Lidia Bastianich Chef-owner of Felidia, Becco, and Lidia's and host of Public Television's Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen and Lidia's Italian Table If you enjoy the mellow, velvety, complex, and succulent flavors that come from one-pot meals cooked slowly, this is the book to have.
Tom Valenti's Soups, Stews, and One-Pot Meals: 125 Home Recipes from the Chef-Owner of New York City's Ouest and 'Cescaby Tom Valenti, Andrew Friedman
This is the way we love to eat slowly braised, cut-with-a-spoon-tender meat resting in aromatic juices just waiting for the perfect piece of bread to come along and sop it up; a steaming bowl of chowder filled with chunks of fish and potatoes in rich broth laced with the smoky-sweet-salty flavor of bacon; a casserole that's spent some serious time in the… See more details below
This is the way we love to eat slowly braised, cut-with-a-spoon-tender meat resting in aromatic juices just waiting for the perfect piece of bread to come along and sop it up; a steaming bowl of chowder filled with chunks of fish and potatoes in rich broth laced with the smoky-sweet-salty flavor of bacon; a casserole that's spent some serious time in the oven as layer upon layer of creamy, soft cheese, pasta, herbs, and meat meld into a delectable whole.
And as luck would have it, this is the way celebrated New York City chef Tom Valenti loves to cook. Considered Manhattan's grandmaster of comfort food, Valenti has made this beloved cooking his trademark. In fact, on any given night, you'll find him in his wildly successful Upper West Side restaurants Ouest and 'Cesca feeding the world's A-list Bill Clinton, Steven Spielberg, Charlie Rose, Jerry Seinfeld, Judy Collins, Joan Didion. Because, of course, this is the food they love to eat, too.
In Tom Valenti's Soups, Stews, and One-Pot Meals, Valenti and coauthor Andrew Friedman dish up the flavor we've come to expect from a New York chef, without any of the fuss. This is food that gets better a day or two after it's made, food to make on the weekend and savor throughout a busy week, food that is perfect for dinner parties and family celebrations.
Here are 125 realistic recipes for the home cook most made in one pot and all based on the fact that the right ingredients, left alone to cook in a single vessel with virtually no intervention from the cook, steadily build glorious flavor and leave far fewer pots to clean.
The book includes "Variations" and "Tomorrow's Table," tips on ways to embellish a dish by adding vegetables or meats or provide economy by stretching it into another satisfying meal by simply adding another ingredient. Valenti and Friedman embrace what they term "cooking in the real world," encouraging home cooks to use canned stocks and beans whenever appropriate. They discuss key ingredients; offer a section on condiments, garnishes, and accompaniments; provide a list of mail-order sources; and recommend cookware (though you won't need a lot).
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Read an Excerpt
Picture this: It's late in the evening. You're sitting in the living room, enjoying the company of family and friends, and savoring the final moments of a dinner party that began hours ago. Everything has been just perfect and everyone is so comfortable and sated that, if it were socially acceptable, they would close their eyes and nod off right there. Instead, they push themselves up out of their chairs, say goodnight, and retire to their cars or bedrooms.
You make your way around your home, turning off lights, closing windows. But then you reach the kitchen, and that warm, satisfied feeling deserts you as you're reminded of the monumental cleanup that awaits. Pots and pans have been turned every which way to fit into the sink; the last ones you used remain on the stovetop with remnants of meat and sauce encrusted for eternity, or so it seems onto their surfaces. Your heart sinks. Your elbow and wrist begin to ache at the mere contemplation of the task before you. Whether you tackle it tonight or leave it for the morning, one thing's for sure: It ain't gonna be fun.
To be perfectly honest, as much as anything else, this book began with my dread of that moment. Chefs probably hate washing dishes and scrubbing pots and pans more than anyone because there are people who do it for us in our restaurants. We live in a world where the supply of clean pots and pans is limitless and dirty ones simply don't exist. When we're done cooking, we're done working.
This is every bit as appealing as it sounds, and it gets even better: As you might know, we also have prep cooks who wash and pick the leaves from herbs, cut onions, make stocks, and so on. In other words, when I'm on the job, I can focus exclusively on the dish before me, drawing from prechopped and precooked ingredients.
When I cook at home, I try to approximate my work environment, whittling the cooking universe down to the burner in front of me, but never forgetting that I don't have a support staff to chop and clean. As a result, I depend almost exclusively on one-pot dishes where everything cooks together often slowly, but sometimes quickly in a single vessel. For the most part, one-pots call for a minimum of prep work, usually just chopping some vegetables and measuring the necessary quantities of broth, wine, vinegar, spices, and herbs. And there's only one pot to wash when I'm done.
One Pot (Pretty Much): How It Works
In the pages that follow, I'm going to show you how to make recipes as diverse and far-reaching as Butternut Squash Soup with Minced Bacon (page 37), Chicken in Red Wine Sauce (page 156), and Texas-Style Chili (page 114) in one cooking vessel. In the disclaimer department, you should know that my definition of one-pot cooking is any recipe that allows the principal cooking to take place in one vessel on the stovetop, in the oven, or both. I don't count mixing bowls, or even a pot or cookie sheet that might be used for a simple step like boiling pasta, blanching greens, or roasting vegetables. In a few cases, I actually use a second pot to accelerate the process, like steaming a large quantity of mussels in two pots simultaneously for Mussels with Tomato and Saffron (page 54).
The premise and promise of all one-pot cooking relies on the same basic logic: A steady building of flavors, one on top of the other, as opposed to what's known as "component cooking," where you must make a handful of different recipes to create the final dish.
In one-pot cooking, everything happens in one place, in that little space you've whittled your cooking universe down to. In some cases, browned meats may need to be temporarily removed and set aside; in others, a few of the ingredients may not be added until the final minutes of cooking. But in every instance, the technique itself really couldn't be simpler, calling for little more than periodic pouring, stirring and, best of all, tasting.
Much as I'd love to claim credit for it, one-pot cooking is obviously nothing new. Quite the opposite, in fact: Home cooks and chefs have been doing it for centuries. I'm endlessly amused by some of the ironies that abound around the history of this style of cooking. Think about how many classics we all still love today were born out of poverty generations ago. Dishes such as Beer and Beef Stew (page 116), Braised Oxtail with Cipolline Onions (page 180), and White Bean Casserole with Preserved Duck (page 108) are rich in flavor, and all descend from a similarly humble ancestry, based on recipes that were created as a way to break down and soften relatively tough (and therefore relatively cheap) cuts of meat.
I have a lot in common with many of these dishes. I'm descended from a humble but proud ancestry myself. I grew up in an Italian-American household where most of the cooking was done by my grandmother, a member of an entire generation of immigrant home cooks responsible for bringing Old World cooking to American kitchens. My grandmother wasn't a showoff, but her food was so intensely flavored, so primal and immediate, that she constantly impressed us nonetheless.
My grandmother didn't only cook one-pot dishes, but much of what she made was prepared that way, such as her tomato sauces (the flavor is a friendly ghost that haunts me to this day) and braised meats. She also taught me some great seafood recipes such as Tubetti with White Wine and Clams (page 92).
When I look back on my personal life and cooking career, I realize that one-pot dishes have always been there. They were there during my childhood. And they were there when, as a young professional cook, I traveled overseas to work for the acclaimed French chef Guy Savoy in his Paris restaurant. While in France in bistros and in the homes of friends I learned to appreciate the classic foods of that country. Many of them were made in one pot, such as Beef Bourguignon (page 120); Baked Chicken with Bacon, Mushrooms, and Pearl Onions (page 150); and boeuf à la ficelle, which inspired my Beef on a String Soup and Sandwich (page 176). In time, experimenting in my own home kitchen, I even found ways to cook a one-pot variation of those that weren't.
When I returned to New York, I worked at Gotham Bar and Grill as Alfred Portale's first sous chef. Alfred's food is very different from mine he is a former jewelry designer, and his brilliantly conceived (and highly influential) dishes are visually unparalleled, usually drawing on several creations that are prepared separately. But we both grew up on Italian-American home cooking and had spent time in France, and I recognized some of that personal history even in his groundbreaking creations.
When I became the Executive Chef of Alison on Dominick Street, I began to let my love for my culinary roots show. And people responded like you wouldn't believe. I became famous for braised lamb shank. I'm still known for it. I've cooked at other New York City restaurants since then, including Cascabel, Butterfield 81, and the ones I now co-own, Ouest and 'Cesca. Over the years, I've forged a style of cooking that in many ways is based on my love of home cooking, featuring lots of soups, stews, braises, and roasts like the ones in this book. And customers respond more positively than ever, often telling me that they find my cooking comforting, largely because it's not the least bit intellectually challenging. Sometimes they say this sheepishly, as though they might be offending me, but I take it as the highest compliment.
Even beyond the kitchen, I think of myself as a one-pot kind of guy. I believe that when you can keep things simple without sacrificing quality, you should. That's part of why I love to cook and eat things like the woodsy, rustic Mushroom, Barley, and Sage Soup (page 32); the beefaroni-meets-béchamel Lamb Pasticcio (page 124); and the timeless Baked Chicken with Bacon, Mushrooms, and Pearl Onions (page 150). I actually appreciate them more, and think they taste a little better, because they're so refreshingly easy to make.
Speaking of keeping things simple, of taking a one-pot view of the world, here's my goal as we move forward together: I want this book to inspire you to run into the kitchen and find out for yourself how doable these and other bursting-with-flavor dishes are.
In Praise of Slow Cooking
Many of the recipes in this book are cooked slowly over a period of several hours. As far as I'm concerned, slow is one of the most evocative words in a food-lover's vocabulary; the mere mention of slow cooking starts my mouth watering. When we speak of slow cooking, we speak of home cooking. We speak of lovingly prepared dishes that require a minimum of effort yet produce sensuous textures; deep, abiding flavors; and soul-nourishing satisfaction. It brings to mind succulent roasted leg of lamb, home-style tomato sauces, a spicy chili, or a savory pot roast. It reminds us that our sense of smell accounts for ninety percent of our sense of taste you can really taste these dishes just by taking in their potent aromas.
My favorite food memories are based on slow cooking, like when I think back on my grandmother standing over a pot, wooden spoon in hand, or when I remember walking into her house and being embraced by kitchen scents that seemed as loving and welcoming as a hug from the woman herself. No matter what your background or biography, I bet that slow cooking reminds you of home, or of what you think home should be.
In today's fast-paced world, it's nice to be known for something so humble. At my restaurant Ouest the menu overflows with other slow-cooked offerings, including Mushroom-Braised Short Ribs (page 174) and Red-Wine-and-Tomato-Braised Duck (page 106). And that's nothing compared to my at-home repertoire, which includes such personal favorites as Chicken Braised with Mushrooms (page 154); Root Vegetable Stew with Cumin, Coriander, and Millet (page 78); and Braised Pork Belly in White Wine Sauce (page 192).
Ironically, slow cooking is the perfect answer to the scheduling challenges facing today's fast-forwarding, double-clicking, express-lane-shopping home cooks. These are recipes that may take their sweet time getting where they're going, but they don't insist that you come along for the ride. Slow-cooked meals are their own, self-reliant workhorses. You get them started, and off they go or rather off you go, leaving them to their own exquisite transformations. While you're away, meat softens to fork-tenderness (a state of culinary nirvana where it flakes or breaks apart at the touch or tug of a fork), dense root vegetables develop the ability to melt in your mouth, and braising liquids amass mind-blowing layers of flavor. All you really need to do once you've got such a dish under way is check on it every now and then, maybe rotate something a turn every half hour or so, and then just dig in and enjoy or sometimes, even better, set aside to enjoy the next day when you can sit down to a satisfying, ready-made meal.
Equal Time (Actually, Less Time): In Praise of Fast Cooking
There are also a number of one-pot recipes in this book that cook quickly, most of them featuring fish or shellfish. But I hasten to add that dishes like Sautéed Calamari with White Wine, Garlic, and Clam Broth (page 100); Roasted Fish and Shellfish with Tomatoes and Parsley (page 98); and Baked Sea Bass, Papillote Style, with Lemon and Olives (page 146) don't offer less flavor than other recipes in this book. It simply means that fish and shellfish, as a rule, take relatively little time to cook. The overall character of these dishes may be somewhat lighter than that of their poultry and meat counterparts, but they still feature my trademark flourishes, like the unmistakable acidic lift of distilled white vinegar and the smoky undercurrent of bacon and other pork products. And everything is still mingling in one vessel, building in flavor and complexity by the minute.
Make-Ahead Cooking That Gets Better Every Day
I'm a big believer in make-ahead cooking and many of the recipes in this book can be prepared in advance. Moreover, most of them get better over a day or two in the refrigerator for the same reason that cooking in one pot produces delicious results to begin with: The give and take of flavors the way the ingredients enhance one another is only reinforced the longer the ingredients intermingle.
To maximize this benefit, I've also provided suggestions for how to find inspiration with leftovers in a recurring feature called "Tomorrow's Table" that tells how to use them as a basis for a new dish. For example, turning Florentine Pot Roast with Red Wine, Mushrooms, and Tomatoes (page 178) into a pasta sauce by shredding the meat and heating it in the braising liquid, or making Lentil and Garlic Sausage Stew (page 110) into a soup with the addition of extra stock and fresh herbs. These uses expand on the economy and efficiency of the recipes.
Throw It Right In
One of the pleasant surprises I discovered while testing recipes for this book is that a great many ingredients that most recipes instruct you to precook on their own can be added in their dried form and successfully reconstituted right in the pot where you're making the main dish. Barley, millet, dried porcini mushrooms, and a bunch of other ingredients all cook perfectly well in this way.
Not only does this save time, but it also makes more of an impact on the dish. Mushrooms, for instance, have more time to infuse the liquid with their flavor. Note these skip-a-step tips in the recipes for your own spontaneous cooking. They'll make both cooking and cleaning faster.
Save Another Step: Cook It and Serve It, in the Same Pot
Many of the dishes in this book can be served right from their cooking vessel, plunked down in the center of the table. Be careful to protect your table. I suggest doing this in a way that emphasizes the recipes' rustic roots. Place a wooden cutting board on the table (the older and more dramatic-looking, the better), lay a cloth napkin on it, and place the hot pot on top for a little display a timeless touch that makes the meal all the more appealing.
Copyright © 2003 by Tom Valenti and Andrew Friedman
This Book Does Not...
...call for hard-to-find ingredients;
...feature recipes within recipes;
...insist that you replicate complicated, origamilike presentations;
...assume that you can afford white truffles, caviar, or Kobe beef;
...ask you to eat sea urchin or blowfish;
...suggest vintage-specific wine pairings; or
...plug a line of bottled products.
Its mission is to share recipes for home meals that are simply prepared most in a single vessel and a chef's tips for making them as delicious as possible. That's it.
Copyright © 2003 by Tom Valenti and Andrew Friedman
Tomato, Bread, and Parmesan Soup
A beguiling and seamless blend of tomatoes, bread, and broth, tomato-and-bread soup is a robust, soulful dish. It's one of those classic Italian preparations that make use of foods that have outlived their usefulness for most people, in this case stale bread and overripe tomatoes.
My tomato-and-bread soup is made deliberately thick with sourdough bread, which is not the conventional choice, but whose distinct flavor goes well with tomatoes and lots of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. If you've ever read in cookbooks that you should save Parmesan rinds for another use, this is the ultimate one the rind infuses the entire soup with an authentic Italian flavor.
I make this recipe at the height of tomato season in late summer, when tomatoes are so ripe they crack open. But you can turn to other resources in the winter (see page 245).
4 pounds very ripe beefsteak or Jersey tomatoes, peeled (page 245) and cut into 1-inch cubes
Freshly ground black pepper
One 8-ounce block Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for serving
1/2 medium Spanish onion, peeled and cut into small dice
1 stalk celery, cut into small dice
1 heaping tablespoon tomato paste
2 quarts store-bought, reduced-sodium vegetable broth or homemade Vegetable Stock (page 244)
1 large loaf or 2 small loaves day-old (or two- or three-day-old) sourdough or peasant bread, crust discarded, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 8 cups)
Basil Oil (page 229) or Pesto (page 228), optional
1. Thirty minutes before you want to cook, put the tomatoes and their liquid in a bowl and season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar. Grate the cheese and reserve the rind and cheese separately.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat until hot but not yet smoking. Add the onion and celery and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables soften, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and a pinch of sugar and cook for 2 minutes, stirring to coat the vegetables.
3. Add the broth and the cheese rind and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the tomatoes with their liquid. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until the tomatoes begin to liquefy and the soup returns to a boil.
4. Lower the heat and simmer until the tomatoes break down completely and the soup begins to thicken, about 40 minutes. Remove and discard the cheese rind. Add the bread cubes and cook, stirring to break them down, for about 15 minutes. If not serving immediately, let cool, cover, and refrigerate for a few days or freeze for up to 1 month. Reheat before proceeding.
5. Stir in the grated cheese until the soup becomes as thick and flavorful as you like. Personally, I like it as thick as porridge with lots of cheesy flavor; I'd use about a cup of grated cheese. But if you like a lighter touch, feel free to hold back on the cheese.
6. To serve, ladle the soup into individual bowls, hot or at room temperature, garnishing each serving with a few grinds of black pepper, a drizzle of olive oil, and extra grated cheese, if available. You can also top each serving with basil oil or pesto, if desired.
Copyright © 2003 by Tom Valenti and Andrew Friedman
Florentine Pot Roast with Red Wine, Mushrooms, and Tomatoes
Pot roast offers a fascinating look at the differences between home cooking in the United States and Europe. This dish, which to us is a way to cook such staples as carrots, onions, and potatoes, is to Europeans an opportunity to enjoy their most tried-and-true ingredients. This recipe is based on the Italian stracotto, which means "slow cooked." It's a favorite wintertime preparation in Florence and the small Tuscan hill towns that surround it. This version uses an all-star lineup of the region's ingredients, including red wine, dried porcini, and canned tomatoes. Not surprisingly, this pot roast is excellent with its compatriot accompaniment, Polenta (page 210).
One 2 1/2-pound eye of the round roast, excess fat trimmed, tied with kitchen string at 1-inch intervals
3 cloves garlic, peeled and cut into thin slivers, plus 2 cloves smashed and peeled
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 pound slab bacon (page 241), cut into 1/2-inch strips
2 medium Spanish onions, peeled and quartered
2 celery stalks, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch rounds
1/4 cup tomato paste
Pinch of sugar
2 cups red wine, plus more if needed
1 cup water or store-bought, reduced-sodium beef broth
1 cup dried porcini mushrooms (page 243), rinsed
One 28-ounce can plum tomatoes from Italy, drained of liquid and squeezed by hand to remove excess moisture
Handful fresh oregano leaves
1. Preheat the oven to 300°F. Using a sharp, thin-bladed knife, make small, 1/2-inch-deep slits all over the beef. Slide a garlic sliver into each slit using the edge of the knife. Season the beef generously with salt and pepper.
2. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed ovenproof pot over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the beef and sear it well on all sides until well browned, about 4 minutes per side. (Tongs are a good tool for turning the meat.) Transfer the beef to a plate and set it aside.
3. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the pot. Add the bacon, onions, celery, and carrot and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and sugar and stir to coat the other ingredients. Add the wine and water, raise the heat to high, and boil until the liquid has reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms, tomatoes, and oregano and season lightly with salt and pepper, keeping in mind that the bacon is salty.
4. Return the beef to the pot. It should be half to three-quarters covered by the liquid. If it is not, add some more wine, water, or broth. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover the pot, transfer it to the oven, and braise the beef for 21/2 to 3 hours, turning the beef over and giving the liquid a stir every half hour. Make sure that the liquid is simmering gently; if it's bubbling aggressively, reduce the oven temperature to 275°F. When done, the meat will be firm to the touch and pink at the center. If not serving immediately, let cool, cover, and refrigerate for a few days or freeze for up to 1 month. Reheat before proceeding.
5. To serve, transfer the beef to a cutting board and slice it against the grain into 6 pieces. Place 1 slice on each of 6 warm dinner plates. Spoon some sauce over each serving and pass extra sauce on the side in a sauceboat.
Pappardelle alla Stracotto
To make a meaty pasta sauce, coarsely chop any leftover beef and refrigerate it separately from the sauce. The next day, spoon off and discard any fat that has risen to the top of the sauce. Reheat the sauce gently in a pot set over low heat. If desired, blend with an immersion blender for a few seconds to chop the vegetables. Return the beef to the sauce and toss with hot pasta such as pappardelle (page 219), egg noodles (page 217), or fettuccine (page 219).
Copyright © 2003 by Tom Valenti and Andrew Friedman
Simmered Shrimp Sauté with Shiitake Mushrooms and Scallions
My favorite way to eat shrimp is the classic shrimp cocktail where they are cooked in a great deal of water and emerge terrifically tender. Conversely, I could list about a million things I don't like about so-called shrimp scampi (not least of which is its name, which translates to the redundant "shrimp shrimp"). Semantics aside, I object to such quick-sautéed shrimp dishes because the high heat and stingy amount of liquid often causes the meat to seize up and toughen. The same will happen with most shellfish, including lobster; the one major exception is sea scallops, which respond well to a searing over high heat.
So, the idea behind this recipe is to combine the tender, succulent result of shrimp cooked in a generous amount of liquid with the appeal of cooking them in something more flavorful than water, in this case a buttery broth enhanced by white wine, garlic, scallion, and basil. This Asian-accented dish pairs well with linguine (page 219) or Israeli couscous (page 209).
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small dice
2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
4 large shiitake mushroom caps, very thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
2 plum tomatoes, cut into small dice
3 scallions, white and light green parts, thinly sliced on a bias
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup store-bought, reduced-sodium chicken broth or homemade Chicken Stock (page 244)
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 pounds peeled, butterflied, deveined large shrimp (see note, page 87)
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
1. Melt the 2 tablespoons room-temperature butter in a wide, deep sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook gently until softened but not browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and scallions and cook gently until softened, 3 to 4 minutes.
2. Turn the heat up to high. Just as the butter starts to sizzle, add the wine. Boil until the liquid has evaporated, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth and lemon juice and bring to a boil, and then lower the heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Add the diced, cold butter, a few pieces at a time, swirling it in as it's added. (Do not allow the liquid to boil once the butter has been added. The sauce should look like a buttery broth; if it appears excessively thick, stir in a few tablespoons of hot water.) Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
3. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper, and add them to the pan, making sure to immerse them in the liquid. Cook over medium-low heat just below a simmer for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the shrimp are pink and firm. Add the capers, toss, and cook for 30 seconds. Add the parsley and basil and toss to combine. Remove from the heat.
4. To serve, divide the shrimp and sauce among 4 warm bowls.
Simmered Shrimp Sauté with Chanterelle Mushrooms and Leeks
For a more French-leaning recipe, replace the sliced shiitake mushrooms with small chanterelles or halved large ones and replace the scallions with the white portion of one large leek, quartered lengthwise, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, rinsed, and dried.
Simmered Shrimp Sauté with Cilantro or Tarragon Replace the basil with cilantro or tarragon for a quick but marked change in flavor.
Copyright © 2003 by Tom Valenti and Andrew Friedman
Tom Valenti is a lot like me. We both hail from working-class Italian-American families. We both loved sports growing up (and still do). We both live happy lives cooking for the greatest customers in the world in New York City. We both love to fish and we both love to take naps. We both love to cook at our restaurants and at our homes. We both love big gutsy flavors and layers and layers of them in every dish we create. We both would prefer to be known for our grandma style of cooking than for anything "cutting-edge." We both represent the Italian ideal of hospitality and live for our love of the table and the time spent there with friends and family. We both understand the value of food as substance more than just something to eat. We both work with excellent charities outside of our restaurants and feel great about that.
...And we both hate doing the dishes.
This new book attacks the dishes issue head on. I find it deplorable that at the end of every great meal there is the equivalent of a prison sentence of an hour or more of cleanup for some unlucky soul. At our restaurants, we both have teams of people near us at all times to wipe up our every spill, to polish our fancy wine glasses, and to buff the silver. At home we have only ourselves.
The reality of cooking at home is not only that of the cleanup, it is also an issue of our most precious commodity: free time. Really great food does not have to take all day to prepare. Although they may need to simmer on the back burner for several hours on low heat, many of my favorite dishes take literally thirty minutes of real effort to get going. What that leaves is twofold: a great dish filled with exquisite and complex layers of poetic flavor and the ethereal texture of the best of grandma's cooking and the reality of a clean kitchen at dinnertime with but one pot and some plates to clean.
It's not that cleanup is such a crucial issue, because in fact I can always cajole someone into doing the dishes in exchange for dinner. It is more a matter of quality of life. The foods that come out of a single pot reflect the love of sharing and a time for family and the feelings of goodness that surround and envelop a table of people breaking bread in a near sacred hymn of ritual and simplicity. Conversely, it speaks to the modern family on the go, where dinners are often reheated three or four times a night, for each lone ship passing through the kitchen for just enough time to refuel. In this case a simmering pot of something great is a guarantee of higher quality food, even if quality time is less of a priority than it could be.
It may seem like slumming for one of New York City's greatest chefs to take on the Crock Pot, unless you really look at the menus in his instantly hot two restaurants, Ouest and 'Cesca. Deep behind the menu-speak describing the modern American and Italian ingredients in his timeless dishes, there lurks the real truth about Tom Valenti's cooking: each item is either cooked two minutes or two hours. The two-hour items are what make Tom's and my cooking so similar and so tasty, the two-minute items are what allow our restaurants to thrive. To understand that these two strategies can and should go together is critical in developing a strategy for cooking at home. Some things will take some time to cook into a potful of poetry. Other things take just a couple of minutes of prep to get ready. This is good. And there are some things, like a perfect plum or deliciously al dente spaghetti with oil and garlic, that are all about the shopping and not at all about the cook. In Tom's and my world, putting them all together makes for great food, and it should in yours.
So use this book with the same sense of humor and fun that Tom and I put into our daily adventures in cooking, buy the freshest ingredients you can find, use the recipes as road maps as opposed to exact surgical diagrams, and relax. There won't even be too much cleanup. Then you can eat just like Tom and I.
Copyright © 2003 by Tom Valenti and Andrew Friedman
Meet the Author
Andrew Friedman has made a career of getting to know the heads and hearts of professional cooks and athletes. For more than ten years, Friedman has collaborated with many of the nation’s best and most revered chefs on cookbooks and other writing projects. His writing career began in 1997, when Alfred Portale, asked him to collaborate on the Gotham Bar and Grill Cookbook. The book received wide acclaim and since then he has worked as a cookbook collaborator on more than twenty projects, helping a number of the nation’s best chefs (Alfred Portale, David Waltuck, Tom Valenti, and many others) share their unique culinary viewpoints with readers. As coauthor of the New York Times bestseller Breaking Back, the memoir of American tennis star James Blake, he took readers inside an athlete’s mind during training and competition, and he does the same as a frequent contributor to Tennis Magazine. In KNIVES AT DAWN: The American Team and the Bocuse d’Or 2009, Friedman combines these two personal passions to tell the story of the premier cooking competition in the world. Friedman has contributed articles to O—The Oprah Magazine and other publications and websites. He has been profiled in The New York Daily News and New York Magazine, and interviewed for, or featured in articles in, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, as well as on NPR’s Taste of the Nation and WOR Radio’s Food Talk. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Columbia University, and is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute’s “La Technique” cooking program. He lives in New York City with his family.
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