Scott Conant's The Scarpetta Cookbook Elevates Basic Italian, and Chocolate Cake (Recipe)

Scott Conant's The Scarpetta Cookbook Elevates Basic Italian, and Chocolate Cake (Recipe)
Brent Herrig Copyright 2013

If you've never had the chance to eat at one of Scott Conant's five Scarpetta restaurants (Beverly Hills, kind of pricey, etc.), you can still sample his much-praised food by cooking it yourself, using the recipes in The Scarpetta Cookbook. With 125 of his signature dishes (beautifully photographed by Brent Herrig), the book is a master class in Italian cuisine. In the introduction Conant describes his style as "urban-Milan-meets-rustic-Tuscany."

Conant starts things off with some general guidelines, including the admonition to read recipes all the way through before any cooking begins. This tip might sound obvious -- but if you don't follow it, you could get into trouble, since so many of his dishes require advance prep work and maybe even learning a new skill.

Woven throughout the book are instructions on cooking techniques, such as how to cut fresh basil into a chiffonade; how to cold-smoke indoors; how to clean soft-shell crabs; how to make goat stock. There also are suggestions for wine pairings. Curious about what to drink with ricotta cavatelli with rabbit ragu and arugula? Writes Conant: "For this hearty Southern Italian favorite, opt for a red wine with gamey characteristics, like Marisa Cuomo Ravello Rosso Riserva."

As expected, much attention is devoted to pasta, including the recipe for his famous $24 spaghetti. At first glance this seems like a simple dish, until you get into the logistics of homemade noodle dough, which requires a trip to an Italian market for "00" flour. And, speaking of pasta, he passes along his mother's cooking advice for achieving perfect results: Salt the boiling water "until it tastes like soup."

Not every recipe is going to appeal to everyone -- some restaurant favorites may seem too complicated and time-consuming to re-create at home (for example, ash-spiced venison with polenta dumplings, cranberries and Concord grape reduction). But there is plenty of more accessible fare, like spinach and ricotta gnudi with concentrated tomato sauce, a creative way to use budget-friendly ingredients we probably have on hand.

When it comes to desserts, Conant admits he's never been a big fan of traditional Italian sweets because he feels like they're trying too hard. Instead, he favors desserts that illustrate "the importance of seasonality, a balance of textures and flavors on the plate, the attention to detail."

Amedei Chocolate Cake
Amedei Chocolate Cake
Brent Herrig Copyright 2013

Amedei Chocolate Cake

From: The Scarpetta Cookbook, by Scott Conant.

Serves: 6

8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter

1 cup (5 ½ ounces) chopped Amedei dark chocolate, preferably Toscano Black 66%

3 large eggs

¾ cup granulated sugar

½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted

1. Heat a convection oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit or a conventional oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Cover the bottoms of six 3-inch ring molds with aluminum foil (Note: We like using nonstick foil), folding the excess foil up and around the outside of the ring molds to create a bottom. Alternatively, you can use 6 similar-size ramekins.

3. In a double boiler or in a heatproof bowl set over, but not touching, simmering water, melt the butter and chocolate together, stirring occasionally.

4. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the eggs and sugar on medium speed until doubled in volume, 10 to 15 minutes. Turn off the mixer, add the cocoa powder, and mix on low speed until blended. Using a large rubber spatula, fold in the melted butter and chocolate until just combined.

5. Fill the ring molds about three-quarters full. Bake until the cakes look set but are still a little wiggly in the center, about 10 minutes.

6. Let the cakes cool, then remove from the molds. (The cakes may be made earlier in the day; let cool completely, then cover and keep at room temperature.)

7. To serve, reheat the cakes briefly in a warm oven. At Scarpetta the cakes are served with burnt orange gelato. We like them with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Reprinted with permission from the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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