I was excited to see that New York chef Sara Jenkins of Porsena and Porchetta has just come out with her own app called “New Italian Pantry.” It seems like such a natural subject and the publisher has produced a beautiful app with gorgeous photography and graphics. Too bad the content re the pantry is so sketchy. You do get some 80 recipes, though.
Jenkins has focused on 16 key ingredients for your Italian pantry. Once your cupboard is stocked with these core ingredients, she says, you have the flexibility to go to market and respond to what is freshest and most appealing -- and come home and cook. In that list, you’ll find the expected — extra virgin olive oil, dried pasta, Parmigiano Reggiano, as well as the more obscure, such as Aleppo chile pepper, salt-packed capers or bottarga.
Tap on the pantry icons to see a short video about each ingredient. Great idea. I clicked “Preserved Fish,” and up comes Jenkins sitting at a table explaining how she uses anchovies, canned tuna and bottarga. The information is very basic and her voice strains above the distracting cheesy music in the background. She describes bottarga as similar to anchovy in flavor profile, and says she likes to grate or shave it. Yes, but how is it made and where does it come from?
Whole canned tuna packed in olive oil makes an instant salad with arugula, tomato and onion. No brand recommendations. She doesn’t even specify Italian canned tuna. And re anchovies, she doesn’t recommend those from any particular region, just flat filets preserved in olive oil. You'd think she'd at least show us how to filet whole anchovies in salt.
For Aleppo pepper, she simply gives a definition and the fact that she prefers it to Italian hot peppers. Fine, but with the same distracting music and a hand shown sprinkling the red pepper over pasta. For this you need a video? The pancetta video is equally spare in its details. And why is one of the 16 ingredients "porchetta salt" she makes and sells at her restaurant? That somehow doesn't sit well.
I thought I’d learn something about Parmigiano, how it’s made, how to buy it, how to store it, etc. But no. She can’t live without it. It’s great to have it in the fridge for straight up eating or shave over fresh cooked vegetables. It’s necessary for almost all Italian pasta. But what are the different qualities? Hello, how do you buy a good Parmigiano?
Okay, so you’re not going to find out much about the ingredients. On the plus side, the food photography is exceptional and the recipes look rustic and authentic. I zeroed right in on the bistecca Chianina and the braised rabbit with lemon and rosemary. I like the idea of pan-roasted lamb chops with capers and onions and I was interested to see how she does home-style porchetta, since Jenkins’ owns a tiny place in the East Village that specializes in the traditional roasted pork sandwiches. Next time I have three or four hours at my disposal, I’m going to try her porchetta recipe.
Maybe I’m being too picky. As a $4 Italian cookbook, this app is a deal, but as a serious guide to the Italian pantry, it’s a bit thin. I’ve found more information printed on the pages of a book than is given in the flashy little videos for each ingredient.
Sara Jenkins’ New Italian Pantry (Mizaplas, Inc.) available at the iTunes store, $3.99, compatible with iOS 5.0+ for iPad 2, iPad3, and the iPad mini.