Heat by Bill Buford

June24

I am not really sure why  a writer for the New York Times would give up hours upon hours of time with his family, at his own expense and want to volunteer in the kitchen of a number of stressful, hectic kitchens, with no apparent motive except to see if his culinary skills could stand up in a professional kitchen, but that is the premise of Bill Bulford’s “Heat”.  His sub-title states “{An amateur’s adventure as Kitchen slave. Line cook. Pasta-maker and apprentice to a Dante-quoting Butcher in Tuscany}”  The fascinating Mario Batali is a central figure in this recounting.  Perhaps you admire Mario’s accomplishments on Food TV and in the culinary world.  You may not after you read “Heat”, unless you are intrigued by the Chef Gordon Ramsay type and then I say read on.

I was impressed by Bulford’s ability to take a complicated recipe from a professional kitchen and describe the process with directions and imagery that I could clearly understand.  In this first excerpt, he does just that:

My advice: ignore the Babbo cookbook and begin roasting small pinches of garlic and chili flakes and medium pinches of the onion and pancetta in a hot pan with olive oil.  Hot oil accelerates the cooking process and the moment that everything gets soft you pour it away (holding back the contents with your tongs) and add a slap of butter and a splash of white wine, which stops the cooking.  This is Stage One-and you are left with the familiar buttery mush-but you’ve already added two things you’d never see in Italy: butter (seafood with butter-or any other dairy ingredient-verges on culinary blaspheme), and pancetta, because, according to Mario, pork and shellfish are an eternal combination found in many other places: in Portugal, in ameijoas na cataplana (clams and ham) or in Spain, in paella (chorizo and scallops); or in the United States, in the Italian American clams casino, even though none of these places happen to be in Italy.  (“Italians,” Mario says won’t mess with their fish. There are restaurants who won’t use lemon because they think it’s excessive.)

In Stage Two, you drop the pasta in boiling water and take your messy pan and fill it with big handfuls of clams and put it on the highest flame possible.  The objective is to cook them fast-they’ll start opening after three or four minutes, when you give the pan a swirl, mixing the shellfish juice with the buttery porky white wine emulsion.  At six minutes and thirty seconds, use your tongs to pull your noodles out and drop them into your pan-all that starchy pasta water slopping in with them is still a good thing; give  the pan another swirl; flip it; swirl again to ensure the pasta is evenly covered by the sauce.  If it looks dry, add another splash of pasta water; if too wet, pour off some it.  You then let the thing cook for another half minute or so, swirling, swirling, until the sauce streaks across the bottom of the pan, splash it with olive oil and sprinkle it with parsley: dinner.

Earlier, he describes the nugget that I am always on the search for: the mysterious connection between food and love.

Making food seemed to be something that everybody needed to do: not for the restaurant, but for the kitchen.  Here was the family meal, of course-bountifully served around four in the afternoon-but the food was almost always being made by someone at some time all day long.  The practice seemed to illustrate a principle I was always hearing referred to as “cooking with love.” A dish was a failure because it hadn’t been cooked with love. A dish was a success because the love was so obvious.  If you’re cooking with love, every plate is a unique event-you never allow yourself to forget that a person is waiting to eat it: your food, made with your hands, arranged with your fingers, tasted with your tongue.

If this is also a fascination of yours, you will enjoy “Heat”, but make sure that you read it after your dinner or you will be scouring your pantry for a can of clams and and pulling out your saute pans.

Kath’s quote: “Spaghetti is love.” Mario Batali

spaghetti heart

Love-that is all.

Excerpts from Heat, Bill Buford, Doubleday Canada, ISBN-13: 978-0-385-66256-7


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