World Chefs-Duo freshens up Italian-American favorites

Posted at 08/12/2010 9:35 AM | Updated as of 08/12/2010 9:45 AM

NEW YORK - Italian-American dishes that they feasted on at their grandmothers' dinner tables on Sundays are the inspiration for the first cookbook of chef duo Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castrovono.

The menu at Frankies Spuntino, which Castronovo, 42, Falcinelli, 44, opened nearly six years ago, pays homage to the straightforward yet satisfying food of their youth.

In The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual, the classically-trained chefs also give recommendations on wine pairings and seasonal meals.

The New York natives spoke to Reuters about their passion for Italian food and why it's hard to make pasta.

Q: What can readers expect from your book?

A: Falcinelli: "This is basically our menu from A-to-Z. We know this is tried and true. It's being delivered in our restaurant every day. It's a good give back from a professional standpoint to offer the recipes, clear and concise without any fuzz and with clear illustrations."

Q: What are the inspirations for the book?

A: Castronovo: "The recipes came from Frank's family and my family, my professional background and his professional background. There are quick stories and they are fun reading."

Falcinelli: "It's a refreshing approach to make Italian-American food. It's designed to be in your kitchen cabinet or on your kitchen table."

Q: What are some of your food memories growing up?

A: Castronovo: "When you are eating at your grandparents' house or sleeping in your grandparents' house when you wake and smell lunch or early dinner, which would be about 2 o'clock, you knew what you were in for. The best thing is that you saw them make the pasta. The pasta got rolled up right before it went into the water and you were going to eat right after that."

Falcinelli: "The gnocchi, the cooking, the shopping the night before."

Q: Why is it so hard to make fresh pasta?

A: Castronovo: "That is the most difficult thing in the book. It's really only three ingredients but you have to have the right ingredients and you need to follow the steps very carefully."

Q: What is your view on the current dining scene?

A: Castronovo: "Overall restaurateurs are not building fancy restaurants anymore. They are just focusing on quality food."

Falcinelli: "We are more the Volkswagen and Toyota people. At the end of the day, you want to appeal to a lot of people or a few people. Obviously there are going to be the rock stars."

Castronovo: "There are going to be the Daniel Bouluds, Jean-George Vongerichtens and Thomas Kellers, but there are only going to be a few of those."

Recipe

Meatballs (The Spuntino Way)

(Serves 6. Makes 18 to 20 meatballs)

4 slices bread (2 packed cups' worth)

2 pounds ground beef

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano, plus about 1 cup for serving

1/4 cup raisins

1/4 cup pine nuts

1-1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt

15 turns white pepper

4 large eggs

1/2 cup dried bread crumbs

tomato sauce

1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Put the fresh bread in a bowl, cover it with water, and let it soak for a minute or so. Pour off the water and wring out the bread, then crumble and tear it into tiny pieces.

2. Combine the bread with all the remaining ingredients except the tomato sauce in a medium mixing bowl, adding them in the order they are listed. Add the bread crumbs last to adjust for wetness: the mixture should be moist wet, not sloppy wet.

3. Shape the meat mixture into handball-sized meatballs and space them evenly on a baking sheet. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. The meatballs will be firm but still juicy and gently yielding when they're cooked through. (At this point, you can cool the meatballs and hold them in the refrigerator for as long as a couple of days or freeze them for the future.)

4. Meanwhile, heat the tomato sauce in a saute pan large enough to accommodate the meatballs comfortably.

5. Dump the meatballs into the pan of tomato sauce and nudge the heat up ever so slightly. Simmer the meatballs for half an hour or so (this isn't one of those cases where longer is better) so they can soak up some sauce. Keep them there until it's time to eat.