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The ‘Craft of Cooking’

New cookbook by New York City chef and restaurateur Tom Colicchio celebrates the simple magic of great food. Check out his recipes.
/ Source: msnbc.com

Food doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult to prepare in order to be great, but starting with great ingredients goes a long, long way. Chef and owner of New York restaurants Craft and Gramercy Tavern, Tom Colicchio has a new book based exactly on this philosophy. It’s titled, ‘The Craft of Cooking: Notes and Recipes from a Restaurant Kitchen,” and it profiles the food and philosophy of Craft, his unique restaurant in the heart of New York’s Flatiron district, and winner of the 2002 James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant in America. Colicchio discusses the book and shares some of his tricks of the trade on “Today.” Check out some of his recipes.

CARAMEL POPCORN

Karen DeMasco, Craft’s pastry chef, likes to send a small bowl of caramel popcorn, along with Peanut Brittle and Strawberry Jellies, as a parting gift to guests. These delicious confections seem to strike a chord with young and old alike.

Makes 8 cups

1 to 2 tablespoons peanut oil

1/2 cup popcorn kernels

2 cups sugar

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a lidded pot. Add the popcorn and cook, shaking the pan frequently, until the popcorn stops popping. Transfer the popcorn to a very large oiled bowl.

Place the sugar in a large saucepan and dampen with about tablespoons water (enough so the mixture looks like damp sand). Add the butter and salt and heat over high, swirling occasionally, until the sugar is melted and the caramel is amber. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the baking soda.

Pour the hot caramel over the popcorn and carefully stir with a heat-proof spatula until the caramel is evenly distributed and beginning to cool. Cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally, then serve or store in a covered container.

PEANUT BRITTLE

At Craft we use salted peanuts to make peanut brittle — this gives the candy a much more lively flavor. I like to send a small bowl of peanut brittle out to guests after their meal, even when they insist they’re too full to eat another bite. Somehow the bowl always comes back to the kitchen empty. Keep the brittle in an airtight container; humidity can cause it to lose its crunch.

Makes one 10 x 15 inch pan

2 cups sugar

1/4 pound unsalted butter

6 tablespoons corn syrup

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 pound shelled dry-roasted, salted peanuts

11/2 teaspoons salt

Line a rimmed baking sheet with a nonstick baking pad (or lightly but completely oil the sheet). Combine the sugar, butter, corn syrup, and 1 1/3 cups water in a large pot. Heat over high until the sugar melts and the caramel turns amber. Stir in the baking soda, then remove the pot from the heat and add the peanuts and salt. Mix well, then, using a metal spatula, quickly and evenly spread the mixture out on the baking sheet. Allow the brittle to cool and harden. Break the brittle into pieces and serve, or store in a covered container.

STRAWBERRY JELLIES

This recipe makes over 250 1-inch-square jellies. The recipe works equally well with apples or Concord grapes.

Ingredients:

For the purée:

6 quarts strawberries, stemmed, puréed, and strained

13 ounces strained apple juice

1 cup glucose

71/2 cups sugar

For the pectin:

3/4 cup sugar

5 tablespoons pectin powder

For the sugar coating:

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon citric acid

Method:

Combine the strawberry purée, apple juice, glucose, and 7 1/2 cups sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil.

Combine 3/4 cup sugar and the pectin in a bowl. Temper the pectin with a little of the hot purée. Whisk the tempered pectin into the remaining purée. Bring the purée-pectin mixture to a rolling boil. Boil for 1 minute, then pour into two 16x12-inch rimmed baking sheets. Cool completely, then cut in inch squares.

Roll the jellies in the sugar coating before serving.

GRILLED QUAIL

At Craft, I like to finish dishes like this one with a drizzle of 25- or

50-year-old balsamic vinegar, which has amazing character and sweetness and the viscosity of syrup. This aged vinegar is very expensive, but it lasts a long time, since a few drops at a time are all you need. For cooking or marinating (as in this recipe) such an exalted ingredient isn’t necessary: any good balsamic vinegar from Modena, Italy, will work. Boned quail can be found at specialty butchers or by mail-order from D’Artagnan.

Serves 6

12 boned quail

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 garlic clove, peeled and thinly sliced

1 sprig fresh rosemary

2 sprigs fresh thyme

cracked black pepper and kosher salt

aged balsamic vinegar for garnish (optional)

sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme, for garnish (optional)

Clip the wing tips of the quail (for a neater presentation). Combine the quail, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, rosemary, and thyme in a large plastic storage bag. Season the quail with cracked black pepper and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours but up to 2 days.

Prepare a hot grill fire. Salt and pepper the quail, then grill them, 2 minutes per side for medium. Serve the quail drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar and garnished with fresh herb sprigs, if desired.

PAN-ROASTED CAULIFLOWER

Cauliflower may not be considered a very elegant vegetable, but when properly pan-roasted, it makes a deeply satisfying dish — the perfect marriage of vegetable and starch. Although we use only the florets for this dish, see the note below on using the trimmings for cauliflower purée.

Serves 6

1 head of cauliflower (about 11/2 pounds)

2 tablespoons peanut oil

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 sprig fresh thyme

1 tablespoon unsalted

butter

Trim the cauliflower into small, 1 1/2-inch florets. Reserve the trimmings to make cauliflower purée. Place the oil in a large skillet and heat over medium-high. Add the florets, salt and pepper, and the thyme. Cook the cauliflower until the florets begin to color, about 7 minutes. Roll the cauliflower in the pan and add the butter. Continue cooking until the cauliflower is just tender and golden, about 5 minutes more. Drain on paper towels, then serve.

Note:

The cauliflower trimmings can be used to make purée. Chop the cauliflower and put in a medium saucepan. Cover the cauliflower with milk, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook the cauliflower until it is fully tender, about 20 minutes. Drain the cauliflower, reserving the cooking liquid. Purée the cauliflower in a blender or food processor, gradually adding enough cooking liquid so the purée is the consistency of silky mashed potatoes. Pass the purée through a fine sieve and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

ROASTED CARROTS

For this dish I use baby carrots or Thumbelinas, which are a small, flavorful heirloom variety shaped like a top, but roasting works equally well with mature carrots cut to size. Whichever you choose, I recommend tasting a tip of the raw carrot and using those that have a bright, sweet flavor — these have the highest sugar levels and will caramelize nicely as they cook.

Serves 6

30 baby carrots (3 to 4 inches long)

2 tablespoons peanut oil

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

Peel the carrots, then trim them leaving an inch or so of the green top. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the oil, then the carrots. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, rolling the carrots so they color on all sides, until they are golden, about 5 minutes. Add the butter and rosemary and continue cooking until the carrots are tender, about 5 minutes more. Drain the carrots on paper towels before serving.

SAUTÉED BROCCOLI RABE

Broccoli rabe is a green from the Cruciferae family, a cousin of mustard greens that resembles broccoli, but with a longer stalk and smaller florets. The slight bitterness of the vegetable is what makes it interesting and a good foil for food that has some sweetness.

Serves 6

2 bunches broccoli rabe

kosher salt

1 large garlic clove, peeled and sliced

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

freshly ground black pepper

Trim the broccoli rabe by cutting off the bottom of each bunch and separating the leaves from the flower-topped stems. Snap off and discard the thin stems attached to the leaves. Peel the remaining thick stems, then cut them in half or thirds.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Blanch the leaves (plunge them into the boiling water, then remove as soon as the water returns to a boil). Refresh in ice water, then blot dry with a clean towel. Add the stems to the boiling water. Cook until almost tender, about 2 minutes, then drain and refresh in ice water. Dry thoroughly.

Combine the garlic and olive oil in a large skillet and warm over low heat. When the garlic begins to color add both the broccoli rabe leaves and stems. Gently warm the rabe in the garlic-infused oil just until the stems are tender, about 5 minutes. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper and serve.

Recipes excerpted from: “Craft of Cooking: Notes and Recipes from a Restaurant Kitchen,” by Tom Colicchio. Copyright 2003. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Clarkson Potter a division of Random House, Inc.