“Adventures in Comfort Food,” published by Page Street Publishing, features recipes beloved by diners of Café Miranda, now in its 22nd year.
“I want to see spaghetti stains,” Altiero said. “I want to see fingerprints and dog-eared corners. That’s the kind of stuff that makes a good cookbook.
“I think people will use this book. These are useful, everyday recipes. It’s a real life cookbook for real people.”
Consider the “Components” section, which includes recipes for a spice mixture, condiments, white bean ragout and black bean ragout among others.
In the introduction to components, Altiero states, “Cooking from scratch is overrated. Did everyone’s eyebrows just go up? What I mean is that every meal shouldn’t be made from the rawest of raw materials.
“Having some components made up ahead and stored in the fridge or freezer means that you can put together a complex meal in a much more efficient way. You don’t always have time to stew beans or caramelize onions for a weeknight dinner, but you can do big batches on the weekend.”
Altiero is passionate about food and cooking, which he attributes to growing up in an Italian-American and Polish-American household in Shenandoah, Pa.
“The way we run a restaurant is not a whole lot different from the way my Italian grandmother ran the family kitchen,” he said.
Numerous dishes can be put together by keeping staples around such as onion, celery, garlic, oil and vinegar, Altiero said, rattling off recipes for White Bean Ragout, Bolognese sauce or Lamb Wowie.
The book also includes recipes for starters, soups and salads, pasta, vegetables and sides, dinners, bread, pizza and sandwiches and party food.
Café Miranda was built around a wood-fired oven. In goes pizza and bread, but almost everything else too, including vegetables, casseroles and soups.
“…Almost everything benefits from a dose of high heat,” Altiero wrote in his introduction. “Your home oven, cranked up, can create the same effect, while leaving your stovetop and your hands free for other things.”
Altiero launched the writing of a cookbook with freelance writer Katherine Gaudet at the urging of Café Miranda customers.
What appeals to Café Miranda customers is they can take their 8-year-old child, 80-year-old mother and their sophisticated friend from Paris and all can find a dish to enjoy.
Café Miranda is known of putting a twist on comfort food. “Give it the Miranda spin while being true to the original intent,” Altiero said.
Many Café Miranda favorites, including a few new recipes Altiero created just for the cookbook, can be found within “Adventures in Comfort Food.”
Lobster Mac ’N Cheese, Roasted Broccoli, Corn and Blue Cheese Soup, Bulb of Garlic Appetizer are all in the book.
Altiero calls a recipe for Swamp Chop, which he created while working on the cookbook, similar to a deconstructed gumbo.
He found in his fridge parcooked risotto, a jar of pickled hot peppers, frozen okra, a center-cut pork chop and some tomatoes.
“There are no leftovers, only ingredients,” Altiero wrote in the recipe notes. “This meal turned out to be a keeper. A kicky tomato-pepper sauce flavors the meat and the okra risotto isn’t as strange as it sounds.”
But there were more reasons beyond the customers’ requests for putting together a cookbook.
“It gives us some legitimacy in the food history of Maine,” said Altiero. Café Miranda has the oldest continuous wood-fired oven in the state. “Doing a cookbook is also cementing the legacy of this place.”
Altiero credits his staff taking the reins, making it possible for him to spend time over 18 months putting the book together.
“What I try to do with the book is illustrate what is happening with the product,” Altiero said. Instead of giving a precise time for cooking mussels, it says when the mussels open, they’re done.
“It isn’t about esoteric ingredients and ridiculous production,” Altiero said. “I think it makes a great gift for the interested home cook.”
Seared Scallops in Asian Broth, recipe courtesy of Kerry Altiero, Café Miranda
½ cup fish stock or canned clam juice
2 Tbsp. bamboo shots marinated in chili oil (available at Asian markets)
4 leaves of Thai basil
2 scallions, sliced on the bias
Heat 9-inch cast iron skillet on high heat
Oil the scallops just to coat and place on skillet. Let the first side brown well. The scallops’ interiors should stay cool to the touch. Do not flip them. “Just get that brown caramelization thing happening and remove from the heat,” Altiero said. “It should take four minutes or so.”
In a 3-quart nonreactive saucepan, warm the fish stock to just short of boiling. Then remove the saucepan from the heat and add the bamboo shoots and basil. Turn out this mixture onto a bowl. Place the scallops seared side upon top of the mixture. Sprinkle with the scallions. Squeeze the lemon over and toss the wedge into the bowl. Serve with a flat-bottomed Asian soup spoon and a pair of chopsticks.