The day after Thanksgiving, a few years before 2008, some friends sat, eating at a pizzeria in New Haven. What struck them about the restaurant was the tone and feel of the place, something they didn’t encounter at other restaurants. They decided to open there own pizza place, even though they had little cooking experience. So began Roberta’s, one of the restaurants credited with the rise of the Brooklyn food scene. Ever since 2008, the restaurant has grown larger and larger. They’ve expanded their menu from pizzas and small dishes (cooked at the chef’s home, reheated in the restaurant’s toaster oven), to Coffee Roasted Beets, Wagyu Steak, and Orechettie with pig tail ragu. The restaurant was awarded two stars by the New York Times and chef Carlo Mirarachi opened another restaurant, Blanca, in his spare time. That restaurant, located a few blocks away, just so happens to have a couple of Michelin stars under its belt with its 27-or-so course tasting menu.
Chronicling it all is Roberta’s Cookbook which features recipes for some of the pizza, vegetables, pasta, meat, and seafood that have been served at the restaurant. After much anticipation over the book, I decided to plan a “big night” of sorts. The idea? Three pizzas and one side dish. To begin the preparation, I started the dough late Friday night which is later than book suggests. According to the cookbook, the dough should sit in the fridge for 24-48 hours. (I was close enough!)
The pizzas I chose from the book were a simple Margherita, the veggie-heavy Baby Sinclair, and the meaty Speckenwolf. My favorites would have to be the latter two, though I think I might have enjoyed the former more if I had followed the recipe exactly. I mistakingly bought crushed San Marzanos, instead of purchasing whole and then pureeing with an immersion blender. Nonetheless, it was still delicious. The Baby Sinclair, however, with it’s earthy maitake mushrooms from the R.I. Mushroom Company, is a joy to eat. While I couldn’t find the Lacinato, or Dinosaur Kale at the Farmer’s market, I did find it at Whole Foods and am certainly glad I did. Some of its leaves crisped up in the oven, while others remained delicately tender. Chiles added nice spice, though I couldn’t find the preferred Calabrian variety. Parmigiano and sharp cheddar added richness, to the otherwise deviously healthy pie.
The Speckenwolf, one of the restaurants most acclaimed pizzas, was a study in the wonder of Italian cured meats. Speck, which I had never had before, was paired perfectly with creminis, oregano, mozzarella, and red onion. The speck, like the kale, grew crisp while it’s fat oozed onto the dough. Amazing, to put it mildly.
For a side dish, I chose the intriguing Cabbage dish. With a Japanese flavor profile, the dish was by far the most adventurous of anything I cooked from the book. Using three kinds of cabbage, bok choy, turnips, apple, a compound bonito butter, and a torahs dressing; the recipe was by-far the most involved. The butter used way too much water, while the dressing was overly spicy and acidic. In the end the dish was good and stunningly beautiful, but I would be interested to cook a smaller batch to experiment (I increased the proportions by four).
The only real problem I encountered were the ingredients. In the introduction to the food section, you are told that the better ingredients you have the easier and more fun it will be to cook. To enforce this ideal, little to no substitutes are given. Finding a smoked ricotta from a specific Brooklyn purveyor is pretty hard if you don’t live in, well, Brooklyn. But I’ll tell you what the book doesn’t: With a few shortcuts, you can still have a great time cooking from this splendid book.