San Francisco chef Chris Cosentino has a great new book called Beginnings: My Way to Start a Meal. It has wonderful recipes, Cosentino’s hand-drawn doodles and food musings, and Michael Harlan Turkell’s inspirational photographs.
Beginnings‘ recipes mirror the remarkable food served at Incanto, Cosentino’s San Francisco restaurant, and Boccalone, his artisanal salumeria. Boccalone’s Nduja (Calabrian soft salame) is a revelation and its Pickled Goathorn Peppers are the best pickled peppers we’ve ever had. Both are worth ordering.
Cosentino is a famous master of offal, cuts of meat often ignored. In Beginnings, however, he focuses on Italian-inspired starters. Half the 60 recipes are vegetarian, and those with meat, poultry, or seafood creatively include vegetables. Only one recipe (Marinated Tripe, New Potatoes & Parsley) uses offal.
Beginnings‘ recipes are straightforward and easy to understand. My only quibble is many use difficult (often impossible) to find ingredients. I got a good laugh from San Francisco Weekly’s review of Beginnings. The reviewer claimed most recipes “require little more than a good farmers market.”
A San Francisco farmers’ market may be sufficient but, in Alaska and much of the country, ingredients like Arctic char, marinated white anchovies, fresh sardines, caviar, boneless boar shoulder, boneless lamb loins, mixed pole beans, baby artichokes, green garlic, Padrón peppers, and baby fava beans just aren’t available.
Cosentino’s recipes are successful, even when substituting locally available ingredients, because his flavor combinations are so unique. Intermediate level cooks and above, who aren’t afraid to modify recipes, should be able to handle any necessary substitutions with ease.
I tried seven recipes in Beginnings and can’t wait to try many others. I enjoyed them all but one. Braised Dandelion Greens, Chile & Parmigiano was rich and flavorful; it made a filling and warming dinner. (Tip: For easy eating, skin garlic before adding to soup and remove chiles before serving. After removing chiles, be sure to squeeze their soft inner flesh into soup.) This recipe is a keeper; I’ll make it every spring during dandelion season.
Cosentino’s Roasted Castelvetrano Olives & Cherry Tomatoes is simple and savory; its aroma starts mouths watering the minute it comes out of the oven. I’ll make this recipe again and again. I really love the clay dish used for the olives & cherry tomatoes; it is a classic Spanish cazuela. (In Anchorage, Costco carries Castelvetrano Olives.)
The recipe that wasn’t successful (Dates, Capers & Anchovies) was my fault. I couldn’t find an Anchorage store selling marinated white anchovy fillets. Even worse, I substituted brown anchovies preserved in oil for the white. This was a disastrous mistake. I won’t do it again and neither should you.
Cosentino shares my love of dandelions, although he likely uses cultivated rather than wild greens. Cultivated dandelions are sometimes available at Natural Pantry in Anchorage, and are commonly sold outside Alaska at Whole Foods, Fresh Markets, and similar stores. This time of year in Alaska finding wild dandelions isn’t a problem. Some call it weeding; we call it harvesting.
In a YouTube trailer for Beginnings, Cosentino says his cuisine is “inspired by Italian thought processes and technique.” His motivation? “I just want people to be able to cook and not be afraid. It’s just food. If it’s coming from your heart, that’s all that really matters.” I couldn’t agree with Cosentino more.
Here are recipes for three dandelion salads adapted from Beginnings:
Although Beginnings includes wonderful recipes, my favorite Cosentino recipe is available only on this must-watch video:
Note: As is common in the industry, Weldon Owen, publisher of Beginnings, sent me a free review copy of the Beginnings. Receiving the book did not alter my opinion in any way.