Top Chef, Home Edition

The allure of Michael Chiarello's new cookbook

Michael Chiarello does big very well.

Indeed, his latest cookbook, Michael Chiarello's Bottega ($40), is an oversize homage to his lively Yountville restaurant.

Bottega itself may be sprawling and loaded with both locals and tourists eager for a sighting of the famous chef. The Bottega cookbook, though, is refreshingly personal, filled with charming anecdotes about Chiarello's family and staff, and black-and-white photos with off-the-cuff, handwritten captions.

Still, as with any worthy cookbook, the recipes are the draw. The book highlights representative dishes like polenta "under glass" with mushrooms and balsamic sauce, and the popular garganelli with rabbit sugo and ricotta.

There's also a handy guide to the kitchen staples that give Bottega's food its verve: roasted lemons, smoky paprika oil, salsa verde.

But this time of year we were especially taken with the contorni, aka vegetable side dishes. Inauthentic though the addition of carrot may be, the zippy eggplant-based caponata is a fine late-summer condiment.

Even better, zucchini spaghetti is a perfect use for those overgrown summer squashes. The dish, in which zucchini are cut into long, thin strips and cooked with tomato sauce, garlic and basil, is easy and quick (click here to download the recipe).

Fast, fresh food with big flavors? Works for us.