Make food approachable, enjoyable, and attractive. That's the philosophy on food and eating shared by Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli, and it's reflected in their new cookbook, The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual. The Franks, as they are known, grew up around the corner from each other, worked their way through professional kitchens, and in 2004 started Frankies Spuntino 457.
The book, cowritten by Peter Meehan, is as attractive and approachable as the small Brooklyn restaurant. The fancy trimmings—dark blue faux leather with gold-stamped print and gilded edges—suggest coffee-table status, but this Cooking Manual is really meant to gather stains on the kitchen counter.
The recipes include ingredients from leaner times in Southern Italy, like ground meat, pasta, breadcrumbs, and sardines. They are everyday comfort foods—meatballs, salads, and crostini—that soothe and satisfy. Vegetable roasting charts, detailed illustrations, and equipment and pantry guides give readers a strong dose of the Franks' combined 40 years of cooking experience. The chefs tell you what they think you need (an Atlas pasta machine) and what's nice but not necessary (a 10-inch slicing knife).
I like their quirky sense of style, from "The Frankies Crest" on the last page to their loose lips and down-to-earth attitude about food. I've made a few of the recipes and can vouch for their airy ricotta cheesecake, pine nut– and raisin-studded meatballs, and red wine–glazed prunes. But I've made better spaghetti alle vongole than their bare-bones recipe offered. What caught my eye was the Orecchiette with Pistachios. I last tasted pasta with pistachio sauce in Palermo at a cool little snack shop (also a spuntino) called Cibus. It was similar to a pesto but with fewer herbs and more nuts. I remember thinking that I wanted to make it. The Franks provided! They don't grind their pistachios as finely as the dish I had in Sicily; they coarsely chop them so that the chunks nicely tuck into the little pasta ears, bound in olive oil and pasta water. I tried their recipe a second time, this time grinding the nuts finer. The result was an unctuous, homogenous sauce—one I liked better than the original. It was a toss-up: Half of my colleagues liked one version, half the other. Whichever method you choose, make this dish. It takes a mere 25 minutes to get on the table and is delicious.
Overall, The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual is a fun guide for people of all ages and cooking levels, though it's better for newer cooks. The Franks dedicate several pages to topics like cheese, wine pairings, cooking with children, and how to grow an avocado tree. Their book is entertaining, appetizing, and informative—your go-to manual for Italian American cooking.