Cooking with Cristina 

Test-driving a new Sun Valley cookbook

How do you review a cookbook? Do you judge the usefulness of the information within? Do you "ooh" and "ahh" over the pictures? Do you marvel at the variety of ingredients? Is it organized in a clear, concise way? Can you actually cook anything out of the book?

I figured the only way to do the book justice was to cook an entire meal for guests from the recipes. So last Saturday night, using Cristina's of Sun Valley (Gibbs Smith, December 2005), I planned and executed what turned out to be one of the most exquisite meals I had prepared in a long time.

Cristina's Restaurant is a very popular restaurant with many tourists and residents, both famous and infamous, of the Blaine County resort town. Unapologetically Italian, the recently published cookbook by Cristina's chef Cristina Ceccatelli Cook is filled with photographs from Cook's Sun Valley kitchen, as well as views of the surrounding landscape and of the hills around Florence, Italy, where Cook is from. Rich colorful images in the front of the book show Cook's relatives in the old country and establish the credibility of the later photos of the dishes described within the cookbook's pages. Flipping the pages of the book gives the overall impression of perusing privileged secret family recipes from generations of one family's cooks.

I must admit I have never had the pleasure to dine at Cristina's, but I figured the next best thing was to cook some dishes from her cookbook.

I began with the recipe for artichoke dip and made two batches--one straight up and one with the crab variation. Baked in the oven and using every fresh ingredient I could find, the dishes came from the oven bubbling hot and delicious. Not for the weak of heart, this dish with parmigiano cheese, mayonnaise, sour cream, cream cheese and artichokes sits heavily and tastes heavenly.

Like any good Italian meal, mine that night spanned many hours and multiple courses. The Hungarian mushroom soup had been simmering on the stove for hours. Made with wine, paprika, sour cream, whole milk, tamari sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Italian parsley, dill and four pounds of button mushrooms, the meal would have been complete with this second course. (This second recipe is a keeper.) But I didnt' stop there.

After cleansing our palates with a fresh orange, I served up the bucatini alla carbonara, a pasta dish with onion, pancetta, garlic, white wine, parmigiano and pecorino cheeses and heavy cream. I couldn't find either bucatini or perciatelli pasta, but at the Boise Co-op I found a uniquely shaped and seemingly similar pasta as a substitute. This dish was easy to prepare and turned out delicious. While some pasta dishes are better as second-day leftovers, this dish most definitely needs to be consumed fresh (although the leftovers weren't anything to shake a stick at). For the main entree, I prepared the rack of lamb, simply marinated in olive oil, sage and rosemary with a pinch of mint, and then broiled in my oven.

Accompanied by some great Italian wines, my guests crashed at my house--which was fortuitous for them, because the next morning I went back to the cookbook and prepared the frittata with Swiss chard and onions for breakfast. Just to do it up a little more, I also prepared the breakfast gnocchi from book's breakfast chapter. Both the frittata and the gnocchi were hits.

The recipes from Cristina's of Sun Valley are easy to make using locally found ingredients. Except for the pasta, I easily found everything else I needed. There are many more recipes I'm dying to try, and if any of them come close to matching the quality of those I already tried, my future guests will be sure to come back.

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