David Kinch, whose restaurant empire includes the Michelin three-star Manresa in Los Gatos, California, had a 2021 cookbook in the works, before COVID-19 struck, centered around parties he’d throw.
“The working title of the book was ‘Tuesday Nights Off,’ but that became obtuse with people stuck in their houses,” Kinch says.
It became “At Home in the Kitchen: Simple Recipes From a Chef’s Night Off” (Penguin Random House; $35) and was released on Tuesday. With co-author Devin Fuller, Kinch shares go-to recipes with attitude.
His grilled cheese is made with both Gruyère and tallegio and refrigerated with a weight on top before cooking to compress the resulting sandwich. (He keeps some in the fridge for late-night snack emergencies.) A chapter on condiments and pantry staples features “roast shallots in space,” so named because they are suspended on foil away from the hot pan while they roast. His arsenal of stocks includes chicken, chickpea, and Parmesan, and he adds pomegranate seeds to guacamole.
“Our mantra for the book was ‘Don’t be dogmatic,’ ” Kinch says. “Each recipe has six or seven ingredients, and you don’t have to order anything from Amazon, which became more important during the pandemic.”
His most irreverent recipe focuses on the most classic of pasta sauces: basil pesto. Kinch has developed an obsession with Italy’s Mediterranean-facing region Liguria, which he says reminds him of home in Santa Cruz, California.
“As such, I’ve given my California take on a Ligurian pasta a lot of thought,” he writes in the book. “Along the Italian Riviera, chefs add potatoes and green beans. In California, I add avocados.”
Kinch’s combination sounds like a disaster. In fact, it’s brilliant, like an ominous blind date that leads to love.
The cubes of avocado melt slightly into the pasta, enhancing the creaminess and emphasizing the garlic. “Everything works – even the color works,” says Kinch, who got the idea from a Peruvian chef he met. When you do get the odd bite of avocado, it’s a refreshing and fruity reminder that it’s in the mix. But it’s not overpowering.
If you learn one thing from this recipe, though, Kinch wants it to be pesto. He believes “it’s the greatest sauce in Italian cuisine” and strongly advises people to make their own with a mortar and pestle.
Before he opened his Riviera-inspired restaurant Mentone in Aptos, Calif., in 2020, he traveled to Italy where he met Roberto Panizza, whom he calls “the godfather of pesto.” Panizza, he says, “recounted the heartbreak of watching his grandmother prepare pesto using a blender.”
At the risk of breaking both Panizza’s and Kinch’s hearts, I used a food processor and was delighted with my pesto, which made summer feel even closer than it is. Kinch also reluctantly signs off on using a store-bought version, “as long as you know it’s delicious.”
Pasta With Pesto and Avocado
Recipe adapted from “At Home in the Kitchen: Simple Recipes From a Chef’s Night Off,” by David Kinch and Devin Fuller
½ cup pesto (recipe follows) or your favorite store-bought variety
1 pound spaghetti, trofie, bucatini or tagliatelle
1 ripe avocado, peeled, seeded and cut into ½-inch pieces
Finely grated Pecorino Romano, for serving (optional)
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt to taste.
Scoop the pesto into a bowl large enough to hold the pasta.
Add the pasta to the boiling water and follow the package instructions to cook to al dente. Just before it’s finished cooking, ladle ¼ cup of the pasta water into the pesto and stir to thin. Don’t worry if the pesto looks too thin: The sauce will thicken from the pasta starch. Reserve an additional 1 cup of pasta cooking water.
Drain the pasta and stir into the pesto, adding some reserved pasta water if needed to get a good consistency on the sauce. When the pasta is coated, gently stir in the avocado. Finish with a pinch of salt. Divide among four bowls and serve immediately, garnishing with Pecorino if desired.
Yield: 4 servings
Recipe adapted from “At Home in the Kitchen”
1 clove garlic
3 tbsp. pine nuts
Flaky sea salt
2 cups lightly packed basil leaves and stems
½ cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
½ cup finely grated Pecorino Romano
¼ to ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
If using a food processor, pulse the garlic, pine nuts and a pinch of salt until a paste forms. Add the basil and pulse until smooth. Add the cheeses, turn the machine to low, and drizzle in the olive oil until the pesto transforms from a paste to a sauce.
Use immediately or cover with ½ inch of oil and refrigerate for up to 6 months – or until it’s time to make another batch.
If using a mortar and pestle, first cool them in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Combine the cheeses.
In the mortar, mash the garlic clove with a pinch of sea salt to form a paste. Add pine nuts and begin stirring the pestle aggressively, forcing the ingredients up the side of the mortar to form a paste. Add the basil in small handfuls, thoroughly crushing and breaking up the leaves and stems.
Add the cheese mixture in small spoonfuls. Slowly add the olive oil, stirring and pounding so the pesto transforms from a paste to a creamy sauce.
Use immediately, or add ½ inch of oil to cover and refrigerate for up to two weeks.
Yield: About 2 cups
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