NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - American chef Jonathan Waxman shares his passion for Italian food and distills its essence in his latest book, “Italian, My Way.”
Since moving to New York from California in the 1980s he has adopted an Italian approach to his cooking. In 2003, he opened New York restaurant Barbuto, which is known for its rustic, robust dishes.
Waxman, 60, started his career in California where along with Alice Waters and others he pioneered the New American movement which uses classic French techniques to showcase local ingredients.
The northern Californian native spoke to Reuters about his new book, adapting an Italian sensibility and what makes Italian cooking special.
Q: What are your goals with this book?
A: “The first thing I wanted to do is to demystify a lot of the terminologies. The second is to keep it so realistic in terms of items in each dish that people didn’t go crazy, and the third thing is talk about technique in a way that is really straight-forward. What we do in a restaurant is what I want to duplicate at home. And the last thing is that I think a lot of people have gotten goofy in how to make gnocchis, how to make pizzas, how to make Bolognese sauce. I hope I give them a good road map on how to do them.”
Q: The book’s recipes are simple, but some people might still be resistant to try them. How would you persuade them to give them a try?
A: “It’s a comfort zone, and I totally get that. I want this book to get them out of their comfort zone a little bit. I want to give them the road map, the plan, the grid to get to the store to buy the ingredients, then come home and cook them without getting them too much out of their comfort zone. That’s a really important thing to me.”
Q: What sparked your evolution from being a classically trained chef to owning an Italian brasserie?
A: “I was classically trained in France. As I grew older and got more comfortable in my own skin, I wanted a place like Barbuto which feels more like my house. There is one fork, one spoon, one knife, one kind of plate, one kind of glassware, a small, comfortable wine list and a menu that changes every day. There are no excessive garnishes on the plate. I want to cook things from the farm to the customers with the least amount of my intervention.”
Q: What sets Italian cooking apart from other cuisines?
A: “It’s also a lot less rich than a lot of cuisine. You don’t use a lot of oil. You don’t use a lot of protein. At a home in Italy, you serve a chicken to 10 people. Everyone gets a piece. You don’t serve five pieces a person. In our culture, we eat too much protein. In Italy, they understand that. You have a little bit of pasta. You have a little of salad. You have a piece of protein, and that’s a meal, it’s a smart way of eating. It ‘s a beautiful way of eating.”
Q: What is your favorite regional Italian cuisine?
A: “If I have an absolute favorite, it would either be Piedmonte or Liguria. I especially identify with Ligurian food, the pestos, roasted tomato sauces, walnuts crushed into garlic, beautiful simple fish. With Piedmonte, the pasta they cook there is just terrific. I also love the wines from Piedmonte. It probably produces some of the best wines in the world. I also love Roman food. Its seafood stews and pastas are without parallel. The food from Venice is so elegant.”
JW Chicken Al Forno with Salsa Verde (serves 4)
One 4-pound free-range organic chicken (fresh only)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salsa verde (see below)
1. Preheat the oven to 450 degree Fahrenheit.
2. Wash the bird in hot water. Dry with paper towels.
3. Using kitchen shears, cut out the backbone of the chicken and remove any fat (these can be added to a chicken stock). Then, using a heavy chef’s knife, cut out the breastbone. Season the two halves with sea salt and black pepper.
4. Place the chicken halves, skin side up, on two sizzle platters and dab with the olive oil. Cut the lemon in half and place a half, cut side down, next to the chicken on each platter.
5. Roast the chicken for 35 minutes, basting every 10 minutes. If it is not browning well, turn it over after 15 minutes, and then right it for the last 5 minutes. When it is done, remove the chicken to a platter and pour off the excess fat. Cut each breast in half and cut the thigh from the leg. Serve with salsa verde and garnish with the roasted lemon.
Salsa Verde (makes 3 cups)
1/4 cup capers in salt
4 anchovy filets
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup chopped arugula
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup chopped fresh tarragon
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
1/4 cup chopped fresh sage
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
1. Soak the capers in cold water for 1 hour, then drain.
2. Soak the anchovies in cold water for 15 minutes, then pat dry and remove the bones using tweezers.
3. Using a mortar and pestle, smash the capers, anchovies and garlic until smooth, then transfer to a large bowl.
4 Add the parsley, arugula, basil, cilantro, tarragon, chives, sage, red pepper flakes and olive oil. Season with the sea salt. The consistency should be chunky but not oily.
Reporting by Richard Leong; editing by Patricia Reaney