Italian, My Way

Editor’s note: Linda Avery waxes on Jonathan Waxman’s new Italian, My Way cookbook, and includes his purist version of the classic Spaghetti alla Carbonara. Read on to see what she thought of the book.

Italian, My Way
by Jonathan Waxman
photos by Christopher Hirsheimer

Facts: Simon & Schuster, 304 pages, $32.00 (or Amazon at $18.84)
Photos: 37 black and white; some finished dishes but mostly ingredient photos
Recipes: Over 150
Give to: Italian food lovers

Not long ago, when reviewing David Tanis’ book Heart of the Artichoke, I mentioned Chez Panisse and now, following the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon concept, here is another successful chef who worked in Alice Waters’ kitchen, Jonathan Waxman, with a book I could cook from every day,  Italian, My Way.

His “keep it simple” philosophy dovetails perfectly with my everyday kitchen. Most of his recipes fit on one page – and double spaced at that! How many can create relatively short recipes with satisfying flavor?

Waxman is an interesting (Renaissance?) man who evolved from a professional trombonist to a Top Chef master (forgive me, but as a nod to his successes I just thought I’d mention how well he must be able to toot his own horn).

And, he has wide appeal. I mean I’ve come to expect chefs to endorse other chef’s books, but when I saw a quote from Charlie Rose – whoa – I had to investigate. Evidently Rose is a fan.  On April 15th Charlie had Waxman on his show (see video) with Gabrielle Hamilton (Blood, Bones & Butter) and world renown icon Ferran Adria (El Bulli).

Back to the guts of the book: I liked this book at first blush. When I saw numerous references to Giuliano Bugialli, whose Tuscan cooking school I attended,  it all came together: the simplicity of the recipes, using a mezzaluna, Waxman’s technique in making pasta… If he isn’t friends with Bugialli or hasn’t cooked with him on occasion, I’ll eat my bucatini.

His recipes are followed by a kitchen tools section where he tells all: his likes and dislikes, what’s silly, how he uses what he likes, etc. He speaks to everything from the aforementioned mezzalune to pepper mills, knives, stoves and welders’ gloves  (to prevent burns when baking and grilling).

What’s better than learning about tools? Shopping! There are 10 pages listing sources. Most, of course, are located in New York, but each has a website to peruse.

My only disappointment after seeing a lovely image of grissini (thank you Christopher Hirsheimer) — there was no recipe. But that’s okay, I’ll continue to use Bugialli’s. By the way, Hirsheimer did a fabulous job with black and white photography.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

I have made this classic dish the same way for years: with olive oil, guanciale (cured jowl of pork), egg yolks and Parmesan. The tried and true is perfection, please believe me. I had cooks add garlic and onions, peas and mushrooms. Blasphemy!

I have heard a couple different stories for the source of the name. Some people say it refers to miners (carbonari) because of the flecks of black pepper, but I like the story of Giuseppe Mazzini, the revolutionary from Genoa who was a member of a secret group called carbonari, who attempted for years to unify Italy. Regardless, this pasta dish is the world’s richest and most decadent. A wonderfully gifted actress frequents Barbuto and always orders a double carbonara; God bless her!

Serves 4

1/4 pound guanciale, diced
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound spaghetti
1/4 cup Parmesan
4 egg yolks
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

1. Cook the guanciale in the olive oil slowly for 10 minutes, or until cooked through. Keep warm.

2. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta for 8 minutes and drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water.

3. Add the pasta and water to the guanciale pan and bring to a boil. Add the cheese, turn off the heat. Add the yolks all at once and beat furiously for 1 minute. The eggs should not scramble but turn into a smooth sauce. Season with sea salt and black pepper and serve immediately.

3 replies
  1. Nancy Lewis
    Nancy Lewis says:

    I’m a such a sucker for good, easy Italian recipes! So it looks like I’ll be checking this book out!

    Regarding the recipe you posted, what exactly is guanciale and where can I find it? I’m unfamiliar with it

    • Gwen Ashley Walters
      Gwen Ashley Walters says:

      Nancy, guanciale is an Italian cured pork jowl (cheek). You can buy it on Amazon, or if you have an Italian deli in your area, ask them. Thanks for commenting and I hope I answered your questions!


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