You could cook like chef if you just had truffles

April 09, 1997|By ROB KASPER

THE OTHER DAY, while paging through Roberta Donna's new cookbook "Cooking In Piedmont" (Food Concepts Marketing Corp., Cleveland, Ohio, 1996, $29.95) my wife announced that she was not going to "poach any pig ears."

I was mildly disappointed because the recipe in the book for pig ear salad, a mixture of the ears, onions, gherkins and Italian parsley, sounded pretty tempting.

Finding the main ingredient in a grocery store would be tricky, my wife pointed out. I volunteered to search the butcher shops of Baltimore's neighborhood markets looking for the main ingredient. But my wife still shook her head. If I found them, she might end up cooking them. And spending a Saturday afternoon boiling pig ears, was not, she said, her idea of fun.

We looked for other recipes. This was a cookbook trial run, an exercise we and other amateur cooks often go through with a new cookbook. We were searching for recipes that sound appealing yet weren't going to cost us a fortune or make us work like lackeys.

I was anxious to try out Donna's recipes because I had tasted his cooking. Donna is the chef and owner of Galileo restaurant in downtown Washington. Moreover, he has formed partnerships with a variety of chefs, and runs over a half dozen other Italian restaurants in the metropolitan Washington area. A few weeks ago, Donna came over to Baltimore to cook a Great Chefs' Dinner, a benefit for the Child Abuse Prevention Center of Maryland held at Linwood's restaurant. The mere memory of that dinner makes my tongue smile.

A native of the Piedmont region of Northern Italy, Donna grew up in San Raffaele Cimena and first came to the United States at the age of 19. Now in his 30s, he has made a reputation for dishes that deliver fresh, strong flavors. He calls his cooking "the true Italian cuisine," a cuisine that goes well beyond spaghetti.

Paging through the recipes in Donna's book, I realized that any American willing to replicate the authentic flavor of the Piedmont would have to do some serious ingredient fetching. Most folks I know, for instance, don't keep many spare pig parts in their fridge, or black truffles, which was a major ingredient in another recipe in the book that caught my eye, asparagus with black truffle dressing.

Reading the ingredients in the various recipes reminded me of a difference between the kitchens of professional chefs and of amateurs. The pros always have truffles. They also have pots of stock sitting around which their sous chefs have cooked for a day or two. We amateurs get our "stocks" from cans of soup picked up in the grocery store.

Nonetheless, one of the reasons you attempt recipes from a chef's cookbook is that you want to try out new things, to climb that culinary mountain. The trick is to find recipes you are capable of pulling off, even if you take a few short cuts.

Eventually, my wife and I found a recipe we could make for supper that night, Pesto of Arugula. It is a pasta sauce that uses arugula instead of the usual pesto ingredient, basil leaves.

All we had to do was toss the ingredients in a blender. The recipe called for toasted pine nuts. But we didn't have any pine nuts at our house. So we substituted walnuts, and made the pesto sauce, and put it over fresh pasta. The sauce was bright green, and had a leafy, slightly bitter taste. It was pretty good. It was not, I think, as sweet it would have been if we had used pine nuts.

I plan to work my way through this cookbook, slowly, gradually moving from amateur to semi-pro status. The next time the pesto sauce is made, pine nuts will be on hand. If that recipe is a success, an attempt at the pig ears won't be far behind.

4( Here's the recipe from Donna's book.

Pesto of arugula

Serves 6

3 garlic cloves, peeled

1 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 pound arugula, cleaned

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

Combine garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper in blender, puree for 1 minute on high or until garlic is blended. Add arugula, cheese and pine nuts and puree until smooth.

The sauce is ready to serve over pasta. It can be stored for up to 4 weeks in the freezer if sauce is topped with 3 tablespoons olive oil.

Pub Date: 4/09/97

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