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2000s Archive

Book Review: A16 Food + Wine

January 2009
There’s no mistaking this book’s restaurant pedigree—inventive flavor combinations, thoughtful wine pairings—but its true appeal stems from its celebration of Italian country cooking.
A16 Food + Wine

On a foggy San Francisco evening, dueling wood-burning ovens draw happy patrons to A16, a cozy restaurant named for the east-west motorway that links Naples to Canosa, in Puglia. Here, executive chef Nate Appleman and wine director Shelley Lindgren have been working together for some five years, sharing a passion for the honest country dishes and emerging wines of southern Italy. When their book A16 Food + Wine (Ten Speed Press; 278 pages; $35) came out, we couldn’t wait to cook from it. As we tasted our way through the Neapolitan-style pizzas, hearty pastas, slow-roasted meats, braised vegetables, and irresistible desserts, we were impressed; when we paired these dishes with the suggested wines, we were blown away.

So why did we wait until the new year to share it with you? As you’ll see, this is a cook’s cookbook; it deserves a quiet season filled with long chilly nights, the ideal time to enjoy its gutsy dishes. And before you even start to cook, you’ll want to savor the read—first to study Lindgren’s excellent wine tutorial section, then to absorb Appleman’s lessons on the likes of Burrata, “00” flour, bottarga, fresh pancetta, soffritto, and so much more.

The book is packed with insights, but the flavor pairings within the recipes themselves are the most memorable ideas you’ll take away. A sauce of pickled peppers and preserved Meyer lemon brings a bright assertiveness to grilled shrimp; ricotta and bottarga enliven a simple salad of cucumbers and almonds. Fresh marjoram, an herb that’s rarely given its due in this country, adds a heavenly aroma to the Braised Cannellini Beans with Garlic, Marjoram, and Oregano. One Sunday evening not so long ago, I prepared these beans, along with two more vegetable dishes—Roasted Butternut Squash with Pancetta and Chiles, and Roasted Beet Salad with Fennel, Black Olives, and Pecorino—both of which appear on our Cookbook Club website (registration required). I served them with a bottle of Cirò Rosso from Calabria for a relaxed supper. Everyone was warm, well-nourished, and very, very happy.

Key Ingredient: Dried Beans

If you’re used to cooking with canned beans, the flavor and texture of dried beans will be a revelation; even the color differs radically. And this, of course, makes sense: Canned beans are already cooked, so they can’t be prepared as exactingly. For the best flavor and quickest cooking times (the older beans are, the longer they take to soften), try to find the freshest dried beans possible. We like Rancho Gordo heirloom varieties (ranchogordo.com).