Union Square Café's " Second Helpings"

331 pages; Black and white photographs.  Hard Cover

Harper Collins Publishers, New York, New York 2001

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy for Good Cooking, December 2002

The writers of this cookbook have expanded on their regional Italian recipes, by infusing spices from India and the Middle East. Their book is filled with many nostalgic black and white pictures. Included in the back of the book are recommended recipes for stocks and sauces.
The chef and restaurant have won many awards for excellence in food, wine selection and hospitality. They have survived in a sea of great restaurants in Manhattan. Michael Romano, the chef and co-owner of the restaurant, travels to Italy each year looking for new inspirations for their menu.
PRO: The recipes are inviting, inspiring and draw you into pulling out your favorite sauce and sauté pans. A trip to the supermarket to buy the freshest products available and you are on your way to a wonderful dining experience. The infusion of Indian and middle eastern spices as well as the blending of traditional American favorites such as corn kernels and heavy cream to a fettuccine dish brings a new dimension to Italian cuisine.
If you want a one source cookbook that will keep you creating a well balanced mix of dishes, I strongly recommend this terrific cookbook for any home chef. You will impress your family and friends with creations from the book.

CON: There aren't any negative comments about the book other than we all eat with our eyes first. Food styling would be a terrific addition to this wonderful book. I would prefer to see colorful pictures of plated dishes rather than the nostalgic black and white photos.

TEST KITCHEN: The recipes tested were well written with more than enough instruction to bring the recipes to a maximum flavor. Enough recipes were tested to allow a range of dishes. We tested the following recipes:

Fettuccine with Sweet Corn and Gorgonzola
Striped Bass with Tomato Caper Sauce
Pan Roasted Chicken with Cognac-Peppercorn Sauce
Vegetable Stock
Lentil Soup with Portabello Mushrooms and Spinach

 

  Good Cooking has eaten at the Union Square Cafe.  It's a busy neighborhood restaurant with great food and service. It's also a place to be seen, so you will encounter many celebrities in the crowd.  Being located in Union Square is a plus, especially because there is a very large farmer's market where the chef can select from wonderfully fresh items from the Hudson Valley, New Jersey and Connecticut farms.  I'll bet they buy the sweet corn from one of the stands for the Fettuccine With Sweet Corn and Gorgonzola. Good Cooking wished there were pictures of the food in the book. 
 

Fettuccine With Sweet Corn and Gorgonzola
Serves 6 as an appetizer---4 as a main course

This has long been a late-summer pasta staple at Union Square Cafe. We encourage you to make your own fresh fettuccine (see page 319) as we do at the restaurant, but for ease, you'll be more than satisfied using a good-quality dried egg fettuccine. For the sauce, we've borrowed a truc from classic corn chowder recipes, steeping corncobs with white wine and cream, to lend a richly complex, sweet corn flavor. The addition of roasted tomatoes, Gorgonzola, and pancetta completes one of our very favorite pasta sauces.

2 large ears sweet corn 
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 ounces pancetta, diced (about 1/2 cup) 
1/2 cup sliced shallots
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped garlic 
1/2 cup white wine
2 cups heavy cream 
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons Gorgonzola cheese
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
12 Oven-Dried Tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise 
(page 319) 
1/2 cup sliced (on the diagonal) scallions, white 
and green parts 
1/3 cup sliced basil leaves 
1 pound egg fettuccine 

1. Cut the kernels off the corncobs by standing each corncob on its flat end on a cutting board or in a roasting pan, and slicing down against the cob. Set the kernels aside. Cut the cobs into 2-inch sections.

2. Combine the oil and pancetta in a 2-quart saucepan and cook over medium-high heat to render the fat and crisp the pancetta, about 5 minutes. Remove the pancetta with a slotted spoon and set aside. Discard all but 1 tablespoon of the fat.

3. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the shallots, garlic, and corncobs and cook until the shallots are softened but not browned, about 3 minutes. Pour in the wine and reduce until almost dry. Add the cream and simmer very gently for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover, and let the sauce steep for at least 15 minutes.

4. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot and add 2 tablespoons salt.

5. Strain the sauce through a fine-mesh strainer into a straight-sided skillet or saucepan large enough to hold all the pasta. Place over medium heat and whisk in the cheese in small pieces. Season with 1 teaspoon of salt and the pepper. Add the pancetta, corn kernels, tomatoes, scallions, and basil. Bring to a simmer, turn off the heat, cover, and set aside.

6.Cook the fettuccine in the boiling water until al dente, and drain in a colander. Add the drained pasta to the sauce and toss until the pasta is well coated. Transfer to a platter and serve hot.

Oven-Dried Tomatoes
Makes 1 1/2 cups

Plum tomatoes have won acceptance primarily as an ingredient for making cooked tomato sauce. Their sturdiness also makes them superb candidates for enduring a long, slow day in the oven. These roasted plum tomatoes can be enjoyed any way you've ever used sun-dried tomatoes, but they're even more versatile, since they're a lot less salty. 

2 pounds ripe plum tomatoes, washed, cored, and split lengthwise 
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups extra-virgin olive oil 
2 large fresh thyme sprigs
1 fresh rosemary branch, split 
2 to 3 sage leaves
3 medium garlic cloves, peeled and split 

1. Place the tomatoes, cut side up, on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with the salt and let sit for 1 hour.

2. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. 

3. Roast the tomatoes for 5 to 6 hours. The tomatoes are done when they
are dried, but still slightly plump; they should definitely not be leathery, nor as dry as commercial sun-dried tomatoes.

4. Allow the tomatoes to cool to room temperature; then transfer them to ajar or bowl. Stir in the olive oil, herbs, and garlic. Cover tightly, and refrigerate. The tomatoes will improve if marinated for 2 to 3 days before using. They will keep for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

Pan-Roasted Chicken with Cognac-Peppercorn Sauce 
Serves 4

The cooking method for this wonderful dish is a good example of a true French sauté. Here, the chicken and aromatic elements are cooked through before the sauce is prepared at the end. The presentation is rustic, with all the herbs and spices left in the sauce. Accompany the chicken with broccoli and Italian Fries (page 249).

1 (4 to 4 1/2-pound) chicken, cut into 10 pieces (drumsticks, thighs, wings, and split breast) 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/3 cup thinly sliced garlic
4 sprigs fresh thyme, coarsely chopped 
6 bay leaves
20 whole peppercorns 
1/4 cup Cognac
1/4 cup white wine
1 cup brown Chicken Stock or store-bought veal stock (or demi-glace)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard 
1 1/2 tablespoons butter

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees F

2. Place the chicken pieces in a large bowl. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper and toss to season.

3. Place an 11-inch skillet over high heat, add the oil, and heat until smoking. Add the chicken pieces and brown them on all sides, about 10 minutes. Turn the chicken so the pieces are skin side down, transfer to the oven, and bake until the breast meat is cooked through, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, transfer the breast pieces to a serving platter, and cover to keep warm. Add the garlic, thyme, bay leaves, and peppercorns to the skillet, sprinkling them around the remaining pieces of chicken. Return the skillet to the oven and continue baking until the chicken is cooked through, an additional 5 to 10 minutes.

4. Transfer the remaining pieces of chicken to the serving platter and cover. Place the skillet over medium-high heat and cook 1 to 2 minutes to lightly brown the garlic. Pour the fat from the skillet, being careful to leave in the herbs and spices.

5. Away from the open flame, pour the Cognac into the skillet. Return to the heat and reduce until almost dry. Pour in the wine and reduce until almost dry. Add the stock and any juices from the serving platter, bring to a simmer, and reduce until somewhat thickened. Whisk in
the mustard and butter and season with '/a teaspoon of salt. Return the chicken to the skillet and warm over low heat. Transfer the chicken, covered with sauce, herbs, and spices, to a warm platter and serve.

Chicken Stock 
Makes 3 quarts

A clear, flavorful chicken stock is indispensable for sauces, soups, and most risotto recipes. The key to a clear, brilliant stock is to skim as much fat and foam as possible from the surface, and to cook the stock at a barely perceptible simmer. For a brown chicken stock, a darker, more richly flavored stock that can be substituted for veal stock, roast the chicken bones with the vegetables and 1 tablespoon of tomato paste in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes, or until browned. Add the water, herbs, and spices and proceed with the recipe below. In addition to getting chicken bones from your butcher, use leftover carcasses from roast chicken.

5 pounds chicken bones, rinsed well in cold water
4 quarts water
1 large onion, coarsely chopped (2 1/2 cups) 
3 medium carrots, scrubbed and quartered (2 1/2 cups)
3 celery ribs, quartered
1 medium parsnip, peeled and coarsely chopped (1 1/2 cups)
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
10 whole black peppercorns 
1/4 cup fresh parsley sprigs

1. Combine all the ingredients in an 8-quart stockpot. Over medium heat, bring slowly to a boil. Skim the foam that rises to the surface with a ladle. 

2. Reduce the heat and simmer very slowly, uncovered, for 4 to 5 hours. Skim the surface with a ladle every 30 minutes to remove any accumulated fat or impurities.

3. Strain the stock into a clean pot or metal bowl and set it over a large bowl filled with ice. Refrigerate for 1 or 2 days, or freeze for several months. Remove any hardened fat from refrigerated stock before reheating.