Ricki Cooks the Book – ‘wichcraft

This is the second installment in my new series wherein I take a cookbook I wanted desperately, bought, and then proceeded to stare at the pretty pictures of and not at all cook from for a good long time. And it’s the first one where I’m actually doing that, because the first installment involved a book I’d just purchased.

So I cooked from Tom Colicchio’s ‘wichcraft.  For the none of you that don’t know, Tom Colicchio is the head judge on “Top Chef”. I pretty much love him on “Top Chef.” I think he’s really smart about food, and I think he has a very clear point of view when he cooks, but I also think he’s very good about judging the cheftestants on their own terms. He tries to understand what their point of view is, and what they’re trying to accomplish with their food, and then judges them on how well they’ve lived up to that. So as embarrassed as I am to be using a “celebrity” cookbook, I do really like and respect Tom.

I have not, sadly, eaten at any of his restaurants. Because I don’t live near any. And we rarely have the breathing room, when I’m in NJ, to go into the city and go out someplace nice. Maybe soon.

In any event, this book comes out of his ‘wichcraft restaurants, where he basically crafts the best sandwiches he can make. In fact, the tagline for the book is “Craft a sandwich into a meal – and a meal into a sandwich.” And it’s done in conjunction with his ‘witchcraft dude, Sisha Ortuzar.

So I chose to make the Pork Sausage with Pickled Grilled Fennel, Ricotta, and Arugula. Here’s the recipe:


1 bulb fennel, halved and cut lengthwise into 1/4″ slices (I used two bulbs. And now, surprise surprise, I have leftovers.) (I had no idea what he meant by ‘halved’ in this context, so I just sliced them as I thought proper.)

5 tsp extra-virgin olive oil (Do I need to tell you I didn’t measure this out exactly?)

kosher salt and freshly ground pepper (Are there people who would pick up this book who don’t already know to use kosher salt and freshly ground pepper?)

2 tsp white wine vinegar (Again, did not measure exactly.)

1 lb bulk sweet Italian sausage (not in casing) (Okay, so I got “country style” sausage at my local Fresh Market. Because that’s not quite the same as Italian, I added some oregano and fennel seeds and crushed red pepper to the meat to give it some more flavor. I added too much crushed red pepper.) (Also, Tom does note – or, rather, Rhona Silverbush, who wrote the text, helps Tom note – that you can just buy links and cut the meat out of the casings. It’s not hard.)

2 cups arugula

1 tsp balsamic vinegar (Again, do I need to tell you?)

4 ciabatta rolls

8 oz ricotta cheese (And for the last time, do I need to tell you?) (Also, I bought just the regular ricotta cheese at Fresh Market. I should have held out for the homemade stuff.)

1. In a bowl, toss the fennel with some oil and salt and pepper. Then put it in a grill pan or over a grill on high heat. When it’s slightly charred (The book says one minute; it took me a lot longer than that. Then again, I was using a skillet.) remove and transfer to a bowl with the white wine vinegar. Toss and let sit for an hour or more.

2. Form sausage into four patties. Cook in skillet with a little oil, five minutes a side.

3. In a bowl, season arugula with balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.

4. Cut ciabatta rolls in half. (No, seriously, he tells you this. Man, if you don’t know “cut roll in half” is a major part of making a sandwich, I think this is not the book for you.) Place fennel on bottom. Then sausage patty. The ricotta. Then arugula. Then other half of roll. Voila! Sandwich!

So, my take? Well, for one thing, Jason, of course, needed to slather his in barbecue sauce before he liked it. For another, the ciabatta rolls I got at Fresh Market were simply too hard. I think either not ciabatta or some other bakery’s ciabatta next time. Fresh Market’s bakery has other good stuff. But not so much the ciabatta rolls.

Finally, it struck me that this was a case where this would be a better meal than a sandwich. As a sandwich, the ricotta tends to slip everywhere and maybe I didn’t cut it right, but the fennel is sort of hard to handle. If I served crumbled sausage, ricotta, pickled, grilled fennel, and arugula over pasta, that might have been tastier.

Is that just because I think everything is tastier over pasta?

Actually, you know how this would be really amazing? If I took all the ingredients, chopped them up real small, and stuffed ravioli with them.


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