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Photo by David Malosh

Cookbook Author and Mad Genius Tips Host Justin Chapple Has a Secret

The Food & Wine culinary director, who comes to Denver on June 12 for a Tattered Cover cookbook signing, reveals his guilty food pleasure and the kitchen tool he can’t do without.

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Justin Chapple may have attended culinary school in New York City and worked in the Food & Wine magazine test kitchen for the past eight years, but he’s no food snob. “I love imitation krab!” he recently confessed. “There have been many times when I’m on my way home late and I’m starving, and I duck into a grocery store, buy a pack of imitation krab, and eat it straight from the package as I walk home.” It’s not the kind of thing you expect to hear from a food pro who’s written two cookbooks and translated recipes from just about every star chef in the country.

Truth is, Chapple is down-to-earth and so is his cooking. And his new book, Just Cook It! 145 Built-To-Be-Easy Recipes That Are Totally Delicious, is packed with simple recipes and brilliant tips that will inspire you to get cooking. Chapple will be at the Tattered Cover next Tuesday, June 12 for a Q&A and signing event before he heads to Aspen for the Food & Wine Classic. We caught up with him to learn more about the book and his Colorado visit; confessions galore ensued.

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5280: Have you ever been to Denver, or do you usually go straight to Aspen for the Classic?

Justin Chapple: About five years ago, a co-worker told me to stay in Denver the night before I head up to Aspen. I must admit, I asked her why. She told me that Denver is an amazing, chill city, plus you can acclimate better to the altitude if you hang out in Denver the night before. I tried it and then drove up through the hills to Aspen—that ride is so beautiful! I’ve stayed in Denver before the Classic every year since, and I’ll be doing it again next week.

Where do you like to go when you’re in Denver?

Last year, I had an incredible cocktail at Hop Alley that made a huge impact; it was served in a giant pineapple. I also love Departure [Denver Restaurant & Lounge] and am a huge fan of Gregory Gourdet.

Cover courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

What do you hope home cooks take away from your new book?

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I want readers to understand that food doesn’t have to be intimidating, and cooking shouldn’t be complicated. There’s a tag line for the book that I borrowed from Andrew Zimmern: It’s only food, so just cook it! If you mess up, it’s fine. You’re not a chef; you go to restaurants for perfect food. At home, food should just be delicious and easy and do-able every day.

Photo by David Malosh

Tell us about some of your favorite recipes in the book.

The ricotta gnudi with spinach and dukka (see photo above and recipe below) is one of my favorites, and also a recipe I’ll demo at the Classic. First of all, a lot of people don’t know what gnudi is (tender ricotta dumplings, pronounced nude-y); for those who do know, gnudi can be intimidating to make at home. But I have a few techniques that make it foolproof, including a secret tool: an ice cream scoop. The gnudi are purposefully not perfect made that way, but so delicious. I didn’t want them to be perfect, so people know that not everything needs to be. Cooking can be easy, and it can be fun.

Are there any recipes in the book with imitation krab?

Of course! There’s a super simple salad with grapefruit, avocado, and krab. You just throw it all on a plate and drizzle some juice from the grapefruit and extra-virgin olive oil on top, but it teaches you how to take something that’s low-brow and turn it into something elegant and beautiful. That’s part of having fun in the kitchen: If you create a dish that feels really special and you’re proud of it, that makes cooking fun.

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If you go: Justin Chapple will discuss and sign copies of Just Cook It! ($30) at the LoDo Tattered Cover (1628 16th St., 303-436-1070) on Tuesday, June 12 at 7 p.m. He’ll also host a cooking demo based on his book at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen on Saturday, June 16 at 2 p.m. at the St. Regis Aspen.


Ricotta Gnudi with Spinach & Dukka

HANDS-ON TIME: 30 MIN
TOTAL TIME: 45 MIN
SERVES 4

I’m gonna guess that the nonnas don’t make their pasta with a food processor and an ice cream scoop. But when it comes to the gnocchi-like dumplings called gnudi, I’m all about finding a shortcut (clearly!). The old-school method is to very gently shape the gnudi into perfect little ovals on a floured work surface, but I’m happy to scoop balls of dough right from the food processor and drop them directly into a pot of simmering water. These gnudi are big, fluffy pillows of creamy ricotta, the kind you’d find at one of my favorite New York City restaurants, the Spotted Pig. The sprinkling of dukka, an Egyptian seed-and-nut mix, really makes the dish.

2 cups whole-milk ricotta cheese
½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 large eggs
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 (10-ounce) bunch leaf spinach, stemmed, or 5 ounces baby spinach
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Pistachio-Almond Dukka (page 280) or store-bought dukka, for sprinkling

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  1. In a food processor, combine the ricotta, Parmesan, eggs, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper and puree until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and puree again. Add the flour and pulse until the flour is just incorporated. Scrape the gnudi dough into a medium bowl.
  2. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a simmer over medium heat (it should be bubbling but not rapidly boiling) and then add a small handful of salt. Using a 1½-tablespoon ice cream scoop, scoop half the gnudi dough directly into the simmering water. Simmer the gnudi until they rise to the surface, 1 to 2 minutes. Continue to simmer until the gnudi are cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes more. They should be pillowy but just firm (sacrifice 1 gnudi by cutting it in half to check the doneness). Using a slotted spoon, transfer the gnudi to a lightly oiled baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining gnudi dough. Let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes.
  3. In a large nonstick skillet, melt the butter in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the gnudi and cook until browned on the bottom, 3 to 5 minutes. Give the pan a shake and cook until the gnudi are coated in the butter mixture, about 1 minute more. Using a slotted spoon, return the gnudi to the baking sheet.
  4. In the same skillet over medium heat, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the spinach and a generous pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until just wilted, about 3 minutes. Add the gnudi and 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice and stir gently to mix.
  5. Season the gnudi and spinach with salt and pepper, then transfer to plates or a platter. Sprinkle with some Pistachio-Almond Dukka and serve.

DO IT AHEAD The cooked gnudi can be refrigerated in an airtight container overnight. Reheat them in simmering water for about 1 minute and then let stand for 10 minutes before browning them in the skillet.

Pistachio-Almond Dukka

HANDS-ON TIME: 20 MIN
TOTAL TIME: 30 MIN
MAKES 1½ CUPS

Dukka, which gets its name from the Arabic for “to pound,” is made of spices, seeds, and nuts ground into a distinctive, aromatic condiment traditionally served with bread and olive oil. I became infatuated with it when a friend brought back a little container from Egypt. I’d had dukka before, but that batch was so flavorful that I couldn’t stop thinking about new ways to use it. Sure, I sprinkled it all over olive oil–soaked bread, but then I got the genius idea to shower it over pasta, and then my homemade gnudi (page 173). To get started, try it on ricotta toast with a drizzle of honey . . . yum!

¼ cup coriander seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
½ cup shelled pistachios (salted or not)
½ cup roasted almonds (salted or not)
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

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  1. In a large skillet, toast the coriander, cumin, sesame, and caraway seeds over medium heat, shaking the pan, until fragrant and the sesame seeds are golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the seed mixture to a plate to cool.
  2. Transfer the seed mixture to a food processor and pulse until finely crushed. Add the pistachios and almonds and pulse until the nuts are finely ground. Transfer to a jar or other container with a lid. Stir in the cayenne and season the dukka generously with salt and black pepper.

DO IT AHEAD The dukka can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 month.

Ricotta Gnudi with Spinach and Dukka is excerpted from Just Cook It © 2018 by Justin Chapple. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

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