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World Chefs: Scott Conant paves path to recreate restaurant meals

By Richard Leong

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Award-winning American chef Scott Conant helps home cooks recreate meals from his acclaimed restaurant Scarpetta in his latest cookbook.

The American chef, a frequent judge on television cooking shows, opened Scarpetta in New York in 2008 and has launched four other eateries in Miami, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Toronto.

"The Scarpetta Cookbook" includes 125 of the restaurant's dishes. Scarpetta refers to grabbing a piece of bread and sopping up what's left on the plate, which Conant hopes diners will do when they visit his restaurants.

The 42-year-old, who was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, spoke to Reuters about Italian food's universal appeal and his love for Japanese cuisine.

Q: What is the vision behind your latest cookbook?

A: It's an extension of what your experience in the restaurants should be, and hopefully they could recreate that experience within the confines of their home. (It is) not limited to the food and the recipes.

Q: What has been the appeal of your restaurant?

A: It's not a pretentious dining experience. It's a rustic, elegant approach from the design aesthetics but also what's on the plate, in the simplicity of it. Italian food is at its absolute best, capturing the simplicity of the product by allowing it to speak for itself with little or no manipulation.

Q: Describe your approach to Italian cooking.

A: I am not going to pretend I do authentic Italian food. I would like to have a little creative license ... What I do is I understand the principle of Italian food and that's the starting point. I'll take a recipe from Alto Adige (a region of Italy) and another from my family's region of Campagnia and something from Piedmont and I'll mix those together in one dish, which would be a seamless dish but it'd have a nod from all these different regions. The spirit of Italy is there even though not necessarily the authenticity. However, those principles of Italian cooking are always in place.

Q: What are Scarpetta's signature dishes?

A: There are so many classic dishes that we have in the book and on the menu ... There is the mushroom fricassee with creamy polenta. There is the tuna sushi with preserved truffles and organic vegetables.

Q: Why is Italian food so appealing worldwide?

A: I think it's soulful. I think there's an honesty to it. People really love that romantic idea of Italy, to be able to appeal to that, it's really the goal.

Q: What kind of non-Italian food do you love eating?

A: I just love Japanese food. I probably eat more Japanese food than Italian food. If I had my perfect dream, I would open up a Japanese restaurant one day. I took a trip a few years ago to Japan, to Tokyo specifically, just to eat in Italian restaurants. I had some of the best Italian food I've ever had in my life.

Spice-Rubbed Bone-In Rib Eye (serves 4 to 6)

1½ teaspoons whole allspice berries

1½ teaspoons cumin seeds

1½ teaspoons yellow mustard seeds

¾ teaspoon whole Szechuan peppercorns

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika (pimentón)

5 sprigs fresh rosemary

1 (2-bone) rib eye steak, 3 pounds (1kg 360.78g)

3 cloves garlic, smashed

2 sprigs fresh thyme

Kosher salt

Extra-virgin olive oil

Flaked sea salt

In a small sauté pan over medium heat, toast the allspice berries, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, Szechuan peppercorns and crushed red pepper until fragrant, two to three minutes. Take the pan off the heat and add the paprika and the leaves from 2 sprigs of the rosemary. Let cool slightly before grinding finely in a spice grinder. (Once cooled, the spices will keep for weeks if stored airtight.) Rub the rib eye all over with 1 tablespoon of the spices. Cover and refrigerate for at least four hours and up to eight hours.

Heat a convection oven to 225°F (107.2°C) or a conventional oven to 250°F (121.1°C). Remove the steak from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before cooking. Put the garlic, thyme and the remaining 3 sprigs of rosemary on a large rimmed baking sheet.

Heat a medium over-proof sauté pan over high heat. Season the meat all over with kosher salt. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil to the pan and immediately place the steak in the pan. Cook the steak undisturbed until a nice dark crust forms, about 2 minutes. Flip the steak over and sear the other side. Transfer to the baking sheet and finish cooking in the oven, flipping the rib eye over every 10 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the steak reads 120°F (48.9°C) for medium-rare, about 1 hour.

Let rest for 15 minutes on a cutting board. To carve, run your knife along the bone to cut away the meat. (Reserve the bone for serving.) Cut the steak at a 45-degree angle into ½-inch (1.27cm) slices. Place the meat next to the bone on a large platter, sprinkle with sea salt, drizzle with olive oil and serve.

Note: Rather than pairing this with a classic Cabernet Sauvignon-based wine, go for a classic indigenous Italian varietal like the one from Graci Quota 600, a red wine produced from ungrafted vines of Nerello Mascalese grown on the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily; it has a supple palate, spicy dark fruits, and a slightly tannic finish. Or go with an Aglianico from I Feudi di San Gregorio.

(Reporting by Richard Leong; Editing by Maureen Bavdek)

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