The genuine article: A new cookbook from chef Michael Schwartz

 

Chef Michael Schwartz shares fan-favorite recipes and his belief that everyone deserves good food in a new cookbook

By Nancy Ancrum | nancyancrum@MiamiHerald.com

Michael Schwartz devotees know the names by heart, and they’re all there — almost: the crispy sweet and sour pork belly with kimchi and crushed peanuts, the shrimp and chorizo pizza, the onions stuffed with ground lamb, the milk-chocolate cremoso with espresso parfait.

Schwartz — the game-changing chef who staked an early claim in Miami’s Design District, who helped free South Florida cuisine from the ubiquitous mango, who last year won a James Beard Award and who is putting his notoriety to work on behalf of farmers, schoolchildren and inner-city food shoppers — shares fan favorites in his first cookbook.

About the only thing missing from Michael’s Genuine Food: Down-to-Earth Cooking for People Who Love to Eat by Schwartz and JoAnn Cianciulli (Clarkson Potter, $35) is his crispy hominy with chile and lime. It’s an unfortunate omission for those who love it at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, but one made with their best interests in mind.

“It’s very dangerous to make at home,’’ Schwartz says. “Any time you deep-fry at home, there’s oil splattering all over the place. It’s crazy.’’

Schwartz, 46, really is all about health and well-being. His commitment is evident on his menu, on the street and in his business practices. He provides his employees with health insurance – not an easy thing for an independent restaurateur to do.

He’s not secretive about the sources of his incredibly fresh ingredients, as many as possible secured from local or in-state farmers and producers. The more business they get, he figures, the better the chances they’ll be able to keep producing.

That belief propelled him from behind the stove of his wildly successful restaurant into the forefront of food-access issues in South Florida and beyond.

“It’s common sense,’’ Schwartz says. “As we started to forge relationships with farmers and suppliers, we noticed that a lot of that stuff was inaccessible. It was better for the farmers and producers to start sharing that information with the restaurant community.’’

Getting involved

Then came his involvement with Wholesome Wave and Roots in the City.

Wholesome Wave is a national not-for-profit organization founded by Michel Nischan, executive chef of the Dressing Room in Westport, Conn., and the son of displaced farmers. Its goal is to eliminate “food deserts’’ in communities where fast-food restaurants grow like kudzu while stores selling affordable, fresh produce are scarce.

Wholesome Wave came up with a way to double the value of food stamps when recipients use them to buy locally grown fruits and vegetables. The program operates in more than 20 cities, and Schwartz helped to bring it here.

“I read a piece about it The New York Times,’’ he says. “It was fascinating, such a simple premise that makes everybody happy: the government, the farmers who want to sell and the people who don’t have access to fresh products because it’s expensive.’’

In Miami, the initiative is called Roots in the City, and operates through a twice-weekly farmers market in Overtown.

It’s just one piece of Schwartz’s involvement with the Miami neighborhood. Like a number of other local chefs, he has “adopted” a school — in his case Overtown’s Phillis Wheatley Elementary. He and the kids plant vegetables, cook nutritious meals and practice healthy habits he hopes will last their lifetimes.

“It’s exciting that the kids can have a learning lab – and turn around and eat it,’’ says Penny Parham, food and nutrition director for Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

“And it’s invigorating our staff. Every day they are working hard to prepare lunch at our schools and have fun with it for the kids.’’

Schwartz and fellow Beard Award winner Michelle Bernstein (Michy’s, Sra. Martinez) were on hand in November when First Lady Michelle Obama came to town on behalf of the White House’s Chefs Move to School initiative.

“It’s amazing how much weight chefs can pull in terms of bringing attention to a program like that,” says Schwartz, who has three children with his wife, Tamara.

“When you attach a name to it, people can get their arms around it. When I got into the business 31 years ago, that wasn’t the case.’’

Actually, when Schwartz started in the business, he didn’t know he wanted to be in it. He was 16 when he became a busboy at a Northern Italian restaurant in Philadelphia. He began prepping ingredients in the kitchen and worked his way up to line cook.

“That experience had a big impact,’’ he says. “It was very authentic. I learned how to make pasta from the little old Italian ladies who didn’t speak English. Going back to 1980, the things they were doing were very innovative, using radicchio, making tomato sorbet and Parmesan ice cream.’’

Raising the game

After making a name for himself on South Beach (Nemo, Big Pink), Schwartz opened Michael’s Genuine in 2007, and a year later, The New York Times named it one of the nation’s 10 best new restaurants.

It became a celebrity magnet, though Schwartz says it’s not a celebrity hangout. (“We’ve got a specific vibe, very low-key,’’ he says. “Some of them seek out a better dining experience — without the pomp and the fabulous.’’) And it became a little harder for locals to get a reservation before 10 p.m.

“Expectations are a scary thing,” Schwartz says. “We really had to raise our game.’’

He and his staff raised it high enough to garner him a James Beard Award last year as best chef in the South.

“The award is truly symbolic of how well-respected he is for the kind of cooking practices and creativity that he has brought,” says Susan Ungaro, president of the James Beard Foundation, which celebrates and aims to preserve America’s diverse culinary heritage.

“He certainly has a big personality. Clearly when you look at his menu, you see inventiveness, but it’s also approachable.’’

Schwartz, who opened a Michael’s Genuine in Grand Cayman last summer, launches his cookbook Saturday night at Books & Books in Coral Gables. That morning he appears on CBS’ The Early Show, and on Friday he does The Martha Stewart Show on the Hallmark Channel.

But first, on Thursday night, he’ll cook a sold-out dinner at the James Beard House in New York.

He’ll be serving his hallmarks – chicken liver and caramelized onion crostini, pork belly and kimchi, slow-roasted pork shoulder with Anson Mills grits, jumbo lump crab cake in carrot sauce and, yes, that crispy hominy that sends the oil flying.

If you go

What: “Michael’s Genuine Food” potluck party and signing

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: Books & Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables

Cost: Free

Contact: 305 442-4408, www.booksandbooks.com

Main Dish

Fettuccine Carbonara With Crisp Bacon and Poached Egg

Pasta bathed in butter, oil, eggs, bacon and cheese—it’s a rich dish but enjoy it; you don’t eat this every day.

1 pound dried fettuccine

1 tablespoon white vinegar

4 large eggs

1/4 pound bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 shallot, minced

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Chopped fresh chives

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta, and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until tender yet firm (al dente).

Meanwhile, fill a wide pot with 2 inches of water and add the vinegar. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Carefully crack 1 egg into a small cup and gently pour it into the water. Add a second egg and poach for about 2 minutes, until the whites are just cooked and the yolks are still soft. With a slotted spoon, transfer the eggs to a plate and blot with paper towels. Repeat with remaining eggs.

Set a deep skillet over medium heat. Fry bacon until crisp, about 4 minutes. Add oil, butter, garlic, and shallot, and sauté for 1 minute to soften.

Drain the pasta well, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Add the fettuccine to the skillet and toss well for 1 minute to coat it and create a thick, creamy sauce. Thin sauce with reserved pasta water, if needed. Sprinkle on Parmesan and toss again. Season with salt and pepper.

Mound the fettuccine in 4 warm bowls and set a poached egg on each. Garnish with chives. Pass more grated cheese at the table. Makes 4 servings.

Source: Adapted from “Michael’s Genuine Food” (Clarkson Potter, $35).

Per serving: 707 calories (30 percent calories from fat), 22.7 fat (8.9 g saturated fat, 9.2g monounsaturated fat) 213 mg cholesterol, 33.6 g protein, 88 g carbohydrates, 3.6 g fiber, 662 mg sodium.

Dessert

Milk Chocolate Cremoso With Espresso Parfait

This silky, pudding like dessert is drizzled with olive oil for an unexpected pop of flavor. Use the best-quality chocolate — Valrhona, Lindt and Scharffen Berger are premium chocolates I like.

Cremoso

10 ounces milk chocolate, finely chopped

11⁄3 cups heavy cream

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

3 large egg yolks

Espresso Parfait

1 1⁄3 cups heavy cream

1⁄3 cup confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 tablespoons brewed espresso, cooled

Garnish

1⁄3 cup chopped hazelnuts, toasted

Extra-virgin olive oil

Coarse sea salt

6 thin slices sourdough bread, toasted

To make the cremoso, put the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl. Combine the cream and sugar in a pot over medium heat and bring to a boil. In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks until slightly thick. Whisking constantly, slowly add the hot cream to the egg yolks. Do not add it too quickly or the eggs will scramble. Return the eggs to the pot and whisk over medium-low heat until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 2 minutes; do not boil.

Pour the hot mixture over the chocolate and whisk until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Cover and chill until firm, at least 6 hours or, even better, overnight. (Can be prepared a day or two in advance to this point.)

To make the parfait, whip the cream with the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla to soft peaks. Gently fold in the espresso and spoon into 6 small (3- to 4-ounce) ramekins. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze for at least 1 hour or up to overnight.

To serve, set aside about 2 teaspoons hazelnuts for garnish; divide the remainder among 6 dessert plates. Dip a metal tablespoon into hot water for a couple of seconds. Wipe the spoon dry and run it along the cremoso to make a long wave that barrels over itself.

Spoon the cremoso on top of the hazelnuts. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Top each serving with a slice of sourdough toast, and set a ramekin of the parfait on the side. Sprinkle with the reserved nuts. Makes 6 servings.

Source: Adapted from “Michael’s Genuine Food” (Clarkson Potter, $35).

Per serving: 586 calories (70 percent calories from fat), 47 g fat (26.2 g saturated fat, 15.7 g monounsaturated fat) 253 mg cholesterol, 8.9 g protein, 34.8 g carbohydrates, 1.6 g fiber, 236mg sodium.

Main Dish

Roasted Sweet Onions Stuffed With Ground Lamb and Apricots

The fruit plays off the rich gaminess of the lamb and the spices add a subtle background flavor in this Moroccan-inspired dish. Serve for a weeknight dinner with a green salad and basmati rice or as a starter for a dinner party. The best part is that you can prep the onions ahead and just pop them in the oven before dinner. Sweet!

4 medium Vidalia onions

1 1/2 cups chicken stock

1/2 cup dried apricots (about 16), diced

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

1/2 pound ground lamb

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

3 or 4 shakes hot sauce

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh mint

2 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs

Arugula leaves

Without peeling the onions, cut about 1 inch off the top of each and just enough off the bottoms so they stand upright. (Reserve tops and discard bottoms.) Remove all but the outer two layers of each onion by scooping out the centers with a spoon or melon baller. Finely chop the scooped-out onion. Place the onion shells and tops in a baking dish, and set aside.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. In a small pot, heat the stock, apricots and zest over medium heat. Simmer until apricots are plump and liquid is reduced to 1/2 cup, about 10 minutes.

Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add the chopped onions and cook until soft, about 12 minutes. Add the lamb, cinnamon and cumin. Raise heat to medium-high, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the lamb is crumbly, 7 or 8 minutes. (Do not drain the rendered fat; you need it for moistness.)

Remove pan from heat and stir in apricot mixture with its liquid, the hot sauce, parsley and mint. Let cool slightly. (Can be made ahead to this point and refrigerated, covered.)

Spoon the lamb mixture into the hollowed-out onions, pressing with your hands to pack it in, and mound it over the onions. Sprinkle the bread crumbs on top and dot with the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Cover the pan tightly with foil and bake 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue to bake for 10 minutes, until the bread crumbs are brown. Serve immediately with a few leaves of arugula on the side. Makes 4 servings.

Source: Adapted from “Michael’s Genuine Food” (Clarkson Potter, $35).

Per serving: 433 calories (60 percent calories from fat), 29.3 g fat (15.3 g saturated fat, 9.8 g monounsaturated fat) 82.4 g cholesterol mg, 14.6 g protein, 29.9 g carbohydrates, 4.4 g fiber, 697 mg sodium.

A chef’s advice for home cooks

Michael Schwartz is adamant: “Good food is the secret to good food.”

No fancy techniques or expensive equipment necessary.

“There are no secret weapons in my arsenal,’’ he says. “Sea salt, great olive oil, great pepper.’’

Here’s his advice for home cooks:

“Cook. I could stop right there and say cook, just cook.

“Shop well, follow recipes – especially men, read through the recipe.

“I know a lot of cooks don’t like to do that, but to take your game to the next level. … It builds your confidence. Once you have confidence, you can create and improvise.’’

Nancy Ancrum

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