Two Takes on Passatelli

My ever-generous big sister, Andrea, sent me two cookbooks for my birthday. One was a simple and useful book on tacos and Mexican snacks; the other, a coffee table volume of the most complicated Italian cooking on earth called “Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef.”

Mossimo Bottura

Mossimo Bottura

I love cookbooks from the art press, Phaidon, of which the latter is one. They are beautifully designed, with full page spreads of food you would never cook, as they tend to honor the world’s most daring chefs. Such is the case with “Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef.” The subject is Modena chef Massimo Bottura and his acclaimed restaurant, Osteria Francescana, which inevitably lands in the Top 5 of the world’s best restaurant lists, though never seems able to unseat previous #1 El Bulli and current #1 Noma (both subjects of multiple Phaidon titles). More

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Butterbeer & Kreacher Comforts

My son, Flynn, is something of a Harry Potter fanatic. We originally read the seven books together when he was in kindergarten and first grade, and the moment we’d finished, he promptly launched back into them and read them all over again. He’s now 10, and is in the process of re-reading the 759-page seventh book, “Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows” — for the ninth time.

Flynn at the barber shop with his book while Dad gets his hair cut

Flynn at the barber shop with his book while Dad gets his hair cut

Every so often, he gets out his Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook — composed mostly of foods actually mentioned in the books — and finds things he’d like to make. Usually it’s something sweet, often “Rockcakes,” the scone-like lumps served by the gentle giant Hagrid when Harry and his friends would visit him in his groundskeeper hut. But on a lazy Sunday afternoon, he had something else in mind. More

Another Zen Temple Favorite

I got to my in-box one morning to discover an email from my pal Paul in Florida with a link to a Google book called “The Book of Miso.” The book had been written in the 1970s, published originally as one of those old timey paper editions, one would have to assume. It was filled with the line drawings popular with cookbooks of that era.

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“You probably already have it but it is new to me,” Paul said. People often mistakenly assume that I have every piece of information on cooking ever published. I do not. More

More Tiny Little Fishies

I don’t know what it is about small fish that is so appealing to me.

I remember being in Italy as a child, and looking on in horror as my parents dug into platefuls of tiny fried fish, uncleaned and with heads intact! (Why this was more objectionable to my 11-year-old sensibilities than the squid tentacles I was gobbling with wild abandon that same trip I’ll never know.) Fast forward a quarter century of so, and I can’t get enough of the small fry.

Italian-style “fritto di mare” fried whitefish

I buy teeny, tiny “ice fish” — no longer than a nickel and pale white — at the Japanese market, coat them in a light tempura batter and make fish fries. I buy smelt or other little fish, and recreate the fritto misto that traumatized me as a child in Italy. I purchase silvery sardines to pickle or throw on the grill. I can’t remember when it all changed, perhaps it was the climbing-a-mountain/crossing-a-new-frontier aspect it. But whenever and however, I became a devotee of diminutive dabs. More

In the Presence of Greatness

Cookbooks are the new coffee table art book. And among the many stunning culinary tomes out there, none are more conversation-stopping than the beautiful books of Phaidon.

Phaidon books on the coffee table

I currently have four Phaidon titles on my coffee table. The newest is “Noma,” featuring the culinary art of Denmark’s renowned René Redzepi of the restaurant Noma — frequently named best restaurant in the world, and sure to solidify that position with the closing of Spain’s famous el Bulli. More

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