Salt to Taste

Marco Canora, who works magic on traditional Tuscan-based cuisine in his sophisticated New York City restaurants, Hearth and Insieme, offers pointers that even seasoned cooks will find useful in his mouthwatering, instructional first cookbook, Salt to Taste

Canora is generous not just with salt and other seasonings, but with tips from both his restaurants and home, clearly delineating what works best in which kind of kitchen (e.g., don’t try making eggless pastas at home “unless you enjoy a challenge,” because the dough is hard to work with and requires special equipment).

I never knew that a key to great pasta is to finish cooking the noodles in the sauce.  You do this by lifting the pasta with tongs or a slotted spoon while it’s still undercooked directly from the water into the sauce, taking some of the cooking water with it.  No colander. 

Nor did I know that you can store soffrito — a basic building block of many sauces and soups, made from finely chopped onions, carrots, and celery sautéed in olive oil — for months in the fridge if covered with oil. Or — a trick more crucial in restaurants than at home, Canora thinks — spreading par-cooked risotto on baking sheets to arrest the cooking until you’re ready to finish it to order back in the pot just before serving.

There are lots of keepers in this lovely, edifying book, including an easy skate with pomegranate vinaigrette and a delicious ribolitta, the classic hearty Tuscan soup made with finely minced black cabbage (a.k.a. dinosaur kale) and puréed and whole cannellini beans.  Less successful was my attempt at homemade “maionese,” which I obviously need to work on: mine came out lurid and gloppy, like alien goop.