“That’s just the way I wanted it,” Gabrielle Hamilton tells me when I say that her recently released cookbook Prune (Random House $45) reminds me of the Joy of Cooking my mother gave me when I was 10 and how it is now—food splotched, handwritten notes and even a cord to mark the pages. “It’s supposed to be like a family heirloom, only I’m not your grandmother.”
And the recipes are nothing like my grandmother ever cooked—at least as far as I know. Farmhouse Chicken Braised in Hard Cider, Ricotta Ice Cream with Dark Caramel Croutons, Bacon and Marmalade Sandwich on Pumpernickel Bread and Muffaletta Salad are all recipes that Hamilton uses in her famed Prune restaurant in New York's East Village. Hamilton, a tall, thin blonde and winner of the James Beard award for best chef in New York City in 2011, is known for being unconventional. The same can be said for her cookbook. After all, I’ve never run across another cookbook that had a chapter titled Garbage, but then this cookbook is partly written for home chefs and partly for her own kitchen staff.
“My parm bill is $1000 a month,” Hamilton, who is coming to Chicago, tells me. “I really just bristle when I see cooks throw things away that you can use some other way. They might be worth 85-cents, but I don’t want to waste 85-cents—the margins in the restaurant business aren’t that big.”
That’s why the rinds from Parmesan cheese aren’t tossed in the trash. Instead, in her chapter on garbage, Hamilton tells how to make a Parm Rind Broth Stracciatella with an ingredient list reading Collect from the day’s waste bins the following: 1 cup Parm broth, 2 to 3 heavy, tough dark green outer leaves of leeks from the garbage bin, well washed and sliced into thin slivers, extra yolks an extra whites. Other garbage recipes include Limp Dead Celery, Expired Heavy Cream and Zucchini Tops.
Though Prune opened 15 years ago, Hamilton waited until she thought she was ready to write a cookbook. Several years ago she published her mesmerizing memoir, Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef a New York Times bestseller which highlighted her rather dysfunctional upbringing with parents who had a love for food.
“I was flabbergasted, almost offended when I was asked shortly after opening Prune to write a cookbook,” says Hamilton about her decision to wait. “I hadn’t done anything yet. Now, I’m inundated with requests for recipes and I thought I’m just going to write a cookbook. It ended up being an archive of everything we cooked and of everything people wanted. The book is just like the recipes we keep in three ring binders—it’s like the hymnal of the church of Prune.”
At times, there’s a jarring note such as on the hamburger recipe below where there are instructions reading “Monday and Friday lunch par is 30 burgers, so order meat accordingly on Sunday and
Thursday nights. 15 is safe par for midweek. 30 burgers? But then I realized that these were Hamilton’s instructions to her kitchen staff just like one would find in the three-ring binders.
“I haven’t been in a domestic kitchen in 30 years,” she says. “I thought if I’m going to write a true cookbook, so it was me then this is how I needed to write it.”
Since Hamilton is the mother of two young sons, I ask if either of them are interested in food.
She sighs and says, “I have not been gifted with sophisticated eaters. But maybe with time.”
What: Join Gabrielle Hamilton for a four-course family style meal, inclusive of beverages, showcasing recipes from her debut cookbook, Prune
When: Saturday, November 16 at 6pm
Where: The Publican, 837 W Fulton Market, Chicago, IL
Cost: $85 per person
FYI: Contact Ashley at 312.496.0012 or email@example.com to reserve seats
The following recipes are from Prune.
Grilled Hamburger with Cheddar Cheese on Toasted English Muffin with Parsley-Shallot Butter
Yield: 4 orders
1 pound ground chuck
½ pound ground lamb
4 ounces (4 slices) sharp white cheddar, sliced
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
4 Thomas’s original sandwich-size
Parsley-Shallot Butter (see below)
Run your hands under very cold water for a minute, then gently combine the two meats.
Put parchment or film on the electronic scale before weighing, please. Divide the meat into equal portions (6 ounces each) and then gently form portions into patties that are 1¼" thick and 3" in diameter.
Season each burger all over—top, bottom, and the circumference—with ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper. Hold your hands high and “rain” the salt and pep- per.
Touch the patties as tenderly and as little as possible. The more you manhandle and compact the meat, the tougher it becomes.
On the medium-high heat section of the grill, place the burgers 2 inches apart from each other. Cook to accurate temperature. For medium rare, cook for 7 minutes on one side, flip, and cook for 5 more minutes. Do not turn, touch, press down on, or otherwise molest the burgers while they are cooking. Put burger on a sizzle plate, place cheese on top, and drop under the broiler until the cheese is just melted but not liquefied.
Split the English muffins by deeply pricking them along the horizontal seam with the tines of a dinner fork.
Toast well and generously schmear both the tops and the bottoms with the room- temperature parsley-shallot butter, “wall to wall” as we always say at Prune, so that every bite will be seasoned and not just the center ones.
Place the burgers on the bottoms and close with the buttered English muffin lids.
2 cloves garlic, peeled
¾ cup peeled and coarsely chopped shallots
2 cups picked-clean parsley leave
1 ½ teaspoon salt
1 pound unsalted butter cut into 1-inch cubes at roomish temperature
In food processor chop garlic. Add shallots and chop finely.
Add parsley and salt, process to coarsely chopped, then add butter.
Process to smooth and emerald green.
Spaghetti Alla Carbonara
5 ounces pancetta, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 ounces dried spaghetti, preferably an imported Italian brand
1 to 2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Warm two serving bowls.
Scatter the pancetta evenly in a cast-iron skillet. Cook gradually over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until much of its fat has rendered and the meat has crisped (about 10 minutes). Transfer the rendered fat and the crisped pancetta to a bowl; cover loosely to keep warm.
Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add a generous pinch of salt, then the pasta. Cook according to the package directions, just until al dente. Turn off the heat.
Combine the egg yolks (to taste) and a spoonful or two of the rendered pancetta fat in a mixing bowl. Sprinkle with black pepper until evenly, yet lightly, dusted.
Use tongs to transfer the pasta to the egg yolk mixture, letting some of the cooking water drip in as well. Stir quickly to coat the pasta, warming the yolks in the process. Season lightly with salt and the cheese.
Divide between warmed bowls.