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The Del Posto Cookbook
By Mark Ladner
Foreword by Mario Batali
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- ebook $24.99 $32.99 CAD
- Hardcover $50.00 $60.00 CAD
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Mark Ladner, the Chef at Del Posto, redefines what excellent Italian Cooking in America can be. With a focus on regional Italian ingredients and tradition, Ladner has chosen recipes that bring together flavors from the old country, but in sophisticated new ways, like: Fried Calamari with Spicy Caper Butter Sauce; Red Wine Risotto with Carrot Puree, Monkfish Piccata, Veal Braciole, and Ricotta-Chocolate Tortino
But what is special is that these recipes will really work in the home kitchen, unlike some ambitious cookbooks like this. And given Del Posto’s origin and founders, the book includes recipes by Lidia Bastianich, and forewords by Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich.Plus, the award-winning sommelier at Del Posto offers advice on which Italian varietals to serve with what dishes. All this is complemented by photography that is inspired by 16th century still life paintings.
As the New York Times said in their review: “The food bewilders and thrills.”
In 2004, THE CORNER OF 10th Avenue and 16th Street on the far west side of New York City's Meatpacking District was very different than it is today. A proverbial no-man's-land, the High Line was still a good five years away, and the surrounding area was much more likely to be a haven for ladies of the night than home to the multimillion-dollar relocation of the Whitney Museum.
But there was me, and Mario and Lidia, chasing another fortuitous real estate deal that was simply too good to pass up. Like all our previous endeavors, it started with a space. In this case, a mind-boggling 28,000-square-foot plot, huge by any city's restaurant standards, especially in Manhattan. Looking at the giant raw space, we envisioned a restaurant defined by its grandeur. Given our ambitions for Del Posto, the plan for the restaurant soon became clear—create a place to rival the best continental fine-dining restaurants of the world. And it would be Italian, of course.
It wasn't just the location or the sheer size that navigated us into uncharted territory, the concept of luxury Italian fine-dining in New York was something we had to completely invent from scratch. But one thing was certain, it had to be 100 percent authentic Italian cuisine. Taking the simple and down-to-earth cooking of an Italian grandmother and elevating it to the highest and most elegant standards possible was a gamble for a restaurant the size of Del Posto, but we were committed to the idea.
Reinvention was not exactly a foreign concept to Mario and me by the time we'd stumbled upon the 10th Avenue space. Even with Babbo and some of our other prior conceptions, we were creating new categories of restaurants that other dining groups would come to populate. At OTTO we put an enoteca (wine bar) inside a pizzeria, something you will never see in Italy—they don't even drink wine with pizza, they drink beer. The concept of an urban pizzeria with 500 wines on the list was innovative and experimental, but it was exactly what Italian food and wine lovers in New York City were hungry for—they just didn't know it yet.
Like the restaurant, the wine program at Del Posto has always been audacious, with an elaborate collecting philosophy and a huge cellar. It is arguably one of the most comprehensive Italian wine lists in the country, and can probably lay claim to having one of the biggest Champagne lists in New York City. At one point we even had our own labeling program.
Del Posto was not conceived as a restaurant that would follow trends. It was, and still remains, a restaurant almost defined by its impracticality, and is meant to endure. There hasn't been a flood of high-end Italian restaurant concepts to follow Del Posto, primarily because it is not that easy to do and requires an insane amount of resources. In the fall of 2010, after almost five years of hard work and evolution, the restaurant received a four-star review from the New York Times (the first Italian restaurant to do so in almost 40 years), which was a most welcome validation.
The impact of Del Posto's success is clear, but not so much in outright duplication of the restaurant. Our old-world style of cooking and service, with contemporary touches, continues to influence the culture of Italian dining in America. If you want to invent the future, you can't be afraid of reinterpreting the past. Tapping into what people want to experience today, while remaining true to the essence of Italian sensibility, has always been the driving force behind all of our restaurants, but Del Posto is by far our best example of this philosophy.
WHEN DEL POSTO OPENED MORE THAN A DECADE AGO, I had no idea that we might be able to create a new style of sophisticated Italian-American cuisine. This was never the goal, nor did I think we were capable of such a feat. Every restaurant is a work in progress, and we are still developing. What I can say for certain is that I have been dedicated to building a bridge between the classic, regional cuisine of Italy and America's culinary ingenuity. Over the last decade, I have completely committed myself and our kitchen to harnessing every ounce of potential that traditional Italian cooking has to offer fine dining in America. Del Posto considers New York to be Italy's (unofficial) 21st region. We have created our own regional Italian cuisine, based on what has been available here, as well as New Yorkers' expectations. It didn't come easy, but it has been extraordinarily rewarding.
In the fall of 2003, I sat down with Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali at OTTO, our New York City pizzeria, to discuss my prospects of being the first executive chef of their newly conceived colossal 24,000-square-foot restaurant.
At that time, I had two successful partnerships with Mario and Joe, creating affordable Italian concepts, and I wasn't concerned with elegant or ambitious dining. They envisioned Del Posto to be the end-all of high-end Italian restaurants. I was quite surprised and overwhelmed by the offer, but mostly not interested in working on a fancy restaurant of that size. Nearly five years prior, I had given up plating dishes as anything more than dumping pastas from sauté pan to plate, and I was enjoying the freedom of this simple approach immensely. But, upon further consideration, I came to understand that such a large-scale proposition comes around only once, and the shelf life for this sort of offer is very short.
I took the job. And… I was unprepared. Naively, I imagined the restaurant as a chance to cook less covers with a larger staff. I thought we would just take the food I had already been making—rustic cooking informed by regional Italian recipes—delicately sprinkle it on more elegant plates, and presto! The rest would be history. However, the ambition of the project and the trajectory of Mario's and Joe's explosive careers, as the most successful of a new breed of American restaurateurs, drove their decisions. They put the game plan for the restaurant on a fierce steroids regimen—calling for a restaurant paved in marble with fields of imported linens, silver coffers, and crystal decanters. Their plans included a lounge, a baby grand piano, an enoteca, and private banquet rooms that could seat 200 people or more. The service would include carts delivering tableside preparations of large haunches of meat and whole fish for tables of two, four, and even six.
During the early planning, Mario's guidance for the food was based on the delicious Italian recipes in his award-winning cookbook, Molto Italiano. But it was early 2004, and the best and the brightest in the industry at that time were changing the tides of culinary thinking with new technology and techniques that would come to be known as modernist cuisine. I was reading the books and blogs, watching videos, and trying my best to understand this contemporary wave that was changing the landscape of my profession. But we were setting out to make classical, regional Italian food at a very high price point. We decided that the kitchen was going to be old-school and low-tech—no combi, no sous vide, and no powders.
We opened the restaurant in the winter of 2005 and it was sloppy. I was in the position of trying to create, curate, and manage a team of 150 people, 60 of whom were in the kitchen. It took too much time to cook, plate, coordinate, serve, or explain the food. The cuisine oscillated between being too contrived and not contrived enough. We'd serve a perfectly stacked pyramid of lamb shoulder croquettes, followed by a plate of bucatini you might find at our pizzeria but that was three times the price. I was frustrated—the food and the experience were not cohesive. I felt the cuisine didn't have a distinct style that was recognizably mine. For every winning dish, there was a dud. For every satisfied diner, one was upset.
Del Posto had no precedent—an Italian restaurant of its size, level of ambition, and price point had never existed in New York City before. Who could possibly be interested in eating food this expensive and convoluted on any given night? Really, how many, when places like Buddakan and Spice Market were around the corner and dominating the restaurant scene in New York with their casual, abbreviated dining experiences—where high-quality food was served family-style in party-like atmosphere with hip music. We had no gimmick or any particularly compelling new angle. But we firmly believed that traditional cooking, familiar flavors, and recognizable food will never go out of fashion, and we wanted to present it with old-world, choreographed service.
Even though we had loads of talent on both sides of the swinging doors, we had a long way to go. I needed to be a better leader and allow the restaurant and the staff to claim their full potential and create a more compelling and unified culture. I needed to properly take advantage of the resources, the facilities, and the support that Joe, Mario, and Lidia had given us. I needed to get myself together.
In 2009, I committed us to a very ambitious tasting menu that I referred to as Le Collezione. I invested nine months into planning and plotting the content of this tasting menu. It would prove that we could push ourselves very hard and that we could produce and present an elaborate, nine-course menu that involved 126 service implements per diner—I forged working and lasting relationships with Italian design houses Richard Ginori, Alessi, and Ruffoni. Given the complexity of the menu, it was a service nightmare, but it turned out to be a training miracle. With wildly, lavishly, inappropriate service, we proved to ourselves that we had the resources to do almost anything. We sat the entire staff down to eat Le Collezione. What better way to integrate and train our staff? The sommelier, a dishwasher, a bartender, and a receptionist were a perfect four top, and the best team-building exercise. Staff tastings became our research and development. An abbreviated version of Le Collezione became the first successful Del Posto tasting menu. We discovered that by really focusing on age-old Italian cooking techniques, we could push the boundaries even further.
We harnessed a forgotten, traditional technique for vitello tonnato from Lombardy. Rather than relying on mayonnaise in the tuna sauce for the roasted veal, we gently cook veal and tuna together, making a rich sauce from the rendered juices. Then we introduce unusual garnishes—croutons stained black from olives, lime cells and lemon basil together to simulate an effervescence similar to Sprite soda, and an unknown preserved caper shoot from the small island of Pantelleria.
We applied our new style of cooking to Jota, a pasta and bean soup from Friuli, traditionally thick enough to hold a spoon and warm a farmer's tired bones. Our Jota became light and lively in comparison by using beans from the most recent harvest, before the skins have had time enough to become tough, simmered with just water and vegetables until soft, and then emulsified with a light and fresh olive oil from Liguria. Complemented by baseball-stadium-style sauerkraut, BBQ-style smoked pork shoulder, and puffed rice penne (gluten-free), our Jota became a unique American-inflected Italian recipe that was served to guests as a precursor to the pasta course rather than a hearty winter meal in a bowl.
We spiced Long Island duck in the style of a recipe made popular by the school of gourmands, Apicius (documented in the book De re coquinaria from the fifth century), that celebrated the ancient Roman spice trade. The duck is paired with charred celery and Savor, a condiment created by our friend and figurehead of contemporary Italian cooking, Massimo Bottura. His distinctive accompaniment, made of quince paste, chestnuts, apples, and pumpkin seeds, is a lovely combination of sweet and savory elements, and a modern foil for ancient duck.
In 2008, I found artist and flavor savant Brooks Headley. We had been unlucky with our pastry department in the past, and we were looking for a new direction. We needed someone willing to take chances and change the perception Italian pastry had in America. The first thing Brooks made for us was a chocolate-and-ricotta tortino. It hit all the right spots. Great, rich Tuscan chocolate, lactic curds of fluffy cow's milk. A Devil Dog, cloaked in a shell of high-quality Sicilian pistachios. His desserts use salts and acids as weapons to tame sugar. His ideas, many of which are in this book, fiercely respect tradition while also turning it on its head. Together we were able to create a completely coalesced meal for the first time. We were in business.
We retrained the entire front of house staff. Our general manager and service director were focusing on purposed communication with our guests in order to create a real dialogue about our intentions and their expectations. The kinks were being worked out, and we started to feel good. The team was strong and proud. We were integrating other mediums into our thinking—art, literature, design, language, and desire.
We were making proper, solid, old-fashioned-technique cuisine. It was not pretentious stuff, but the food your mom might make given the support of Lidia, Joe, and Mario, and a gentle hand. Who on God's green earth has the time or interest in torturing vegetables for five hours on the flicker of a flame until they liquefy? We did. Because low-and-slow tech is lovely—like a nap in the sun. We pour cloudy liquid chocolate into a bucket of ice because we like sculptures. Why tease a pile of flour and eggs into a loose amoeba? Because Todd English once told me gnocchi should be light as an angel's kiss. We were doing our best work and momentum was building.
Over the years the critics have been mostly kind. In the early days, 2006, we were given three stars in the New York Times and, somehow, received two Michelin stars. I say somehow because I was not happy with what we were doing then. In 2010, Del Posto was the first Italian restaurant to be awarded four stars by the New York Times in nearly 40 years. The previous recipient had been a boutique restaurant with a short life—a true labor of love by the chef. But Del Posto was massive, a factory, and there were certainly no restaurants like it in Italy, where one service per table a night is the norm.
Years ago, during the early days of Del Posto, I was having dinner at Rao's with Patrick Martin from Heritage Foods and Alice Waters from Chez Panisse. Alice and I got to talking about my overwhelming difficulties in trying to run such an enormous restaurant. Alice in her infinite wisdom suggested I break the kitchen departments into separate "restaurants," with separate chefs. This would allow them each to have the opportunity and autonomy to evolve organically and independent of one another. Honestly, I thought she was crazy. But she was absolutely right.
Del Posto is a 400-seat restaurant with 200 employees. Needless to say, it takes a village. This book represents our passion for Italian cooking and fine dining. The recipes here are the work of a large team of talented people, all of whom have contributed something to each of these dishes.
There is no better way for me to share the true spirit of our recipes than to have you make them at home and learn how to use the techniques we have refined over the years. While the recipes may seem long and intimidating, we have worked tirelessly to cover every detail of their process so that you can successfully make our food in your kitchen.
THE ITALIAN MENU, SERVIZIO DEL VINO & THE LARDER
THE DEL POSTO MENU
DEL POSTO IS AN ENORMOUS RESTAURANT on 10th Avenue in Manhattan, with double-height ceilings, balconies, multiple private dining rooms, an expansive wine cellar, a bar, and a lounge, that serves up to 400 people each night. A dining room buzzing with activity is part of the New York City experience, but the restaurant also works tirelessly to provide subtle, refined service that makes fine dining special. Antique and custom-made Italian china plates with underliners and silver chargers and crystal services for truffles and caviar are all part of an old-world atmosphere that celebrates our Italian and American heritages. Del Posto is not a temple of food, but rather like going to an Italian nonna's house for supper, if Nonna's house were a grand palazzo.
We strongly believe an Italian meal should never be austere, and that fine dining is a form of pampering, where guests decide about every aspect of their experience and feel as though they are breathing rarefied air. A number of years ago we decided to get rid of the Chef's Tasting Menu, a multitude of dishes prepared in specific sequence, showcasing the kitchen's best dishes. It is a style of dining that most high-end restaurants have as a staple offering. But offering a menu driven by the kitchen rather than the guest never made sense for Del Posto. Instead, we present the option of the Captain's Menu, empowering the captains in the dining room to work directly with guests to build customized meals.
A classic Italian menu starts with the antipasto of light vegetables, fish, or meat preparations, transitions to the pasta or rice primo, then onto heavier proteins in the secondo course, and concludes with dolce, or dessert. This well-balanced succession of preparations is known as the Quattro Piatti, or Four Plates. Del Posto is dedicated to this traditional-style menu, and the recipe chapters in this book provide a varied collection of dishes for each of these four courses, along with a chapter for small bar snacks, assaggi, and a chapter for cookies and candies.
SERVIZIO DEL VINO
DEL POSTO RESTS ON THE SHOULDERS of its wine cellar, physically and figuratively. The wine program at Del Posto is central to the dining experience, as it should be at any Italian restaurant.
Building a comprehensive Italian wine cellar is no small task considering that Italy boasts more than a thousand varietals of winemaking grapes, which is astounding compared to France's few hundred. No country produces as diverse a collection of wines as Italy does, due in large part to its wildly varied topography and weather systems. The country packs two major mountain ranges, coastlines from five different seas, arid plateaus, lush riverbeds, and high-altitude lakes into an area only three-quarters the size of California. Its ancient territory spans 20 regions, all of which grow different grapes and make wines differently.
The Del Posto cellar was built from the ground up and contains more than 50,000 wines, only a third of which are represented on the menu. The other two thirds are aging as part of a collecting program started when the restaurant opened more than a decade ago, and includes wines that date back to the 1930s. The cellar has been referred to as the Metropolitan Museum of Italian Wines because it aims to be an all-encompassing collection but focuses intensely on the masters—most of which are procured from private collections.
The cuisine at Del Posto breathes new life into age-old regional traditions, and the wines in the restaurant's collection are selected because they come from similar places and traditions. There is an adage among sommeliers that the first rule of wine pairing is "If it grows together, then it goes together." Unlike most restaurants in Italy, Del Posto presents dishes influenced by regional cooking from many different parts of Italy, and also unlike many restaurants in Italy, we are able to offer wines from equally as many regions.
The American palate for wine continues to evolve at a rapid pace. You never used to find fish paired with red wine, or an entire meal accompanied by different courses of sparkling wines, for example, but this happens regularly now. This new enthusiasm and knowledge makes pairing wines really exciting for us because Italian wines are so varied.
Having access to a collection as extensive as this one is really not just about the wines, but also about having access to the knowledge that goes along with collecting them. Throughout this book we share this knowledge with a selection of suggested wine pairings that express the diversity and vitality of Italian winemaking.
MANY OF THE RECIPES in this book call for special Italian-made products. Cornerstones of Italian cooking, these distinctive ingredients come from centuries-old regional traditions. While most of these products are discussed in recipes throughout the book, the following are workhorse ingredients in the Del Posto kitchen, included in multiple recipes, and require some special attention here.
Capers are sun-dried, pickled flower buds from the thorny caper plant, and a staple in Mediterranean pantries—from southern France to Syria. The best Italian capers are cultivated in the arid and rocky climates of the Aeolian islands, just northwest of Sicily, and the small island of Pantelleria, located between Sicily's south coast and North Africa. Good capers are delicate, tangy, vegetal, and slightly piquant. Those packaged and sold in salt are far better than those jarred in liquid. Generally, the smaller the caper, the better they are—anything bigger than a raisin is likely flavorless. When choosing Italian capers look for small, dark-green buds from Lipari or Pantelleria, tightly packed in salt. Before cooking with salt-packed capers, they should be rinsed of their salt with lukewarm water, soaked for 10 to 15 minutes, rinsed again, and then dried off.
Grana means "grain" in Italian and is the nickname for the many types of hard, craggy cheeses grated for pastas and risottos. Parmigiano-Reggiano is one of the country's greatest culinary achievements and the king of grana. Made in the Emilia-Romagna region from local cow's milk, it is produced in large 80- to 85-pound smooth-rind wheels. While imitated around the world (known as Parmesan), there is absolutely no substitute for its nutty notes, hay-like fragrance, and creamy texture studded with crunchy calcium deposits. The Italian government carefully regulates Parmigiano-Reggiano, and the authentic versions are stamped with a registration number and date of production. Like most cheeses, its flavor strengthens and its acidic qualities mellow with age. It's called giovane if it's aged for at least 12 months (the minimum amount of time), vecchio when more than 24 months, stravecchio when 36 months, and stravecchione when upward of 48 months. There are many artisan producers who go above and beyond the government regulations for their Parmigiano-Reggiano, making incredible versions of the cheese. A few of these artisans produce a version called Vacche Rosse, which means "red cows." Until the middle of the 20th century, Parmigiano-Reggiano was made from the milk of the native Reggiana cow—the cheese's namesake and a breed distinguished by its red coat. During the last 60 years, the red cows have become virtually extinct, as they have been replaced by less expensive breeds. Recently, a few producers have revitalized the Reggiana, or Vacche Rosse, in order to make traditional Parmigiano from its milk, which is very high in the butterfat required for cheese to age well. The finest Parmigiano is best simply drizzled with aged balsamic, or complemented by fruit compotes and spicy mostardas. Depending on how it's used in our recipes, we call for different ages of Parmigiano-Reggiano. When grating Parmigiano at home, we strongly suggest using the star holes of a box grater rather than a Microplane or any other type of shredder.
PECORINO ROMANO GENUINO
Pecora is the word for "sheep" in Italian, and pecorino is a sheep's milk cheese made throughout Italy. Pecorino Romano comes from Lazio and has been made in the farmlands surrounding Rome for more than two millennia—it was included in the rations for ancient Roman legionaries. This hard, smooth-rind cheese is pungent, briny, and slightly piquant. It is an essential cheese for many Roman pasta dishes such as cacio e pepe, but should be used sparingly because it can be very salty. Americans have come to call this style of cheese simply romano. Pecorino Romano is now produced in many regions of Italy, but those labeled Genuino are made in Lazio with the milk from designated herds of sheep that graze in fields outside Rome. The Genuino is the highest quality of Pecorino Romano, with gamy aromatics and a crumbly texture that becomes creamy when warmed.
PECORINO FIORE SARDO
- "The cookbook feels quite a lot like the restaurant: Gleaming and dramatic, classically-inspired but not stuck in tradition, surprisingly approachable. There's no real precedent for Del Posto, no other no-holds-barred Italian fine dining establishment in New York--and you'll have no pretense, crossing that now-bustling street under the High Line, that the restaurant you're walking towards is some storied, crumbling bastion of Old World Manhattan."—Food52
- "This hefty tome-filled with the favorites of co-owners Batali and Bastianich, and the deft work of executive chef Mark Ladner-has the same air as the vaunted Manhattan staple: grand, filled with ambitious cuisine, and outfitted with old-world style."—Tastebook
- On Sale
- Nov 1, 2016
- Page Count
- 302 pages
- Grand Central Life & Style