Michael White's Classico e Moderno, Our Cookbook of the Week
Publishers love to send us cookbooks here at Fork in the Road, and often those books come straight from the chefs at some of New York's best restaurants. So we decided to share the love, and each week, we'll feature a new book, a recipe, and a few thoughts on cooking from the authors. Check back every Tuesday for a new book.
All photos courtesy Ballatine Books
Classico e Moderno
By Michael White and Andrew Friedman, 405 pages, Ballantine Books, $50
In 1991, a young, still very-much-Midwestern Michael White sat down with a bowl of herby potato and leek ravioli with Parmesan cream and took a bite. That moment, he says, marked the beginning of his journey to Italian food. And he hadn't even been to Italy yet.
Two years later he landed in the storied kitchen of the San Domenico, where he rose to chef de cuisine in 1997; by 2002, he was in New York, opening Fiamma at 206 Spring Street with Steve Hanson.
Eleven years and as many restaurants later -- many of them beloved by critics and layman eaters alike -- White is back at 206 Spring with Costata, a steakhouse he opened earlier this year. His empire spans most of the length of Manhattan, with satellites on three other continents.
At least some of this success owes to the fact that White is a big dude with a lot of energy. Even over the phone, he punctuates his comments with exclamation points and lots of "Wow"s. Below, he expounds on the virtues of salt, Alain Ducasse, and one very special seasonal ingredient.
What is the oldest recipe in this book and where did it come from?
Wow! In the beginning part of the book there are a ton of old recipes. So, the tagliatelle with bolognese, that's old, old, old. Those kinds of recipes are a lot older than me and you, and those are the recipes that I really started to learn the minute I landed in 1993 in Italy; the base recipes of la cucina Italiana. Those are really what I still draw inspiration from, even today, and I still do a lot of those recipes at Osteria Morini.
Those pastas are real crowd-pleasers. The ricotta ravioli with butter and sage -- I don't know too many people that don't like those types of flavors, those very simple flavors that very much evoke the simplicity of the Italian kitchen. They have one, two, three ingredients that you can decipher on your palate. That's what's important.
If you could give one piece of cooking advice to the world, what would it be and why?
We don't season well enough in America. We're always very apprehensive of salt and acidity and those types of things that really accentuate the natural flavor of the ingredients that we're using. It's as simple as salting the pasta water: Because [when you don't] then you have to overcompensate with the ragout or whatever sauce you're putting with the pasta. So if everything's in balance, you end up using less salt, really.
What cook(s), living or dead, do you most admire and why?
I really, really, really admire -- and I'm proud to call him a friend of mine, and he's been a person who's been really supportive of me -- Ducasse. Alain Ducasse. Although I've never worked with him, I really respect the way he looks at the kitchen and the Mediterranean influences and how he looks through the Italian/South of France kitchen with this French lens, but it has a lot of Italian in it as well.
What's your go-to seasonal ingredient right now, and what do you love about it?
Mushrooms and truffles. It's an awesome truffle year right now. There's abundance of truffles. It probably sounds cliché, but I love white truffles, I really do. And I think it tells a great story about the Italian kitchen. It's something that's natural, that happens every year, and we suffer through those not-so-good years, and this year's a great year. So they're everywhere right now.
Name one unusual/unexpected/unique recipe from the book.
Anything with cheese and seafood: Lobster and burrata -- that's kind of an unwritten faux pas, that you never mix cheese and seafood, but I've been doing it for quite some time, and people, when they eat it, are extremely surprised.
Hit the next page for a recipe.