When I opened the mailing envelope and pulled out The Del Posto Cookbook by Chef Mark Ladner, I was struck by the cover. There is a photograph of a remarkable spread of greens and grains, pasta and pig’s head. It reminded me of something I had seen before. Was I reminded of a retro-colored spread from a 1960’s cookbook? A still life painting from the 17th century? As I flipped through the pages, the artwork unfolded in not only the photographs but the way each dish was plated.
While admiring the elegant plating and reading about the cookbook’s upscale namesake (which I’ve never visited), I couldn’t help but wonder—how on earth was I to make these recipes in my kitchen? The one with the glass top stove, periwinkle laminate countertops, and a handful of cooking gadgets.
Mario Batali wrote in his foreword, “Ladner’s cooking is decidedly low-tech, which makes it quite simple to translate into the home kitchen.” This didn’t really jive with what I was seeing and reading. Low tech maybe, but I doubted the promise of easy translation when I looked at the pages-long recipes of 100 Layer Lasagne al Ragu Bolognese, Warm Cotechino with Lentils and Prosecco Zabaglione, and Veal Braciole.
I doubted it so much, I flipped back to the introduction, written by Chef Ladner himself, in hopes he could shed a little light or explain how these recipes could possibly ‘translate’ to my kitchen. And he gave me an answer: “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 recipes within the Del Posto Cookbook do translate to any home kitchen. You just have to work for them, with the promise of a 5 star bite, or meal, or dessert at the end. I can attest to this because I tested Lidia [Bastianich]’s Jota with Smoky Pork and Braised Kale.
I was skeptical. Though I don’t buy processed foods or even prepped airmailed meals, I am not one to devote a day of my life cooking one thing unless it’s largely hands-off. This particular recipe looked the most appealing because it was one of the most accessible, it had ingredients that I had a hankering for, and it afforded me the opportunity to practice my newly acquired pork-smoking skills (more on that later). I went through the steps, I didn’t take short cuts (namely, I fed my Weber grill with coals and wood chips for hours), and the end result? An incredibly dynamic, wholesome, I-can’t-believe-I-just-cooked-that-in-my-kitchen dish. The cannellini bean soup (jota) was silky and smooth. How it got that much flavor with so few ingredients (carrots, onion, celery, water, bay leaves, olive oil) is beyond me. The pork. Oh, the pork. The lightly sweet, abundantly peppery rub meshed beautifully with the perfectly smoked, juicy shoulder. These two key players, coupled with braised kale, bacon, and sauerkraut were incredible.
It reminded me of home, of smoked pork and collard greens with vinegar. Yet it reminded of a place worlds away, too, for a reason I can’t quite put my finger on. That pretty much sums up the theme of this cookbook in every way, from the moment I saw the photograph on the cover to studying the recipes within: it’s freshly sophisticated with a hint of familiarity.
I never thought I’d make something quite this dynamic in my little kitchen with the glass top stove and the periwinkle countertops. But I did. And I think any cook, if able to give the time, will be blown away with what they can make at home with guidance from Chef Ladner.
What the cookbook is/does well: clear, concise directions for authentic, complex Italian recipes
What the cookbook is not: 30 minute meals or recipes made with packaged, processed foods
Who this book is best suited for: the advanced home cook/lover of The Del Posto Restaurant
Three words to sum it up: Intimidating but impressive.
When it’s available: November 1st