It's inevitable that many chef-scribed cookbooks start to taste the same after a while, even with all their unique cooking styles and flourishes. They're just not the sort of how-to-cook-everything cookbooks that can hold your attention over multiple weeknights. And so no matter how great the cookbook might be, you must really admire a certain restaurant chef's style to commit to something like Ethan Stowell's New Italian Kitchen.
Even more so if those chefs are out-of-towners, as presumably some of the local ingredients will be more difficult to procure. Obvious enough, but something that is conveniently left off book jacket covers that woo you with photos of hand-cut pasta and wild mushroom stews that look all-home-kitchens accessible.
But we were talking about this new cookbook. Stowell, the chef-owner of four Seattle restaurants, has worn his press accolades well. His cookbook is filled with recipe like a blood orange salad with shallots and Taggiasca olives and a fava bean agnolotti with snail and herbed butter. Just what you might make tonight, perhaps. If you happen to have Taggiasca olives and snails on hand.
So much of the challenge with chef cookbooks comes down to ingredients. Taking the time to pick up a jar of those Ligurian olives for the salad and fresh snails and favas for the pasta. Because with these kinds of simplicity rules chef cookbooks, substituting ingredients doesn't really work. That sautéed polenta with Hedgehog mushrooms and thinly shaved aged provolone is entirely dependent on the subtle flavors of those mushrooms and a good aged provolone. The grocery store button variety and vacu-sealed cheese aren't going to make this dish anything but the same old Wednesday night polenta.
But if you're willing to truly focus on procuring the best ingredients, Stowell's cooking style is creative yet simple enough to be accessible (simple meaning cooking technique, not time, as many of these recipes have multiple component parts). A rhubarb soup with Prosecco is simply rhubarb cooked with a little sugar and pureed before being chilled and mixed with Prosecco (Greek yogurt, mint and pistachio to garnish). That "Ode to the Northwest (with a nod to Cincinnati)" is a celebration of the first morels, English peas and halibut of spring with a Cincinnati radish shaved on top. Now, to find those radishes.
Oh, screw it. Fingerlings are easier.
Roasted Fingerling Potatoes and Artichokes with Garlic and Thyme
1 pound fingerling potatoes
8 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large artichokes, trimmed (hearts)
1/2 bunch thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
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1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Halve the potatoes lengthwise. Peel and halve the garlic cloves.
2. Heat the butter and oil together in a large, ovenproof sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes, cut-side down, in a single layer. Cook until the potatoes are golden, 4 to 5 minutes.
3. Turn the potatoes and add the artichokes, cut-side down. Nestle the garlic and thyme amid the vegetables.
4. Pop into the oven and roast until the artichokes and potatoes are tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.