Like all chefs past their first restaurant hurdles, Ethan Stowell was ready to write a cookbook. He wanted to call it "Anchovies & Olives," but the publisher he'd lined up, Ten Speed Press, balked. Too fishy, they said, too weird.
Fine, said Ethan, who used the name for his next restaurant instead. (It was honored last month as one of America's ten best new places by "Bon Appetit.") Meantime, Stowell opened yet another restaurant, Ballard's Staple & Fancy Mercantile, and his cookbook, now titled Ethan Stowell's New Italian Kitchen is out.
Insatiable Americans buy more cookbooks than any other genre; one gets the impression most of them don't get read much, let alone used in the kitchen. Stowell's handsomely produced book is far better than most. First, it's got an engaging, slightly goofy style (that's how Ethan describes his own personality; co-author Leslie Miller captures it perfectly) but it's got a serious message: Don't take things so goddamn seriously, it's just dinner. And don't make things so goddamn complicated, less is more, and tastes better, too.
You might say the Italians have known this for years, but Italian recipes all too often feel haphazard. Informal doesn't mean imprecise, Stowell tells us. Pasta, for example: wheat's highest calling, as long as you use high-quality semiolina or ultralight "00" flour (for egg pasta). "I've retained a strong reverence for pasta, for the delicate taste of the wheat," he writes. (And he started an artisanal pasta company, Lagana Foods, whose fresh products are sold at farmers markets.) Spaghetti with sea urchin, radiatore with rabbit, cannelloni with pork cheeks, pappardelle with tomato sauce: They all earn no-nonsense measurements and luscious photos (by Geoffrey Smith).
I'm partial to the recipe for fried cauliflower with ham hocks; Stowell understands what family cooks of the Italian countryside have known for generations: cauliflower makes things sweet. And that's the genius of this book: it's not about complicated, fussy, time-consuming recipes; it's about simple techniques to create straightforward flavors.
The book: Ethan Stowell's New Italian Kitchen, Ten Speed Press, 228 pages, $35.