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The Baltimore Sun

Top Chef, The Cookbook

Chronicle Books / 2008 / $29.95

Think Like a Chef

By Tom Colicchio

Clarkson Potter / 2007 / $22.50

Top Chef contestants could learn a lot from head judge Tom Colicchio before they ever reach the judge's table by reading the recently released softcover edition of this James Beard award-winning book. His recipes are time-consuming but unfussy. They are also inviting.

Colicchio spends nearly 100 pages on technique, stocks and basic recipes before moving on to "create ingredients" that he weaves into more complicated dishes.

Roasted tomatoes and onion confit are merged onto puff pastry to make a beautiful tomato tart - a play on the tarte Tatin, he writes. The most imaginative section of this book centers on the "trilogies," ingredients Colicchio plays with for several different recipes, such as lobster, peas and pasta or duck, root vegetables and apples. The polenta gratin with mushroom "bolognese" is one of the best variations of this dish I've tasted.

Colicchio - founding chef of New York's Gramercy Tavern and co-owner of Craft - isn't trying to impress readers with overly complicated techniques or fad ingredients. Getting through this book is not hard, but it will take time. It's time well spent.

Fideos With Clams and Saffron

Serves 4

1 pound fideos or capellini pasta

2 cups heavy cream

1 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled


1 cup small cauliflower florets

1 cup small broccoli florets

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

10 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole

1/2 cup white wine or seafood stock

1 pound fresh medium clams, cleaned

freshly ground black pepper

chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley for garnish

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Break the fideos into 3-inch pieces. Arrange the pieces in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Place in the oven and bake until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

In a medium saucepan, combine the cream, saffron and salt to taste and place over medium heat. Bring just to a boil, whisking and watching the pot so the cream doesn't boil over. Remove from the heat, stir in the cauliflower and broccoli, and set aside.

Preheat the broiler. In a large saucepan, heat the oil and garlic over low heat, stirring, until the garlic begins to soften and turn golden, about 15 minutes. Break the garlic up with the back of a wooden spoon, then add the wine, clams and fideos. Season with salt and pepper to taste and stir to combine.

Increase the heat to medium-high and cover the pan. Cook for about 4 minutes, shaking the pan, until the clams have opened. Discard any unopened clams. Stir in the cauliflower-and-cream mixture and remove from the heat.

Divide the clam-and-pasta mixture among 4 ovenproof dishes. Place the dishes in the oven and broil until golden brown, 2 to 4 minutes. Garnish with the chopped parsley and serve immediately.

Note from the tester: Consider parboiling the broccoli and cauliflower in advance. Make sure to use an especially large saucepan for the final stove-top cooking. Otherwise, as I did, you may have to cook some of the pasta separately, folding it in at the end.

From "Top Chef, the Cookbook"

Per serving: 1,059 calories, 25 grams protein, 65 grams fat, 30 grams saturated fat, 94 grams carbohydrate, 6 grams fiber, 175 milligrams cholesterol, 124 milligrams sodium

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