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Happy Birthday Frank (a love letter & a budino recipe)

October 5, 2016 | Frank Bonanno

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Today is Frank’s birthday. Almost exactly four years ago, he put together an interactive recipe collection called “Party of Eight” and for the preface, producer Chris McNeal asked me to write about “the moment I fell in love with Frank.” Instead of dropping a card on Frank’s pillow this morning, I thought I’d revisit that notion of falling in love with Frank Bonanno, because it keeps right on happening. (Happy 49th, Love.)

“That Was the Moment I Fell in Love with Frank.”

Really there are three of them, these moments of falling in love with my husband in the way back when. I say it often, “that was the moment . . .” and only in years of repeating it do I realize how these instances characterize Frank Bonanno, connect me to him, and initiate not only our life together but our life together in food.

The first moment I fall in love with Frank it is 1995.  We’re working in a restaurant together, both in college, and he wants me to meet him downtown Denver for pizza on a rare day off. Our chef, Keith Josefiak, calls Frank “the finest damn grill cook ever,” but that can’t be true because Frank’s just a culinary student, and this is his externship. I intend to ask Frank about it over lunch, but when I get to Anthony’s, I’m sidetracked. Frank’s not sitting at a table waiting for me. He is, instead, in the window of the pizzeria, spinning a crust. I’m on the sidewalk enamored by the flour dusted person on the other side of the glass and when I sit across from him, I never manage to talk about work or ask about his background. I am crushed on a man who has somehow found a way to cook for me on our first meal in a restaurant together.

The second moment of falling in love, we are mostly a couple. It’s three in the morning and I am sleepless with stress from student teaching. I wake Frank—who’s just landed his first executive chef gig—and he has a meditation for stress. He asks if I want to borrow the meditation (that’s what he says, “borrow my meditation, Jacqueline”) and he talks me through imagining, in precise detail–from the scent of its flesh to the blemishes on its tunic to the dirt clinging to exposed and freckled roots–a Vidalia onion. At the end of the meditation, he says “you can also use a Yukon Gold potato. I have a Gala apple, too, but I really think the Vidalia onion is the best.” His eyes are closed, picturing these things, he is very sincere and I am wrapped in his arms, falling asleep to Frank’s world of onions and potatoes and apples.

In the final moment of falling in love that I share, it is Christmas Eve and I am in New Jersey meeting Frank’s family. Frank will utterly abandon me this night, leave me spinning  to his father, his four siblings, their spouses, their children —while he and his mother cook dinner for 22 people. That meal lingers in our relationship, defines it in many ways. Decadence (illegal caviar in tubs the size of small fish bowls, Cuban cigars in the snow); Community (of wine and cocktails punctuated with wailing and fighting and laughing out loud); Bounty (oh beautiful food); and the Seeming Effortlessness of a Grand Meal Shared with Those You Love.

In the time Frank Bonanno’s been in my life, he’s fathered ten and a half restaurants, two sons, a cookbook, an icookbook, a television series and a blog. I am lucky enough to partner with him on all of those endeavors, but even luckier still to have this life–this life of Decadence, Community, and Bounty that comes from knowing and loving and battling and partnering and parenting with one who is truly, passionately obsessed. Effortless, though, it is not, but . . .

with Frank, it often seems to be.

I’m going to post Frank’s chocolate budino recipe here as well. I’ll call it Birthday Budino, because everyone should have a happy chocolatey day today in honor of Frank Bonanno’s  nearly-fiftieth!!

Chocolate Birthday Budino

Serves 8

 

A note: This recipe couldn’t be simpler to execute. The key is in the whisking.

 

Another note: Do you know how to make basic whipped cream? Use an electric mixer to whip 1 cup heavy cream to stiff peaks—whip in 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or your favorite liqueur—a coffee liqueur would be nice for this dish; Irish cream is lovely on anything), plus 1 tablespoon powdered sugar. Double the batch  to cover this budino.

 

Ingredients

3 cups milk

4 Tbsp cornstarch

1 cup cream

½ cup sugar

½ cup cocoa powder

2 eggs

2 egg yolks

10 ounces chocolate chips

 

 

Tools

Large heavy bottom pot; whisk; small bowl; rubber spatula; 8”x8” baking pan. Eight small bowls; serving spoon; whipped cream.

 

Process

  1. In your large pot, whisk together about 1/8 cup of the milk into the cornstarch. Whisk in remaining milk and cream; set over a medium flame. Whisk in cocoa powder and sugar.
  2. Continually whisk until the pudding starts to set up—5-6 minutes. Whisk in the whole eggs, one at a time. Continue to whisk; add in the yolks.
  3. Turn heat off. Whisk in chips until they’ve fully melted.
  4. Pour mixture into brownie pan; cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate 3 hours—or overnight.

 

To Serve

Cover the pan with a healthy layer of whipped cream; set the bowls and serving spoon nearby.

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