“My father jokes that his mother would shop for and cook an entire meal from scratch, and, as soon as she was done, she would walk out into the living room as her guests were getting ready to leave,” writes Alex Guarnaschelli, the chef at New York City’s Butter and frequent Food Network judge, in her new cookbook, The Home Cook: Recipes to Know by Heart.
Guarnaschelli’s parents were ambitious cooks and avid cookbook collectors. She writes that her mother Maria — a respected cookbook author herself — pulled from a grand culinary library that starred Julia Child, James Beard, Diana Kennedy, and Fannie Farmer when planning feasts. “Sometimes I think I became a chef just to keep up with my family!” she jokes in the book’s foreword.
Professional chefs-in-training, at least the smart ones, save recipes they learn along the way in little notebooks and on scraps of paper. The Home Cook is Guarnaschelli’s recipe file: More than 300 of her most-referenced recipes from 25 years as a professional cook. There’s a chapter for snacks (extra-crispy cheese straws, warm bar nuts, marinated Cerignola olives); dips and pickles (pickled green beans, spicy blue cheese dip); two chapters of soup (starter soups and soup for dinner, like a New England clam chowder spiked with chorizo and dill); pastas (orecchiette with bacon, lemon, and cream); chicken (chicken Marbella with dijon instead of capers, but also chicken cutlets with prosciutto and sage); one-pot wonder main courses (roast beef with dry sherry gravy); plus a whole section on baking, including breads, cakes, pies, and frozen desserts.
Unsurprisingly, butter plays a central role in many of the recipes, such as in this star side dish, a many-layered crispy potato cake. Its four ingredients — butter, potatoes, salt, and thyme — yield a gorgeously browned cake of potatoes that would make a striking accompaniment to bone marrow (which is how Guarnaschelli serves it at her restaurant), roasted chicken, or even a Thanksgiving turkey. Best of all: It can be made ahead and reheated just before serving.
Crispy Potato Cake
Serves 4 to 6
With a few ingredients and a little elbow grease, you can make something that seems fancy and exciting without breaking the bank. This giant potato cake is wonderful when cut into small pieces and topped with anything from caramelized onions to trout roe and sour cream. Cut it into larger wedges and you have a great companion to a piece of fish or a steak. This potato cake can be made a few hours ahead and reheated in a hot oven.
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
6 large Idaho potatoes, peeled
Leaves from 6 sprigs fresh thyme
1. Clarify the butter: In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat and bring it to a gentle simmer. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the butter to sit for a minute. The milk solids should start to sink to the bottom. Slowly pour the clear butter into a bowl, keeping as much of the white milky liquid as possible in the saucepan. Discard the milk solids, which are prone to burning. Keep the clarified butter warm near the stove.
2. Prepare the potatoes: Using a mandoline slicer or a sharp knife, cut all of the potatoes into thin (1/8-inch-thick) slices. Transfer them to a bowl and cover them with three-fourths of the clarified butter. Season with 1 tablespoon salt, sprinkle in the thyme leaves, and toss to coat the potatoes with the butter. Pour the remaining clarified butter into a 9-inch cast-iron skillet and swirl it around to coat the bottom and sides.
3. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
4. Assemble the potato cake: Remember that the bottom layer with be the top when you unmold this cake, so this assembling should be done with extra care. Arrange a circle of potato slices around the edge of the skillet, letting them overlap halfway, one over the other. Then make a second circle, inside the first one, of overlapping potato slices. There will likely be a third, smaller circle that makes the center of the bottom layer. Continue to layer overlapping circles until the entire bottom of the skillet is filled with potato rounds in smaller and smaller circles. Sprinkle with salt, and then repeat the circles to make a total of 5 or 6 layers. Press down gently on the potatoes to make sure they are starting to stick together and form a cake.
5. Roast the potato cake: Set the skillet over high heat and cook until the liquid starts to release from the potatoes and you can see the edges browning, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast until the potatoes feel tender in the center when pierced with the tip of a knife, 20 to 25 minutes.
Finish the potato cake: Remove the skillet from the oven and carefully pour any excess liquid into a bowl. Invert a platter over the skillet, and carefully holding them together (use oven mitts — the skillet will be hot), turn the platter and skillet over in one deft motion. Lift off the skillet and use a large metal spatula to slide the potato cake back into the skillet so it can brown on the second side. Pour the reserved liquid back into the skillet, put it in the oven, and cook for 5 to 8 minutes. Touch the top of the potatoes: they should feel hard and crispy, and the top should be golden brown. If not, return the skillet to the oven for a few more minutes of cooking. Remove the skillet from the oven, pour off any liquid, and season the potato cake with salt. Cut it into wedges like a pie, right in the skillet, and serve piping hot.
Reprinted from The Home Cook. Copyright © 2017 by Alex Guarnaschelli. Photographs copyright © 2017 by Johnny Miller. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.