Title: Fantastico! Little Italian Plates and Antipasti from Rick Tramonto's Kitchen
Author: Rick Tramonto
274 pages; Hardcover PhotographyColor
Broadway Books, NY, NY, 2007
Reviewed by, Chef John Vyhnanek, December 2007

The review---

As a chef, educator and restaurant consultant I read, evaluate and use a lot of cookbooks. Currently I am working with a small Italian gourmet pizzeria and sandwich bar; I have been asked by the owner to suggest and implement some new menu items. A few soups, appetizers, pastas, main courses and to generally improve upon some of the components of the restaurant's food. This is not a huge undertaking as I totally revamped the restaurant's menus two years ago, but since then a new chef has been hired, there are a few new cooks and some of the standard operating procedures I initiated have gone by the wayside.

I was planning to review "Fantastico" by Rick Tramonto anyway. I hadn't looked at It'since it was sent to me by the publisher several weeks ago. "Well," I said, "This just might have some ideas for my new project, after all the pictures on the cover looked promising." Fantastico is one good cookbook! The pictures are first class, the recipes are right on the money and the tasteevery recipe I tried hit the mark! This is a must have cookbook for anyone interested in food, including chefs and restaurant owners. The subtitle is "Little Plates and Antipasti" but by no means does it mean that you can't turn any of the dish's into main courses. The dishes are creative and not boring!

Start with the Baby Beets with Flat Parsley and Mint Vinaigrette, then sample Bruschetta with Skirt Steak and Tapinade before the Mini Veal Meatballs with Caramelized Onions. Wait: There's also Truffled Scrambled Egg and Bacon Panini, Shrimp Salad Cicchetti or Asiago Cheese with Glazed Cipolline Onionsthere are too many good choices and containing enough to make one a day for a few months or more. What a life!

This book doesn't contain any soups, pasta or desserts but you can't miss with what it does have. I really like this book and will use it often, and yes, I will even use one or two of its recipes at the Italian Pizzeria I mentioned above!

Recipes tested---

Baby Beets with Flat-Leaf Parsley and Mint Vinaigrette
serves 4
Look for the biggest, greenest, freshest flat-leaf parsley leaves you can find, because the parsley stands in for other greens in this salad. Parsley grows easily, so every Italian I knew when I was growing up picked it from the backyard and tossed it as a salad. And those salads tasted great! Pair the parsley with tender young beets for indescribable small bites of freshness.
3 cups plus 1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning 8 red baby beets, washed and trimmed but not peeled
8 yellow baby beets, washed and trimmed but not peeled
8 candy-striped baby beets, washed and trimmed but not peeled
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
2 cups fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
juice of 2 lemons
6 tablespoons Mint Vinaigrette
1/2 cup shaved pecorino Romano cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350�F. Spread the 3 cups of salt over the bottom of a shallow roasting pan or sheet pan.
2. In a large bowl, combine the beets, 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Wrap the beets completely in large sheets of aluminum foil and transfer to the pan. The foil packets will sit directly on the salt. Roast for about 45 minutes, or until the beets are tender. Let the beets cool in the foil; this will make them easier to peel.
3. Peel each beet and cut in half, quarters, or slices. Transfer to a bowl.
4. In another bowl, toss the parsley with about a tablespoon of olive oil and the lemon juice. Toss and season to taste with salt and pepper.
5. Add the vinaigrette to the beets and toss until they are coated. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
6. Divide the beets among 4 serving plates, mounding them in the center of the plates. Arrange the parsley salad around and on top of the beets. Garnish each serving with cheese and cracked pepper and serve.

about the wine
The almost fruity, sweet beets with the crisp Mint Vinaigrette will be flattered by a white wine with high-density fruit tempered by a good dose of acidity. The Venica family in Friuli makes a Sauvignon Blanc from a famed single vineyard called "Ronco delle Mele" that screams orange and passion fruit and echoes the mint in the dish.

Mint Vinaigrette
makes about 13/4 cups

1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup fresh orange juice Zest of 1/2 orange
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 tablespoon honey
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 2
tablespoons chopped fresh mint

1. In a bowl, whisk together all the ingredients except the salt, pepper, and mint. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
2. If using within 3 or 4 hours, stir in the mint and refrigerate. Otherwise, cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Stir the mint into the vinaigrette an hour or so before serving.

Bruschetta with Skirt Steak and Tapenade
serves 4

1 1/2 cups olive oil
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
juice of 1/2 lemon, plus 1 tablespoon
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
3 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons minced shallots
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
1 1/2 pounds skirt steak
Vegetable oil spray
2 cups arugula
1 to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1/4 cup Tramonto's Tapenade
8 slices Rick's Basic Bruschetta
8 lemon wedges

1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine the olive oil, vinegar, juice of 1/2 lemon, parsley, basil, garlic, shallots, and oregano. Pulse until well blended but not pureed. Add the red pepper and season to taste with salt and black pepper.
2. Lay the steak in a shallow nonreactive dish and pour the marinade over it. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 12 hours. Turn the steak in the marinade several times.
3. Prepare a charcoal or gas grill; the coals or heating elements should be medium hot. Lightly spray the grilling rack with vegetable oil spray to prevent sticking.
4. Lift the steak from the marinade and brush off the excess. Grill for 6 minutes, turn the steak, and grill for 6 to 8 minutes more for medium-rare. Transfer to a cutting board and let the steak rest for 5 to 7 minutes. Slice the steak across the grain into 1/2-inch-wide strips.
5. In a mixing bowl, toss the arugula with a little olive oil (you may not need it all), the remaining tablespoon of lemon juice, and pinch of salt and pepper.
6. Spread some tapenade on each slice of bruschetta and top with slices of steak. Garnish each with the arugula salad. Drizzlle with more olive oil and serve each bruschetta with a lemon wedge.

about the wine
The ultimate steak sandwich calls for one of Italy's ultimate reds. If there was any doubt about this dish's affinities, the balsamic, meaty skirt steak and olive tapenade kick it into big red wine territory. New-school producers like Sandrone and Fontanafredda of Barolo infuse their wines with flavors that are at once weighty and intense, but also accessible in their youth.

Tramonto's Tapenade
makes about 11/2 cups

3 anchovy fillets
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 cup pitted Kalamata olives, plus more as needed
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more as needed

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, process the anchovies, garlic, thyme, and zest until smooth.
2. Add the olives and olive oil and pulse until smooth. If the tapenade is thin, add more olives. If too thick, add a little more olive oil.
3. If not using immediately, transfer the tapenade to a nonreactive bowl, pour just enough olive oil over it to cover, and refrigerate for up to 1 week.

Mini Veal Meatballs with Caramelized Onions
serves 4 - 6

2 tablespoons olive oil 2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 cups thinly sliced onions
1 tablespoon sugar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup red wine
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

2 cups panko (Japanese bread crumbs) or other coarse dried crumbs
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 cup whole milk
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons finely minced garlic
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground veal
1 tomato, coarsely diced
1 tablespoon julienned fresh basil

1. To make the onions: Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, onions, and sugar, season with salt and pepper; and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes, until caramelized and golden brown.
2. Add the wine, bay leaf, and thyme. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer briskly for 3 to 6 minutes or until reduced by half. Add the stock and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer briskly for 5 to 8 minutes, or until reduced by half.
3. Stir the butter into the sauce and when it's incorporated, season to taste with salt and pepper. Finish with a splash of vinegar (1 to 2 teaspoons). Cover and keep warm.
4. To make the meatballs: Preheat the oven to 350�F. Lightly oil a baking sheet.
5. In a large mixing bowl, combine the bread crumbs and melted butter and mix well by hand. Add the cheese, milk, eggs, 1 tablespoon of the parsley, the oregano, olive oil, salt, black and red pepper, and lemon zest and mix well.
6. Add the ground pork and veal to the bowl and mix well.
7. Pinch off small walnut-sized pieces of meat, each about 1/2 ounce, and make mini meatballs. You should have between 32 and 40 meatballs. A few extra are fine.
8. Transfer the meatballs to the baking sheet. Arrange them in neat rows, leaving space between them.
9. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the meatballs are cooked through. Do not overcook. Divide the meatballs among 4 serving plates. Spoon the warm sauce over the top of the meatballs and garnish each plate with some of the remaining parsley, a little diced tomato, and basil. Drizzle the remaining vinegar over each plate and serve.

about the wine
The gently rolling hills of Montepulciano in Tuscany are the setting for the Sangiovese vineyards that produce Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Generally earlier drinking than Brunello, and with lower acidity than Chianti, this category of wine is one of many that are wonderful with the veal meatballs. Well-balanced dishes need well-balanced wines, so try elegant examples from Avignonesi or il Macchione.