A good book, a good cook

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Autumn always brings a new crop of cookbooks because the holidays are just around the corner. I recently received a copy of "Scott Conant’s New Italian Cooking: More than 125 Recipes for Everyday Eating, Relaxed Weekend Cooking and Elegant Entertaining" ($35, Broadway Books, hardcover with full-color photographs).

Conant is chef/owner of L’Impero in New York City. He and his restaurant received the 2003 James Beard Award for best new restaurant of the year. Conant is known for his bold and flavorful Italian cucina.

My home library is filled with Italian cookbooks. Most "chef" books contain long recipes that call for exotic ingredients. It can be daunting for the novice cook to try his or her hand at restaurant fare. But this book is for anyone who enjoys cooking. Many of the recipes can be made in about 45 minutes. Conant also turns our attention to weekend fare, which is still easy to prepare, but is more relaxed. He mentions braising as a good technique for lazy weekends because the dish is simmering while you read a good book or chat with friends.

"New Italian Cooking" features recipes for "assagini," which are small tastes Italians enjoy to begin a meal. These recipes also make fine cocktail party fare.

Each recipe contains a suggested wine pairing to enhance the dish.

Here are recipes from "Scott Conant’s New Italian Cooking:"


Raw Bluefin Tuna with Baby Tomato Salad and Mint

Ingredients:

4 ounces sashimi-quality tuna, preferably bluefin
10 baby tomatoes, pear or cherry, cut into eighths
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 to 2 leaves fresh mint, chopped
1/4 teaspoon fresh chives, snipped
A couple of pinches of sea salt
A handful of baby greens or microgreens
1 teaspoon homemade peperoncino oil (recipe follows)

Directions:

With a very sharp knife, slice the tuna into six equal slices. In a small bowl, gently toss the tomatoes with the oil, vinegar, mint, chives and a pinch of sea salt. Divide the tomato salad among six plates. Top each with a slice of tuna. Sprinkle just a smidge of sea salt on each slice of tuna. Top with the baby greens and a drizzle of peperoncino oil. Serve immediately.

Serves six.

Note from Phyllis: Conant recommends a sparkling wine for this course.


Peperoncino Oil

Ingredients:
1 cup olive oil
2-1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper

Directions:

Combine the olive oil and red pepper in a small saucepan. Heat over medium until it starts to bubble lightly. Immediately remove it from the heat and allow the red pepper to steep in the olive oil. Strain the oil and refrigerate for up to one month.


Fettuccine with Escarole and Wild Mushrooms

Ingredients:

1/3 cup olive oil
5 cloves of garlic, sliced very thin
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
8 ounces domestic or wild mushrooms, or a mix of both, wiped clean, stemmed and sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 medium head of escarole, wilted outer leaves discarded, washed and dried and cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces
1 pound fettuccine
Chopped fresh parsley, optional
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Directions:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In a sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high. Add the garlic and red pepper. Cook the garlic, swirling it off the heat to prevent scorching, until it just takes on some color. Return the pan to the heat, add the mushrooms, and add salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until the mushrooms release most of their liquid, about four to six minutes. Add the chopped escarole and cook, stirring, until wilted. Keep warm.

Cook the pasta until al dente. Reserve about 1 cup of the pasta water and drain. Toss the pasta and about 1/4 of the reserved water with the escarole and the mushrooms over medium-high. Taste and add additional salt and pepper. If the sauce looks too dry, add a bit more cooking liquid. Divide the pasta among four warm bowls and sprinkle each with parsley and cheese.

Serves four.

Note from Phyllis: Conant recommends a Barbera d’Asti with this dish.


Herbed Paillard of Chicken

Ingredients:

4 skinless boneless chicken breast halves, about 1-1/2 pounds
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons chopped fresh chives
Pinch of crushed red pepper

Directions:

Pound each breast with a meat pounder between layers of plastic wrap until 1/4-inch thick. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle the olive oil over both sides of the chicken breasts and sprinkle both sides with the herbs and crushed red pepper.

Prepare the grill of your choice to high. Grill the breasts until just firm to the touch. This will take about 1 to 2 minutes of cooking time per side. Serve with another drizzle of olive oil.

Serves four.

Note from Phyllis: Chicken Paillard is a classic French dish that is made on the stovetop. The chicken is sautéed in butter with a bit of oil. Fresh herbs are an important part of this dish. Conant took an Italian approach with grilling the chicken. He recommends serving a Dolcetto with the meal.


Spicy Sautéed Broccoli Rabe

Ingredients:

1 bunch broccoli rabe, about 1 pound, well washed, thick stems trimmed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the broccoli rabe and cook it until just barely tender, four to five minutes. Drain in a colander.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over low. Add the garlic and cook until it is fragrant and its edges just begin to turn golden. Sprinkle with the crushed red pepper and remove the pan from the heat. Toss the broccoli rabe with the oil until it warms the greens, putting the pan on low if necessary. Season with salt and pepper to taste, drizzle with a little more olive oil and serve.

Serves four.