Cooking with Luca: A MasterChef's Italian Kitchen

by sockii

Luca Manfe was the winner of Season 4 of MasterChef US. Find out more here about his 2014 cookbook: does he prove he truly is a "Master Chef"?

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a huge fan of the MasterChef cooking competition. I've watched the show avidly every season, I post recaps and reviews, I've actually gone to two casting calls and of course, every season I have a favorite "cheftestant" that I want to see win it all!

Luca Manfe was my favorite in season four, so I was thrilled when he ended up winning the title after a rocky start in the MasterChef kitchen. Born in Italy, then managing a restaurant in New York, Luca had been turned down for the competition in season three only to come back determined to win again the next year. He stayed out of much of the drama that goes on between contestants and seemed to be a genuinely "nice guy"--plus, his Northern Italian-centric cooking style really appealed to me and spoke to the kind of food I also enjoy cooking at home.As in most past seasons, part of Luca's prize was the publication of his very own cookbook.

But would it meet my picky expectations? I had been disappointed by MasterChef cookbooks in the past, so I waited until I could pick up a copy of Luca's book My Italian Kitchen: Favorite Family Recipes in a store to preview it. What I saw just looking through it in a few minutes convinced me I had to buy it!

For some timenow I have been enjoying exploring and trying out his recipes with consistently excellent results. Luca has managed to put together a fabulous collection of recipes that are true to his Italian heritage and allow just about any home chef to "elevate" their cooking in simple yet effective ways. I heartily recommend it to anyone who would like to try some new things, and learn some tricks to make food that looks like it came out of a fancy Italian restaurant in your home kitchen.

MasterChef Season 4: The Finale

Luca wins the trophy -- and the cookbook deal!

Recipes I've made from Luca's cookbook

Luca's "Favorite Family Recipes" may become some of mine as well!
Ricotta, honey and pine nut crostini.
Ricotta, honey and pine nut crostini.
Beet, Goat Cheese, and Pistachio Crostini.
Beet, Goat Cheese, and Pistachio Cros...
Gorgonzola, roasted pepper and balsamic glaze crostini.
Gorgonzola, roasted pepper and balsam...
Mushroom and fontina crostini.
Mushroom and fontina crostini.
Prosciutto-wrapped figs with goat cheese.
Prosciutto-wrapped figs with goat che...
Bean, pancetta and radicchio soup.
Bean, pancetta and radicchio soup.
Clams and mussels in a white wine broth.
Clams and mussels in a white wine broth.
Beet and goat cheese risotto topped with pistachios.
Beet and goat cheese risotto topped w...

"My Italian Kitchen: Family Favorite Recipes"

Details about Luca's cookbook

In My Italian Kitchen, Luca really shows off his Northern Italian roots in a collection of over 60 authentic and unique recipes. Originally from the Friuli region of Italy, Luca presents many recipes that are typical of the region as well as Venice, just to the south: Sweet-and-sour sardines, Fried mixed seafood, Venetian-style calf's liver, Cotechino sausages with sauerkraut, and Frico: a humble dish of potatoes and cheese and one of the dishes Luca made while on MasterChef which is included in this cookbook.

Along with his recipes, Luca shares stories of what it was like to be on MasterChef which make for fun reading for a dedicated fan like me! There are forward words from MasterChef judges Gordon Ramsay and Joe Bastianich, a glossary of Italian words and ingredients, and also tips on ways to make variations on several dishes to explore the flavor combinations in different ways.

Some of these recipes may seem exotic or daunting to chefs used to more "Americanized" Italian food, but don't worry: the ingredients required are generally not that unusual or hard to find, and Luca includes very detailed, easy-to-follow instructions on how to make them.

The recipes in the cookbook are divided into 8 categories typical of Italian cuisine:

1. Crostini: toasted sliced bread with various meat, cheese and vegetable toppings. These are great small bites to prepare before a meal and perfect for a party or entertaining; things like Mushroom and fontina crostini and Tomato, mozzarella and spicy salame bruschetta.

2. Tramezzini: traditional small Italian "tea sandwiches", popular in bars and cafes. These are perfect for light, simple lunches or parties but elevated from basic bread-and-meat combos: Shimp in pink sauce tramezzino, for instance, or Turkey, gorgonzola and walnut tramezzino.

3. Antipasti: appetizers and small bites such as Prosciutto-wrapped figs with goat cheese and Baked scallops au gratin.

4. Primi: Traditional Italian first courses, here Luca shares several soup and risotto recipes that are hearty enough to make a meal on their own like Bean, pancetta and radicchio soup and Asparagus and lemon risotto.

5. Pasta: a self-explanatory category! Although typically a primi in Italy, Luca devotes and entire chapter to this personal favorite, including making your own Spinach gnocchi from scratch or preparing his mother's recipe for Lasagna.

6. Secondi: Second courses are the focus here, including restaurant-quality dishes that you can make at home like New York Strip Steak with Vanilla Sauce and Pancetta-wrapped shrimp with zucchini puree.

7. Contorni: Side dishes to make a meal complete such as Roasted brussels sprouts with bacon and Sauteed mixed mushrooms.

8. Dolci: Who doesn't love dessert! Luca shares how to make Italian classics like Chocolate Salame and Zabaglione, and also his unusual Caprese Panna Cotta which was part of his final winning meal on MasterChef!

Again, some of the recipes may sound unusual or challenging to someone used to more basic, Italian-American fare. That's what makes this a wonderful cookbook if you are a home chef looking to "elevate" or expand your ideas of what Italian food is really like! You might feel risotto or homemade pasta is too difficult to make at home, but it really isn't. And with Luca's careful instructions, you'll build confidence about trying new things and even exploring flavor combinations you might not be used to. Honestly I seriously hope this is only Luca's first cookbook, and not his last! He has far too much good information to share with home cooks not to continue writing, cooking, and sharing with us all.

Orecchiette with zucchini, ricotta and mint.
Orecchiette with zucchini, ricotta an...
Roasted brussels sprouts with bacon.
Roasted brussels sprouts with bacon.

Watch Luca make "My Mother's Meatballs"

One of the recipes from his cookbook in action!

What do you think of Luca's cookbook?

Have you gotten your copy of "My Italian Kitchen" yet?

Not up to cooking these dishes yourself?

Not to worry: you can actually book Luca to cook them for you! Visit his official website for more information on having your own "Dinner with Luca"!


Some of my other MasterChef articles

MasterChef US Season 4: Where are they now?
Where are the rest of the MasterChef season 4 contestants today? Who has continued to pursue their dreams in the food and cooking world, and who has gone back to their "day jobs"?

MasterChef US 2013: Season 4
My overview of Season 4 of the popular cooking competition. More about each of the contestants, polls to share your opinions, and links to my weekly recaps.

Is MasterChef US Ageist?
Is MasterChef really about finding the best home cooks in America? Or is it really about finding the most marketable young chefs they can promote? Read my analysis and decide for yourself!

Updated: 04/19/2015, sockii
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