21 January 2010

Bottega Favorita

In 1982, Frank Stitt boarded a plane for his native Alabama announcing that he was moving to Birmingham to open a world-class restaurant. People laughed. They are not laughing now. For several years after opening Highlands Bar and Grill, Stitt drove past a fading piece of architecture emblazoned with the words “Bottega Favorita.” Designed by the architects who built the New York Public Library, the building once housed the finest department store in the South, Gus Mayer. The building had fallen on hard times, but every time Stitt passed by, “Bottega Favorita” called out to him. How often do you find a building that already has a restaurant name carved in limestone in the façade? It wasn’t long before Stitt got his building.

Frank Stitt loved Italy almost as much as he loved Alabama. Until he opened Bottega Favorita the most famous Italian chef in Alabama was Chef Boyardee. Stitt took his love for Italy and his love for the indigenous produce of Alabama and married them. I have often written of the constant repetition that happens in regional cookbooks. Stitt takes many familiar Italian dishes and reworks them into Southern classics, giving new meaning to the term Southern Italian cooking.

Bottega Favorita: A Southern Chef's Love Affair with Italian Food gives us a look into that successful marriage. There are veal cheeks paired with sweet potato, pork scaloppini with greens and Vidalia onions, ravioli with crayfish, candied lemon and Tabasco, tuna salad crostini, lamb and orzo soup with butter beans, and the list goes on. These innovative dishes are some of the reasons Frank Stitt is consistently voted one of the best chefs in the country.

Farro with Butter Beans

1 1/2 cups farro
1 1/2 cups Chicken Stock or water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 bay leaf
1 thyme sprig
1 cup fresh or frozen butter beans
A few thyme sprigs, a small celery stalk, a bay leaf, tied together with kitchen string to form a bouquet garni
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

Rinse the farro in a strainer under cold running water for a minute to remove any bitter residue. Pour the chicken stock or water into a medium saucepan, add butter, salt and pepper to taste, bay leaf, and thyme sprig, and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the farro, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes, until the farro is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed.

While the farro simmers, cook the butter beans whit the bouquet garni, in a saucepan of generously seasoned boiling water until tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain the beans, reserving 1/4 cup cooking liquid.

Gently fold the beans into the cooked farro and moisten with some of the reserved broth. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and finish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

I have shelled thousands of butter beans and never once thought, "Let's cook them up with some farro!" Now I do.

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