Twice a month our writer cooks from the book and decides if these farm-to-table recipes are worth the investment.
Restaurants like Los Angeles’ Bestia seduce diners with a rustically-enhanced version of comfort food. In their case, it’s Italian cuisine, with charred meats, handmade pastas, lots of seasonal heirloom vegetables, and pizzas with crispy, chewy crusts. You walk away impressed with your meal, but in the back of your mind you’re also thinking, “If I tried, I could probably make that at home.” Turns out, you’re probably wrong. In their cookbook, Bestia: Italian Recipes in Created in the Heart of L.A. (Ten Speed Press; $35), Ori Menashe & Genevieve Gergis (with Lesley Suter) lay out recipe after recipe from their menu in beautiful detail, disabusing you of any notion that these are simple dishes. Most of the recipes involve sub-recipes (dressings, pickles, charcuterie, pasta, etc.) and others require special equipment such as a dehydrator, smoker or a vacuum sealer. Many fall under the heading of “mouth-watering weekend project.”
I took the easy way out and made one of the simplest dishes in the book, saffron corn with dried shrimp—mainly because Menashe and Gergis didn’t insist on me drying my own shrimp. Fresh ears of corn are grilled until charred, cooled and stripped of their kernels. To make the dressing, warm buttermilk is infused with saffron before being whizzed in a food processor with garlic, lemon juice, butter and shallot powder. The kernels are then sautéed in this sauce and served topped with chopped dried shrimp and chives. The result is an umami-bomb of flavor: buttery, salty, smoky with a little sweetness.
Bestia is not a book for the beginner chef, nor will you cook from it on a weeknight. But if you’re a fan of the restaurant, and the sort of person that gets a kick out of creating professional-level recipes at home, you will love it. For the rest of us, it provides some beautiful inspiration for our own cooking and a new-found appreciation for the work that goes into those “simple” restaurant dishes.
Excerpted from Bestia: Italian Recipes Created in the Heart of L.A. by Ori Menashe, Genevieve Gergis and Lesley Suter. Text Copyright © 2018 by Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis. Photographs copyright © 2018 by Nicole Franzen. Published in the United States by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.
SAFFRON CORN WITH DRIED SHRIMP
Our daughter’s name is Saffron, and our menus—both savory and sweet—have a lot of hidden saffron in them. This wasn’t purposeful; just as kids change every other aspect of your life, Saffron has snuck her way into our cooking. But in this dish, the strong use of saffron is intentional. It somehow has a way of enhancing the corn’s flavor to the point that it’s almost aggressive; meanwhile, the dried shrimp adds sweetness and umami, the grill gives it a smoky flavor, and the buttermilk provides some acidity. All together, these flavors make the corn taste even more like corn.
- 3 large ears sweet corn, husks and silk removed
- 1/4 cup buttermilk
- 1/4 teaspoon packed saffron threads 1/2 clove garlic, grated on a
- Microplane or very finely minced
- 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/4 teaspoon shallot powder or onion powder
- 1/8 teaspoon Maldon or other flaky sea salt
- 2 tablespoons chopped dried shrimp (see Note)
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
Build a hot fire in a charcoal grill or preheat a gas grill to high. Place the corn on the grill grate directly over the heat and let sear until nicely grill-marked, about 30 seconds, before turning. Repeat until there are even grill marks on all sides. Transfer to a cutting board and let sit until cool enough to handle, then cut off the kernels with a knife.
In a small saucepan over low heat, combine the buttermilk and saffron and cook gently just until the buttermilk is warm. Remove from the heat and let the saffron infuse, 5 to 10 minutes.
In a small bowl, combine the garlic and lemon juice and let sit for 3 minutes.
In a food processor, combine the butter, saffron-infused buttermilk, garlic-lemon juice, and shallot powder and process until smooth. Set the saffron butter aside.
Preheat a large saucepan over high heat until smoking. Add 2 tablespoons of the saffron butter, followed by the grilled corn. Sauté for about 30 seconds, tossing once. Add another 2 to 3 tablespoons saffron butter and cook for 1 minute more, tossing once or twice. (Reserve any leftover butter for another use.) Add the salt and toss again, then remove the pan from the heat. Transfer the corn to a serving bowl, top with the dried shrimp and chives, and serve.
Dried shrimp can be found in Asian markets and online.
PORCINI AND WILD FENNEL–RUBBED COPPA STEAK
A coppa steak comes from the pork shoulder and part of the neck. It’s high in connective tissue, which can turn some people off, but when cooked correctly it has an awesome range of textures from fatty to chewy and has a deep, dark porcine taste. Unlike most cuts, coppa should be grilled to slightly over medium; otherwise, it can be tough. The yogurt-based marinade helps tenderize and infuse the meat with flavor. Serve the steak with an assertive salad like the Arugula, Radish, and Tarragon Salad on page 99.
- 1 tablespoon ground dried porcini mushrooms
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt 2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds,
- toasted and ground
- 1 tablespoon roughly chopped wild fennel fronds (see Note, page 97) or regular fennel fronds
- 1 teaspoon ground red pepper flakes
- 1 clove garlic, Microplaned or very finely minced
- 2 (8-ounce) coppa steaks Kosher salt
- Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling Maldon or other flaky sea salt
- 10 slices Pickled Smoked Shiitake Mushrooms (page 20)
In a small bowl, combine the ground mushrooms, vinegar, yogurt, mustard seeds, fennel, red pepper, and garlic and stir until thoroughly mixed. Rub the steaks liberally with the marinade on all sides, then cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.
Two hours prior to grilling, remove the steaks from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature. Build a hot fire in a charcoal grill or preheat a gas grill to high (see Grilling Basics, page 226). Holding your hand high above the steaks, generously shower the meat on all sides with kosher salt, then drizzle with olive oil and pat gently to set. Place the steaks directly onto the hottest part of the grill. Cook until the steaks easily lift off the grill without sticking. Turn them 45 degrees and give them another sear for 2 to 3 minutes. Then, flip the steaks and repeat the same process on the second side. Remove the steaks from the grill and let them rest for 3 to 5 minutes. You’re looking for a temperature between medium and slightly over medium.
Just before serving, return the steaks to the grill over high heat for 1 minute to reheat, then transfer them to a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, slice the steaks against the grain on the bias. Arrange on individual plates, finish with Maldon salt and a drizzle of olive oil, top with the pickled shiitakes, and serve.
PICKLED SMOKED SHIITAKE MUSHROOMS
Servings: 3 cups
- 14 shiitake mushrooms (about 10 ounces), stemmed
- 2 large stalks from the top of a fennel bulb, including fronds, cut into lengths to fit the canning jar
- 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds 2 cloves garlic, halved
- 2/3 cup champagne vinegar 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- Cold smoker
Prepare a grill for cold-smoking (see page 14). Arrange the shiitake caps on the side of the grill grate opposite the smoker. Cover the grill and smoke for about 1 hour, venting as directed.
Tightly pack the fennel stalks and smoked shiitakes into a 1-quart mason jar or other airtight glass container.
In a small saucepan over medium- low heat, toast the coriander seeds until fragrant, about 3 minutes, then add them to the jar.
Combine the garlic, vinegar, sugar, salt, red pepper flakes, and 1½ cups water in the saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove from the heat and let the mixture cool completely. Pour the mixture into the mason jar, pressing down to make sure all of the mushrooms are submerged.
If any float, press a piece of plastic wrap on the surface to hold them down. Cover and let sit at room temperature for at least 2 days or up to 3 days to allow the flavors to develop, then refrigerate for 2 days longer before serving. Store tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.