Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Book Battle, Food Fights, and Cook Ups

My son Nathan and I are fighting over Andrew Carmellini’s new cookbook, Urban Italian. He likes it so much that he keeps threatening to steal it from me. That was after I refused to just give it to him. No doubt he was very surprised by this response. My habitual approach to anything he or his two brothers asks of me is “Yes.” Besides, I am in general not a big fan of cookbooks. I have some of course, but far fewer than most food writers and many food enthusiasts. And I turn to them only on occasion, being more of an intuitive cook than a follower of instructions. But I definitely want to keep this one around.

Not only is it beautiful, entertainingly readable, and nicely organized, but the recipes are exactly what he promises- the kind of food you can make with easily accessible ingredients and a reasonable investment of time. There are plenty of things- though certainly not all of them in my opinion- that can be reproduced with the hours and energy left over after a long day of work. And the dishes are the kind of simple, homey food I love to eat: lamb ragu, tomato risotto, ziti with tuna, red onions and cannelloni beans; escarole Calabrese with lots of garlic and spicy sopressata. I’m eager to try some of his uncommon and inventive variations on iconic preparations: strozzapreti with sausage, grapes and red wine; pork arrosto with Italian plums and grappa; meatballs with cherries.

Scattered throughout the pages are flashes of humor and lots of personality. In a recipe for short rubs braciole, the instructions read: “1 clove garlic, sliced Goodfellas thin.” Chapter intros are full of stories about people and places and headnotes can be chatty: “Some people think they don’t like calamari but that’s because they’ve only had the beer-bar version- the kind that tastes like a chew toy.” Carmellini, a Cleveland transplant to NYC, is coming home for the Fabulous Food Show, this Friday, Saturday and Sunday (November 14-16) at the I-X Center. Click here to read my interview with him. He’ll be signing copies of his book at the Celebrity Autograph Pavilion on Friday afternoon at 1 PM.

Stick around for the first Sous-Chef Competition Finale at 6:30PM hosted by the celebrity we call our own Michael Symon . I was one of the judges for the preliminary and semi-final rounds, and I can tell you this- the competitors-all working right here in Cleveland restaurants- were an impressive bunch. I predict these seconds in the hierarchy of kitchen command are destined to be dining room stars in their own right. This final round in the friendly food fight should be fun to watch. I’m also looking forward to catching Kris Kreiger of Chef’s Choice Meats give a lesson in how to make a turducken. He’ll unveil the mysteries of the famed 3-part poultry on the Marketplace Stage at 3:30 on Sunday. That’s just one of an entire weekend’s worth of free and interesting cooking demos at the show courtesy of local experts. My advice? See as many as you can.

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