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Cook by the Book: The Lever House Cookbook

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What do Fergus Henderson and Charles Phan have in common? Both were trained as architects before turning to the culinary arts. I'm sure if you look, you'll find more cooks and chefs with a background in or even just a love for architecture. There are some definite commonalities between the fields. But The Lever House Cookbook published by Clarkson Potter is the first cookbook I have come across that focuses on both.

A spectacular all-glass skyscraper, the Lever House is a sleek and sophisticated building. The cookbook does not give it short shrift. The building is documented in photos and in an essay. Nor does the book ignore the philosophy of the chef, Dan Silverman. Despite the fact that this is a "restaurant cookbook" it is clearly meant for the home cook. The food philosophy section serves as a pep talk, giving you the confidence to take on the recipes. The use of seasonings and vinaigrettes is covered in detail, both of which are crucial to becoming a great home cook or chef.

Many restaurant cookbooks, while beautiful are not particularly suited to the home cook. Not so with The Lever House Cookbook. Many of the recipes have 10 - 12 ingredients, and quite a few have even less. The recipes are not for beginners, but they are not complicated nor do they require a sous chef or preparation that begins ten hours before serving a meal. The recipes are mostly confined to one page, with gorgeous photos to help you with plating. The meticulous instructions are aided by seasoned co-author Joann Cianciulli.

There are some luxury ingredients used, such as foie gras, lobster and truffles but there are also many straight-forward recipes inspired by seasonal ingredients. I can't wait to try the Cranberry-Pecan Tart in the fall and also the latest object of my affection, pork belly, the Lever version is braised with soubise, a rich white sauce enriched with butter. This book would make a fabulous gift for fans of Dan Silverman's cooking, New York or just great food.

Roasted Asparagus Salad with Shaved Manchego and Marcona Almonds
serves 4

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20 large asparagus spears (about 11/2 bunches)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 pound baby arugula, rinsed and dried
1/2 cup marcona almonds, lightly toasted
1/4 cup Sherry-Dijon Vinaigrette
(recipe follows)
4 ounces Manchego cheese, shaved

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Cut or snap off about 1 inch of the tough bottom stem of the asparagus and discard. Set aside 4 of the asparagus spears. With the remaining 16 spears, use a vegetable peeler and shave off the outer skin of the lower half of the remaining stalk, keeping the tops intact. Put these spears in a mixing bowl and coat with the oil; season with salt and pepper. Spread out the asparagus in a single layer on a sheet pan. Roast the asparagus for 10 minutes, until tender but not brown. Reserve the roasted asparagus at room temperature.

Shave the remaining raw asparagus spears into long ribbons using a vegetable peeler or mandolin. Fill a mixing bowl with ice water and soak the asparagus ribbons in it for about 5 minutes to crisp them up Put the shaved asparagus in a salad spinner or pat with paper towels to dry well.

In a large bowl, combine the arugula, shave asparagus ribbons, and almonds; season with salt and pepper. Dress the salad with about 1/4 cup of the sherry-Dijon vinaigrette (salads are best well dressed, where each leaf is filmed with vinaigrette, not drenched) Toss the ingredients gently using your hands to combine.

To serve, arrange 4 spears of the roasted asparagus on each of 4 plates. Put a large handful of the salad on top, trying to equally distribute the arugula and the goodies for each portion.

Sprinkle the shaved Manchego on top of the salads and finish off with final grind of black pepper.

Sherry-Dijon Vinaigrette
makes 3/4 cup

2 large shallots, finely diced
Generous pinch of kosher salt
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Generous pinch of freshly ground black pepper

To prepare a quick vinaigrette for the asparagus, put the diced shallots in a medium mixing bowl and sprinkle with a healthy pinch of salt. Let them sit for 5 minutes to allow the salt to draw out the water from the shallots; this will ultimately help hold together the vinaigrette. Add the mustard and vinegar and whisk with the shallots to combine. Slowly add the oil in a stream while whisking to emulsify the vinaigrette. Add a pinch of ground black pepper to balance it out. Keep any leftover vinaigrette covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

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