhaps, just for their wit. Here are some I like very much. To purchase a copy, click on the photos of the book cover to go to amazon.com.
How to Pick a Peach by Russ Parsons (Houghton Mifflin, $27)--A good deal of the best food writing is about fruits and vegetables these days, not as jeremiads against eating meat but in explaining, for one thing, whY American fruits and vegetables are usually so lousy. How to Pick a Peach is well titled, and its subtitle, "The Search for Flavor from Farm to Table" telling. Even without the fine recipes, the book would be worth dipping into to learn precisely how to ferret out the best seasonal fruits and vegetables, how to store them, prepare them, and eat them, all with an eye to the fullest of flavor, the richest reward that only really great ingredients can provide with fuss.
The Produce Bible by Leeanne Kitchen (Stewart Taboori & Chang, $29.95)-- A beautifully produced 500-page volume with more than 200 recipes for fruits, vegetables, herbs and nuts, which sounds like but is not a vegetarian cookbook, and that's all to the good. This is simply a screed of wonderful recipes, like chicken stuffed with figs and fennel, sweet potato ravioli, walnut and cheddar soda bread, and plum cobbler. The information on everything from cherries to Swiss chard, gooseberries to tamarillo, is up to date, from seasonality to storage and how to prepare all the ingredients. A first-rate work that obviously was a long labor of love.
Vegetables by the Culinary Institute of America (Lebhar-Friedman, $40)--For those who couldn't care less about memoirs of cooks growing up eating polenta in Calabria or picking corn in Iowa but prefer hands-on, completely reliable, straightforward instruction about how to prepare vegetables, this book "from the classrooms of the CIA" will set you right from page one. You can tell that these recipes--for stuffed cherry tomatoes with minty barley cucumber salad, avocado and black bean crostini, broccoli in garlic sauce, and 167 others--have been worked on and worked on till they can be successfully taught every time to an incoming student, which would be you if you buy this well-illustrated standard volume.
The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (10 Speed, $40)--A big, hefty volume with a name on the cover to inspire confidence and a photo to terrify vegans. Fearnley-Whittingstall, who hails from River Cottage Farm in Devon, England, is as focused on issues of health and meat safety as he is on guaranteeing that you will really learn the distinctions between cuts, the ineffable charm of offal, and how not to waste anything in the kitchen. The 150 recipes are not fancy; instead they produce great results, from roast pork to roast beef, from bollito misto to chile con carne. You really won't need anything else on the subject than this important and thoroughly modern book on meat.
The Glory of Southern Cooking by James Villas (Wiley, $34.95)--This is hardly the first time North Carolinian James Villas has poured out his heart and soul in praise of Southern food culture, and no one has more authority than he when it comes to detailing both the lore and the refinements of doing right by pecan dressing, deviled oysters, fried grits, cracklin' biscuits, she-crab soup, and hundreds of other preparations that demonstrate the extraordinary culinary range of his beloved South. With 380 recipes, good photography, and Villas' always witty assertions about the way things have always been done and the way things should still be done, this is the book he has long been destined to write, and it tops anything on the subject out there so far.
A Movable Feast: Ten Millennia of Food Globalization by Kenneth F. Kiple (Cambridge, $27)--The subtitle suggests a pretty tall order for Mr. Kiple to deliver but he does so in a way that the linkage and connections between our neolithic ancestors and ourselves is neither to be dismissed as progress nor trifled with as evidence of what has gone wrong on our planet and its food chain over the last 10,000 years. Mr. Kiple can be an engaging anecdotist, though his writing can sink to the academic. But it gives a true understanding of why pepper was once worth its weight in gold and why drugs with narcotic properties have always been respected by humankind.
Hemingway & Bailey's Bartending Guide to Great American Writers by Mark Bailey (Algonquin Books, $15.95)--This is a thin little tome, a mere trifle really, but a very colorful one, both literally and figuratively, with the musings of 43 American writers from William Styron to Ernest Hemingway, from Truman Capote to Jack Kerouac, on the subject of drink, drinking, and getting--or being--drunk. There are so many great quotations here: "I think a man ought to get drunk twice a year just on principle" (Raymond Chandler); "Drinking makes such fools of people, and people are such fools to begin with, that it's compounding a felony" (Robert Benchley), as well as mini-profiles of the authors, excellent caricatures by Edward Hemingway, and recipes for classic cocktails. Makes a good read and a good gift.
What's a Cook to Do? by James Peterson (Artisan, $16.95)--With so many overwrought, overproduced, and super glossy food books wasting paper out there, I am always happy for a good, stocky little book chock full of basic information. Peterson, who's written some of those overwrought volumes in the past, here turns succinctly to explain everything from how to shuck an oyster to how to make a perfect pie, with 484 tips, techniques, and tricks to tell why a mushroom is too old, how to make rich brown turkey gravy, and how to decorate a cake. There is some padding here--do we really need half a page to tell us how to grind and use pepper?--but overall this is a book you'll keep in your kitchen in a very handy place.
My Home Is Your Home by Andrea Apuzzo with John DeMers (Vissi d'Arte, $39.95). The Italian cookbook genre seems never played out, although there are so many repetitive volumes and so many silly ones devoted to single ingredient like "Cooking with Farro" or "5,000 Granita Recipes," that it's good to be brought back to the basics by a master chef who truly knows and feels the cuisine as a native long involved with pleasing people. Andrea Apuzzo is the ebullient owner of Andrea's in New Orleans, and in this splendid volume, with text by local author John deMers and photos by the city's pre-eminent photographer, Kerri McCaffety, he goes step by step through the kinds of Italian dishes people really want to make, from pizza marinara and spinach gnocchi with fresh tomato sauce to his own creations admirably influenced by Louisiana food culture, in dishes like crawfish with angel's hair pastas, seafood-stuffed eggplant, and crabmeat au gratin Domenico.
The Shun Lee Cookbook: Recipes from a Chinese Restaurant Dynasty by Michael Tong (Morrow, $29.95)--It may well be argued that Michael Tong, almost singlehandedly, brought Chinese food out of the egg foo yung era forty years ago and even transcended the fad for super-hot Sichuan and Hunan food by maintaining his Shun Lee restaurants in New York as exemplars of refinement that demonstrated the glorious range of so many regional Chinese cuisines. Many of the best dishes of his cooks are here, from hot and sour cabbage and red-cooked chicken to "ants climbing a tree" and "Buddha's Delight." Amply illustrated with delectable photos, the recipes are well written and show you need not spend an inordinate amount of time hanging over a hot wok.
Bite Size by François Payard (Morrow, $19.95)--I would be otherwise suspicious of this small book subtitled (ho hum) "Elegant Recipes for Entertaining," but the author is François Payard, one of America's finest patîssiers, and owner of the delightful Payard Bistro & Patîsserie in New York. He is a third-generation pastry man, and while this is not specifically a pastry book, the precision and chemistry that art requires shows on every beautiful page. It is a book of appetizers as fit for a Champagne soirée as a backyard get-together, from quail eggs with Russian salad and parsnip and mushroom tarts to very easy cheese sticks and highly nouvelle foie gras with toro tuna granitas. And Payard makes them all sound like something any good kitchen cook could whip up and still have time for her make-up and hair.
NEW YORK CORNER
by John Mariani
25 West Houston Street
Having just spent two weeks in
Centovini is the creation of Moss Design Gallery, which resides in the same building, and Nicola Marzovilla, who also owns the very successful, 13-year-old Puglian restaurant i Trulli uptown. Here everything is centered on the 100+ wines offered at the bar and Z-shaped dining room, which has benefited from its owners' design expertise and won awards for such. It is a shadowy place, sleek but not cold, cool but very friendly, with a nice neighborhood feel as well as the sense that you are in something quite new but not edgy.
The nicely lighted bar is set in front of the dining area, with tables made of hard rubber and very straight-backed chairs I found none too comfortable. White leather-chrome bar stools, Murano glass light fixtures and shelves of wine play counterpoint with some Edwardian-style cartoons of women's faces on the wall. The waitstaff could not be more amiable, and food comes out at both the right tempo and the right temperature.
Opening the menu further increased my happiness, for here was a judiciously sized selection of the kinds of dishes I was starving for in
Just about any pasta is going to make you smile here, whether it's the handmade cavatelli with bitter-salty and nicely tender broccoli di rabe with good olive oil from Mr. Marzovilla's own estate in Umbria, to the tagliatelle with peashoots, prosciutto, and pecorino toscano. A special one evening was for those who love shad roe, now in peak season, here paired with pasta. I find shad roe a bit fishy to my taste, but this was an admirable and inventive marriage of ingredients.
You might want to stop eating before the main courses--or not eat all that precedes them--but I urge you on to the crispy, juicy fried rabbit with baby artichokes and mashed potatoes, and the veal cheeks with baby carrots and a cannellini bean purée. So, too, braised lamb shank with mint couscous, eggplant, tomato and olives can compete with any in the city, and the fish of the day, served with farro, mushrooms, and wild onions, is dependably succulent throughout.
Of course, with all those wines you have good reason to sample many by the glass from a list that has plenty to offer at under $50 a bottle. So start off with a lightly frizzante prosecco, then let Mr. Marzovilla guide you to a wine from northern or southern Italy you have probably never heard of but will want to ferret out at the winestore.
There are three cheeses offered, with an array of nuts and honey, pears and pepper, and the dolci, thanks to Ms. Jackson, are stand-outs in an Italian restaurant, including her almond torta with cherry apricot compote and chantilly cream and her rich and lovely steamed chocolate pudding.
New York--and especially those acronymic neighborhoods of SoHo, NoLita, and TriBeCa--have oodles of good Italian trattorias, but Centovini is really adding the kinds of new dishes to a spectrum that are, as in Italy, too much the same. Every other restaurateur should pay attention.
Centovini is open for lunch and dinner, as well as weekend brunch. Antipasti at dinner range from $12 to $16, full portions of pasta are all $20, and main courses $28-$32.
ARTICLES WE NEVER FINISHED
"On a late summer day in 2006 from a pier in
DIDN'T ANDY WARHOL ALREADY FILM THAT?
Since January 1, more than 500,000 visitors to cheddarvision.tv have been watching a 44-round of cheese mature 24 hours a day. It is expected to be ready in about a year.
* The Rome Cavalieri Hilton has launched an exclusive afternoon "Tea with Tiepolo” service inspired by three of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo's greatest paintings, the latest additions to the hotel's world-renowned collection of masterpieces. Directly under "Ulysses Discovers Achilles Among the Daughters of Lycomedes," "The Flaying of Marsyas" and "Hercules and Anteus," guests are presented with a Berlucchi spumante rosé in a Vermeille flute, and a menu of Japan and China's rare teas, a choice o brewing water, finger sandwiches and dessert offerings include quail eggs with caviar and black truffles, "fruit sushi," and scones with essence of ginger, green tea and orange blossom. Call 011-39 06 35091. Visit www.cavalieri-hilton.it
* On May 16, the first annual Brooklyn Uncorked Long Island Wine Tasting will take place at the BAMcafé at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, with samples from nearly 30
* On May 22 Legal Sea Foods, National Distributing Company, Boca Raton Magazine, Town Center, Viking Range, and Florida Table are leading a local effort to help rebuild the hospitality industry in New Orleans, by hosting a "by the bite" at Town Center Boca Raton featuring New Orleans-style food and wine, cooking demos by New Orleans culinary personality Poppy Tooker, and a raffle incl. culinary treasures provided by
From May 26-28 The Austin Wine Festival will feature
the 20 wineries of the Texas Hill
Country, as well as 10 guest wineries from around the state. A list of
wineries is available at www.austinwinefestival.com.
Advance tickets, available on-line at $15 for a one-day adult pass and
a 3-day adult pass. Event proceeds will benefit the Lance Armstrong
and the Austin Farmers' Market.
* As part of the 5th annual Tofino Food & Wine Festival in
*This June, Muriel's Jackson Square in
* On June 2 & 3, The Chicago Botanic Garden offers the opportunity to sample domestic and international wines from more than 40 vendors at the Wine Festival, then stay after sunset to experience the first lighting of
* On June 3 in
* On June 4 Epicurious.com begins the 2nd annual Wine. Dine. Donate restaurant series to mark National Hunger Awareness Day, with a series of benefit dinners held at 5 of the country's top restaurants. Proceeds to the Food Bank of NY thru
* From June 5-7 The Jimmy Fund Scooper Bowl ®, the nation’s largest all-you-can-eat ice cream festival, celebrates its 25th birthday, when Boston City Hall Plaza turns into a mega ice cream parlor with more than 40 flavors of top brand ice creams, incl. Baskin-Robbins, Ben & Jerry’s, Breyers, Brigham’s, Cold Stone Creamery, Élan Frozen Yogurt, Edy’s Grand Ice Cream, Garelick Farms, Gifford’s, Häagen-Dazs and HP Hood. Also, live music, contests from professional sports teams, and games. $7 for adults, $3 for children ages 3-9, and free for children younger than 3. Go to www.scooperbowl.org.
* The Rosen Centre in Orlando will feature the "Rosen Centre Vine and Dine," a 4-part 5-course wine dinner series, exploring a different region with each dinner prepared by Executive Chef Michael Rumplik and Specialty Restaurant Chef Fred Vlachos doing cuisine perfectly paired with that region's best-suited wines: June 22, Aug. 24, and Oct. 26. $65 pp. Call 407 996-9840, or visit www.evergladesrestaurant.com or www.rosencentre.com.
Everett Potter's Travel Report:
I consider this the best and savviest blog of its kind on the web. Potter is a columnist for USA Weekend, Diversion, Laptop and Luxury Spa Finder, a contributing editor for Ski and a frequent contributor to National Geographic Traveler, ForbesTraveler.com and Elle Decor. "I’ve designed this site is for people who take their travel seriously," says Potter. "For travelers who want to learn about special places but don’t necessarily want to pay through the nose for the privilege of staying there. Because at the end of the day, it’s not so much about five-star places as five-star experiences." To go to his blog click on the logo below:
Tennis Resorts Online: A Critical Guide to the World's Best Tennis Resorts and Tennis Camps, published by ROGER COX, who has spent more than two decades writing about tennis travel, including a 17-year stretch for Tennis magazine. He has also written for Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, New York Magazine, Travel & Leisure, Esquire, Money, USTA Magazine, Men's Journal, and The Robb Report. He has authored two books-The World's Best Tennis Vacations (Stephen Greene Press/Viking Penguin, 1990) and The Best Places to Stay in the Rockies (Houghton Mifflin, 1992 & 1994), and the Melbourne (Australia) chapter to the Wall Street Journal Business Guide to Cities of the Pacific Rim (Fodor's Travel Guides, 1991). Click on the logo below to go to the site.
MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly. Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Robert Mariani, Naomi Kooker, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Suzanne Wright. Contributing Photographers: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery, Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.
Any of John Mariani's books below
may be ordered from amazon.com by clicking on the cover image.