Beginnings: My Way to Start a Meal

Editor’s note: Linda Avery returns with a look at Chris Consentino’s new cookbook, Beginnings: My Way to Start a Meal. Consentino, the Executive Chef of San Francisco’s Incanto, is known for his adoration of offal. He runs the site Offal Good, dedicated  to educating readers who want to learn more about cooking with offal. This is Consentino’s first cookbook, and as co-founder of Boccalone artisanal salumeria, it’s not surprising a small chunk of the book is dedicated to starting a meal with salumi. 

Beginnings: My Way to Start a Meal

by Chris Cosentino

photos by Michael Harlan Turkell
illustrations by Simone D’Armini

Facts: Olive Press, an imprint of Weldon Owen, 192 pages, $25.00 (or Amazon $16.50)
Photos: 72
Recipes: 59
Give To: home entertainers, avid cooks, Italian-food lovers

Chris Cosentino introduces himself to the reader by explaining his feelings about cookbooks. In his opinion there are three styles of cookbooks: that of the TV chef who wants to capitalize on their star power; the dumbed down (my words, not Chris’) book where every detail is explained including idle time; and professional cookbooks which only persons in the cooking arena understand.

His desire was to ignore these and get back to old-fashioned books like Fannie Farmer’s – those that provide a framework but leave room for the creativity of the cook. We recognize that not everyone can work in that environment but I must say that I have an aversion to cookbooks that practically give instruction to turn on the spigot before filling the pot with water.

The focus of this book is first courses and being “Italian-style first courses”, we’d call them lunch. I began salivating while reading about salumi (AKA charcuterie) and how to build a meat platter but when I got to “Pickled Boar, Herb Pesto, Grilled Onions & Pine Nuts” and “Dates, Capers, & Anchovies”, my stomach was grumbling and there were a lot of OMG’s floating in the air.

After salumi, the book is divided by season, each featuring about 15 recipes. Following seasonal recipes are 15 pages devoted to cheeses: fresh, soft, hard, and stinky, plus how to build the perfect cheese platter. The Larder wraps up the book with recipes for vinaigrettes, stocks, jam, and butters.

His recipes leave room for your creativity whether swapping different fruits and nuts in the recipe below or using a recipe at the end of the meal instead of the beginning. You can see other images and recipes from the inside of this book on the photographer’s website.

The Land of Fruit & Nuts

Serves 8

The name of this dish is inspired by the promotional slogan that appeared on crates of California fruits shipped across the country in the decades following the completion of the first transcontinental railroad. It appears the same way on my menu at Incanto. Use this salad recipe as a template switching out the fruits and nuts listed here for whatever looks good at the market.

photo © Michael Harlan Turkell

Ingredients For the zinfandel vinaigrette (makes 3/4 cup/6 ounces/180 milligrams)
1/4 cup (2 fluid ounces/60 milligrams) Zinfandel vinegar
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup (2 fluid ounces/60 milligrams) each pure olive oil and extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

For the pistachio butter
1 cup (4 ounces/125 grams) pistachio nuts
3 tablespoons pistachio oil or extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt

For the salad
1/4 cup (1 ounce/30 grams) pistachio nuts
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt, preferably Halen Môn, and freshly ground black pepper
3 pounds (1.5 kilograms) heirloom tomatoes, in assorted colors
2 melons, in different varieties and preferably different colors
1/4 pound (125 grams) arugula leaves
1/4 cup (1/4 ounce/7 grams) fresh opal basil leaves, torn
1 Serrano chile, cut into paper-thin rings
1/4 cup (2 fluid ounces/60 milligrams) zinfandel vinaigrette

Make the vinaigrette
1. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, lemon juice, and pure olive oil until emulsified and then whisk in the extra-virgin olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Use right away, or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

Make the pistachio butter
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

2. Spread the pistachios on a rimmed baking sheet and roast in the oven until dry and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Let cool completely and then transfer to a blender, add the oil and a pinch of salt, and process until smooth and spreadable.

3. Transfer to an airtight container and reserve. (The butter can be made up to 2 weeks in advance, covered, and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before using.) Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F (165°C).

Make the salad
1. In a small bowl, toss the 1/4 cup (1 ounce/30 grams) pistachios with the 1 tablespoon oil and a little salt, spread on the baking sheet, and roast in the oven until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Let cool.

2. Cut the tomatoes into different shapes and sizes, such as slices 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick and 1/2-inch (12-mm) wedges. Halve the melons, discard the seeds, and then peel away the skin, making sure you keep their nice round shape. Cut the melon halves into different shapes, such as crescent moons, halved crescent moons, and cubes. In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, melons, toasted pistachios, arugula, basil, and about half of the chile rings. Drizzle with the vinaigrette and toss to coat evenly. Season with salt and pepper, toss again, and then taste and adjust the seasonings.

3. To serve put 1 tablespoon of the pistachio butter on 4 different areas of a large platter, and using the back of a spoon, drag each mound into a streak across the platter. Artfully arrange the salad down the middle of the platter. Top with the remaining chile rings and serve right away.

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