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‘To Cook Is To Love’ Is Not Your Grandmother’s Cookbook

John Verlinden's bacalaitos (salt cod fritters), empanadas de carne (beef turnovers) and platanitos (plantain chips). (Amory Sivertson/WBUR)

John Verlinden’s bacalaitos (salt cod fritters), empanadas de carne (beef turnovers) and platanitos (plantain chips). (Amory Sivertson/WBUR)

You may remember the Cuban restaurant Mucho Gusto — it was in the Fenway neighborhood in the late 90s and was headed by chef John Verlinden A.K.A. “Chef Johnny.” Mucho Gusto has long since closed, but its story and recipes live on in Verlinden’s new cookbook,“To Cook is to Love.”

Verlinden says this is not your grandmother’s cookbook. It’s like, “My Dinner with Andre” meets “The Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook” meets “The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love.”

The cookbook is inspired by his mother-in-law, who he refers to lovingly as “Mami Aida.” It’s her story that knits together this collection of recipes, photos, Cuban stories and even Cuban music.

Guest

John Verlinden, author of “To Cook is To Love” and former head chef of the restaurant, Mucho Gusto. He tweets @mucho_gusto.

Bacalaitos (Salty Cod Fritters)

Makes: About 30 small fritters

Bacalaitos are delicious little crunchy puffs of fish yumminess. Bacalao (dried and salted cod) has been a part of Caribbean cuisine for nearly 500 years dating all the way back to Colonial times. It was brought to the islands for trade by vessels from New England and Canada. Because of decreasing cod stocks in the North Atlantic, today bacalao is often made from other white fish (e.g. pollock, haddock, whiting, etc.).

Ingredients:
1 pound bacalao* (dried boned salt
codfish)
1 large onion (finely chopped)
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons parsley (finely chopped)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
pinch cayenne pepper
canola oil for frying
salt to taste
*You can find bacalao in the seafood section of many large supermarkets or in Hispanic or Italian food stores.

Instructions:
First, prepare the bacalao:
1 The day before, rinse the salt cod under cold running water. Break it into chunks, place
in a bowl and cover with water.
2 Change the water several times during the day until it is no longer salty.
3 Drain the fish, place it in a small saucepan, cover with fresh water and bring to a boil
over medium-high heat. Lower the heat and simmer 5 minutes. Drain and cool, remove
any skin or small bones missed by the processor, and flake the fish with a fork or your
fingers. It will fall into small flakes naturally.
Fritter batter:
1 Combine the onion, eggs, flour, baking powder, milk and spices in a large bowl.
2 Add the shredded codfish and parsley and mix thoroughly.
Frying:
1 In a deep fryer or in a large heavy sauce pan over medium-high heat, heat 2″ to 3″ of
oil to 350° – 375º, or until a drop of the mixture sizzles when it hits the oil.
2 Drop the fritter batter into the oil by the spoonful (use a teaspoon for appetizer-size
bacalaitos).
3 Fry the fritters, a few at a time, until they are golden on all sides.
4 Drain on paper towels and place in a warm oven until ready to serve.

Platanitos (Plantain Chips)

Makes: A big basket of chips (snacks for about 12)

Also known as “galleticas de platano verde” and “mariquitas de platano,” Platanitos have become a popular snack treat in America, rivaling potato chips and tortilla chips. As tasty as the store bought ones are, they are not nearly as good as homemade ones.

Ingredients:
4 large green plantains
canola oil for frying
salt or garlic salt

Instructions:
1 Peel the plantains.
2 Using a box grater, mandolin-type slicer or food processor fitted with a slicing blade,
slice the plantain into dozens of very thin round slices and set aside.
3 In a deep fryer or in a deep saucepan over medium-high heat, heat 4″ of oil to
350° — 375º.
4 Fry in small batches; drop the plantain slices into the oil and cook for about 3 minutes
or until golden brown and crisp.
5 Remove the chips from the oil with a slotted spoon or frying basket and drain on
paper toweling and sprinkle with salt.
6 Serve with a favorite salsa or all by themselves.


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