Archive | May, 2008

Perfetto Primavera

29 May

Has Lidia ever changed your dinner plans?

The Harbor Meets The Hudson

She’s a dangerous lady to watch when you’ve only got tentative dinner plans, trust me. That’s just the situation I found myself in on Sunday. Earlier in the day I had gone for a really long run, and then Isaac and I had gone on a not so long walk, but either way, I was sore, and tired, and felt that I had earned a kip on the couch.

Tugboat

But there was Lidia, back in Maremma, my favorite place in Italy, and dastardly lady that she is, she was making pasta with ceci and spinach, my favorite food in the world (pasta) combined with my favorite legume (chickpeas). And then, right after that, she made swiss chard with magic Tuscan beans. It was too much. Our dinner plans had to change.

Birdbath

I peeled myself off the couch and trotted off to the Korean bodega a few blocks away. I grabbed chard, and since I am often indecisive (and greedy) a can of ceci and a can of canellini beans, because, even as I was watching the show, the two separate recipes were combining into one.

Koi

We ate a lot of Italian food this weekend. We had been hoping to get away for the holiday, but for a number of reasons, that didn’t happen. So, we stuck around and indulged in the relative quietude the city sometimes offers on this first weekend of “summer.”

Tom Otterness Tableau

We went to Hearth for dinner on Saturday night for no reason other than we could. Wait, that’s not 100% true. We went to Hearth on Saturday night because the food is awesome and we could score a perfect reservation with no trouble. Our meal gave me a new faith in sauces and dressings. And then we breakfasted on the antipasti platter and a perfect pizza on Sunday at Adrienne‘s. And then on Monday night I whipped up my own “pizza” to go with a delightful salad (hopefully more on that pizza another time, because it was awesome).

V. Ponte & Sons

And even after all that, I still think this pasta was the highlight of the weekend’s eats. It’s such an earthy, honest and goshdarnit, delicious dinner. Oh, and it’s easy and quick to make, too.

Umberto Brothers Storage

This recipe is perfect for busy moms with too many nearly grown men nipping at her heels, hounding her about dinner. It’s also perfect for the newbie entertainer that’s having his first dinner party and wants to impress the ladies but is afraid of messing up an expensive cut of meat. And, it’s perfect for a couple like me and Isaac that treasures delicious leftovers as the only way to survive our too busy weeks.

Perfect Pasta with Beans & Greens

What I hope you take away from this is that this is a perfect dinner. Pour yourself a glass of crisp white wine, whip up a green garlic salad dressing to serve over the tiniest, most dainty spring greens and sit down with this pasta for a perfect evening. Enjoy!

Head below the jump for the recipe for Perfect Pasta with Beans & Greens.

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The Kids

22 May

I’m a country mouse living in the big city.

Fire Escape Garden '08, Day 1

Each spring, as the blossoms bloom and the most tender vegetables make their appearances at the greenmarket, I curse my decision 10 years ago to move to the asphalt jungle; my fingers begin to itch, they yearn to dig into dark, rich earth, to coax wee seedlings into becoming strong, happy food-giving plants.

Fire Escape Garden '08, We Add the Raddichio

So last year, when we decided to move to Bay Ridge (which in a lot of ways is a bit of the country, or at least the suburbs, in the city), I was determined to have a garden apartment, whether it was actually on the garden level or not. I bought some plants and containers and turned our fire escape into a teeny, tiny, plant-laden patio. One of my neighbors even got into the spirit and gave me some extra pots.

Fire Escape Garden '08, The First Tomato

Things went alright. Even despite being hit by a tornado, and ravaged by winter-fearing squirrels, I got a few peppers, but that’s all. My herbs failed completely, and I only discovered that I had produced one itty bitty tomato as I was pulling the plants out of the ground in October. But you know what? I learned a lot.

Fire Escape Garden '08, Future 'Mater

This year, I’ve gone all organic. I bought my plants at the greenmarket and got some organic soil. I’ve got my liquefied worm poop fertilizer, a kind gift from Abby at Good ‘n Planty. Each pot has a thick layer of broken up styrofoam in its base, recycled from my stand mixer‘s packaging, to promote drainage and to decrease the weight of the pots. I’ve mixed sand and gravel into the soil since things can get a little damp out there on the ole fire escape. I’ve planted only in high containers in an attempt to foil those stupid friggin’ squirrels.

Fire Escape Garden '08, The Second Tomato

And, just because I’m completely obsessive, I’m taking pictures of “the kids” every day so I can monitor their progress. Man, I’d be one scary mother to another if my “kids” were actually real.

Fire Escape Garden '08, Many Future 'Maters

So far, things are going okay. I’m worried about my thyme. It has a fungus. Oddly enough though, the lemon thyme is thriving. I’ve got some beautiful, incredibly happy radicchios from Silver Heights Farms in a pot with lettuces bred for containers that I started from seed. I might split some of them out into bigger containers this weekend. I’ve also just added three heirloom peppers and two kinds of basil from the same farm, and my sage, though growing slowly, seems content.

Fire Escape Garden '08, The Third Tomato

But “the kids” I’m most excited about are my tomatoes. I don’t care what those parenting guides say, I pick favorites.

Fire Escape Garden '08, Clearly I'm Obsessed

They’re just generic patio tomatoes, but they are so happy (they even came with a few worms in the pots). They’re blossoming their patookis’ off and, to my continuing astonishment, have already produced three fruit! The minuscule ‘maters are green, but getting bigger every day. I’m gobsmacked.

Fire Escape Garden '08, Three Kinds Of Peppers, Two Kinds Of Basil

Every morning I wake up, pour a glass of iced tea and head into the dining room to see how “the kids” are doing. Opening the window and leaning over the sash into the crisp morning is one of the most singular joys I’ve experienced in my years of living in New York. I can hear the birds and the neighbors’ dogs and oftentimes, a morning greeting from Fred, but then there’s also the roar of the express bus passing by, or a plane overhead to remind me that I’m still in the city.

Fire Escape Garden '08, Have I Mentioned That the Raddichio Like It Here?

So no cooking this week, just ramblings on future food.

Any other urban/container gardeners out there that would like to share their tips, tricks and stories? Please feel free to leave a comment.

Fire Escape Garden '08, Day 18

P.S. It’s the Brooklyn Bridge’s 125th birthday this weekend! If you’re in town, there’s festivities galore. If you’re out of town, raise a toast to the world’s most iconic bridge on her momentous milestone.

Rhubarb-barb-barb-barbara-ann

15 May

I am currently obsessed with azaleas.

Azaleas, Bee

Against an expanse of verdant, emerald green grass the shocking crimson, cerise and magenta bushes are my new favorite harbinger of warmer days. And to think I wasn’t even aware of their existence until Saturday.

After a dim sum brunch, Isaac and I decided we needed a bit of a walk. So we started walking, until we ran into a fence, and behind that fence were the azaleas. They’re magnetic. I couldn’t take my eyes off them, even to look where I was going. Needless to say, I very nearly walked into quite a few telephone poles.

And it’s not just me. My friend N told me she had been out biking and had the very same experience, except a bit more dangerous. She was on a bike and very nearly running into cars.

Azaleas, Robin

Where were these magnificent azaleas, you might be asking? In a cemetery. But not just any cemetery, Green-Wood Cemetery. Pastoral, elegant, and only a little bit creepy, Green-Wood was founded in 1838 on the rural cemetery model first made popular in Europe.

Itwas always meant to be a place where families would go for recreation, to walk around and look at the beautiful graves and to stop and have a picnic. In fact, its popularity was an impetus for the planning of Central Park.

Green-Wood Door

It’s not quite as popular a destination today as it once was, which I’m okay with, because it has to be just about the only spot in all of New York City where you can spend two hours strolling up and down hills, gawking at birds, smelling the flowers, marveling at the blueness of the sky and the sweetness of the wind while only running into about five (living) people.

Stained Glass, Reflection

But it’s not all just beauty and peace. Green-Wood contains the location of the first major battle of the Revolutionary War, the first battle of the U.S. army, and the first battle lead by a young general, George Washington.

It was the Battle of Brooklyn. At the top of the hill where skirmishes were fought, in commemoration of the lives lost, stands Minerva, forever saluting her sister the Statue of Liberty down in the harbor.

Minerva, and if you look just under her right shoulder, you can just barely make out the cruise ship the Queen Mary 2

Green-Wood is also a birder’s paradise. It is known as a pit stop for a wide variety of migratory birds, as well as for its immense and varied population of locals. But, like so many places in New York, it is most famous for its immigrants. In this case, immigrant parakeets.

Minerva In Green-Wood

Parakeets? Oh yes. A rogue population of feral, acid green Monk parakeets live in the turrets of the Gothic gatehouse. I once went on a tour at the cemetery. We met in front of the gatehouse, and the parakeets were in such a lather over the size of our group, that the tour leader was forced to halt his remarks until he handed a megaphone.

Crazy Old Pine Tree

Upon bidding the parakeets adieu we didn’t feel quite walked enough, so we kept on walkin’ on and ended up in Propsect Park. It was such a happy, busy place. Hundreds of parties and picnics and Little League games and Frisbee tossers and creative anachronists and happy, snuffly dogs. We walked its length and ended up at the Grand Army Plaza greenmarket just as all the stands were shutting up for the afternoon.

Can you believe this is New York City?

This is my biggest complaint with this greenmarket, the stands sell out so quickly and close up so early. At a quarter to four there was only one stand remaining with anything other than bread, apples or cheese. Lucky for me, they had both ramps and rhubarb, so I grabbed some.

When we got home I whipped up a simple ramp risotto for dinner. It was gentle and rampy, satisfying and delicious. I saved the rhubarb for Sunday.

Green-Wood

I love rhubarb. I love its gentle, springy, somewhat azalea-like coloring and its alluring fragrance. My plan, since last year, in fact, was to make a glaze for some pork chops. And then I opened the refrigerator and saw how much rhubarb I had bought. A lot. There was no way I was going to need all that for a simple glaze. So i started pouring through my cookbooks.

Green-Wood Allium

I love pie, especially strawberry-rhubarb pie, as much as the next person, but I prefer my pie to be made by that next person. I’m just not a pie baker.

So I was looking for something different, something unusual, something that I could bring into work if I made too much of, and there, lurking in a book devoted to the seasonal cooking of the Hudson River valley, was the answer.

Rhubarb bread. Ms. Rose says it is the specialty of Mary Film of Buskirk, N.Y., who makes the bread for selling at bake sales in support of the restoration of the Knickberbocker Mansion in Schaghticoke.

Prospect Park

This is just about the easiest bread in the world to whip up, and oh my god… the smell! I wish that I could have invited you all over just so you could smell the aromas wafting out of the oven and through my house. It was beyond intoxicating. It was drool inducing.

By the time the bread was out of the oven both Isaac and I just stood next to the stove staring at it, willing it to be less than molten hot so we could tear into it.

Rhubarb Bread

Finally, it was time. We cut big, moist chunks off one loaf and tried not to bite our fingers amidst the mania induced by this bread. It is delicious. Rhapsodic. Purr-inducing. I’m ashamed to admit this, but we easily ate half the loaf, and probably could have eaten the whole thing if some part of my brain hadn’t snapped back into sanity and stopped us.

If you’ve got a friend with a large rhubarb patch, ask her for some, then bake her this. She’ll love you forever.

Rhubarb Bread

So I take it all back. I now think azaleas are beautiful, and can’t wait for the day when I can plant one in a yard of my own, but what I am truly obsessed with is rhubarb bread.

And you should be too.

Head below the jump for the recipes for Ramp Risotto and Rhubarb Bread.

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Homarus Odyssey

8 May

It’s true, fish is not my favorite thing in the world.

Lower Manhattan From Red Hook

But clams and squid and scallops? Pretty close to the top of that list. But do you know what sits at the very tippy top of the piscine pyramid for me? Do you even have to ask? Oh, you do… Well, that would be lobster, naturally.

I love lobster like a jockey loves winning the Kentucky Derby. Or like the Queen loves her corgis. Or like Rupert Murdoch loves buying newspapers. Or like the Yankees love beating the Red Sox. Or like Isaac loves cheese. You get the picture. I love lobster.

But, like a lot of people, I don’t cook lobster at home. It’s not the killing/cooking thing. It’s mainly fear of mortal embarrassment.

Light, Red Hook

My friend Pam grew up near Boston, and every summer her mom and some of her friends would rent a little house on Nantucket. One summer, a few years ago, she invited me to join her for a long weekend on the island. You’d have to be crazy to say not to an invitation like that, and I’m not crazy.

So there we were, in the middle of preppy paradise, on the side of a dirt road, bikes in the grass, like true New Yorkers, fighting over which road to take to the beach. The best part? It’s an island! You can take any road and get to a beach!

Bleeding Hearts

We were two Type As, out in the middle of nowhere, arguing over which beach was best, when a pickup truck pulls over, and a guy leans through the window. “Pam?” She looks over and there, with a goofy grin on his face, is one of her bust buddies from college. Of all the dirt roads on all the islands in all the world!

He was on the island visiting a friend who was a year-rounder, so they threw our bikes into the back of the truck and drove us to the beach just in time for it to start pouring rain. But no matter, they were headed to a friend’s house who was having a party, would we like to go? Sure, why not we said, not knowing that we had just been invited to the best party on the face of the earth.

Red Hook

There were endless kegs of the island’s amazing beer. Racks and racks of fresh, local corn grilling over hot charcoal. Pit after pit of steamers cooking under beds of seaweed. And legions of lobster, some being grilled directly over the coals, others boiling away in vast cauldrons of water. It was like being invited to the Gorton fisherman’s heaven.

Since I was a guest in a place where I knew no one, I made a beeline for the steamers. I really wanted a lobster, but I felt a little funny helping myself to something that would cost more than $20 in a restaurant without knowing who to pay for it.

So I sat down with my plate of clams and a plastic cup of Whale Tale Ale to watch the lobsters. People were helping themselves with abandon. Apparently the lobsters were there for the taking, free of charge. Finally, I decided to join them.

I grabbed a hot lobster, sat down on a tree stump and cracked and hummed and slurped and made happy noises deep down in my throat. And then I ate another. And another. And possibly another. It was one of the happiest days of my life.

Statue Of Liberty, From Red Hook

So you see, since that day, I have thought of lobsters cooked over an open fire next to the ocean as the very apex of culinary perfection. If a lobster has been out of the sea for more than a few hours, it’s too old. If I can’t pull it out of it’s shell while lounging under a canopy of fir trees and stars, the ambiance isn’t right. If there’s cloth on the tables and waiters, I’m too embarrassed to make the magnificent mess that comes with properly consuming a lobster.

I’ve been to lobster nirvana, and I’ve come back. Anything less is, well, less. There was a whole, broiled lobster on the docks of Montauk that was memorable, but mostly I try to avoid lobster unless the conditions are perfect. One of these summers, we keep saying, we’ll go to Maine. I bet I can find perfection there, too.

Cockles

Lucky for me, clams and cockles and scallops and oysters run a very close second to lobster in my sea-critter-lovin’ heart. They too have that beautiful sweetness and iodine-tinged brininess that I so love in lobsters, but they’re easier to eat and cook, which you must agree, is a big vote in their favor.

Angel Hair Pasta with Cockles

And I had my fill this past weekend. I had the most delicious fritto misto as an appetizer at my birthday dinner, chock full of oysters and clams and the sweetest, most ridiculous scallops and prawns. And then on Sunday night, thanks to the other Ann, I sated my craving for pasta con vongole.

Roasted Asparagus

I served the pasta with beautiful roasted asparagus, scented ever so lightly with lemon zest and, like we had had at dinner the night before, a wee gluglet of very, very good balsamic vinegar.

Oh, and there was cheese bread. My friend N and her husband had seen it in Gourmet and made a plea that maybe, if possible, I just maybe thought I’d like to make it, just maybe I’d be interested in possibly giving them some?

Georgian Cheese Bread

And so I did. There was so much cheese in that bread, I only allowed myself the tiniest of slivers and then I wrapped the rest up in foil and brought it into the office. My co-workers reacted as if they hadn’t been fed in weeks. It was gone in, oh, let’s call it two minutes.

I think they liked it. Hopefully it helped them forgive me my whoopie pie pedantry.

Head below the jump for the recipe for Ann’s Pasta with Clams.

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Whoopie!

1 May

Did you know there’s a season for whoopie pies?

Wind

Neither did I until yesterday. A bunch of my co-workers are obsessed with a brand of packaged “cookies” called “cakesters.” I hesitate to give you a link, as I’m afraid it will only fuel the mania, but, since I can hear you asking, here it is.

They’re so obsessed that they went out and bought a case of the ooey, gooey treats. I find this terrifying. Why? Because I cadged one, and seriously people, these aren’t soft, pillowy Oreos. They’re whoopie pies. And whoopie pies are something I hold very (very) dear to my heart.

Reflection

I’ve long suspected (like, since I was in junior high long) that there is a correlation between Oreos and whoopie pies, and this new development, of the “cakester,” serves, to me, as a confirmation. Growing up, the family that lived at the bottom of the hill in our neighborhood was from Lancaster Co. The mom was a champion baker, and her specialty was, of course whoopie pies. I loved (lovedlovedloved) going to their house because she always had some on hand and because they had a gigantic Old English Sheepdog who was the most awesome dog ever.

So, I can understand my co-workers’ obsession with tender chocolate cookies and sweet, fluffy filling. But only to a point. What I can’t get over is their fetishizing of a product filled with chemicals and high-fructose corn syrup, when as well paid, sentient adults they could be fixating on something worthy. Like the whoopie pies, baked fresh in Lancaster Co., and brought to the Union Square greenmarket a block away from our office a few times a week.

Chelsea

I’m passionate about food, something you’re probably aware of. But what you might not know is that I’m also kind of loud. So it’s easy for me to come across as a bit strident and bloviating (known to some as annoying), especially when I insist on say, harranguing every person that walks past my desk with a “cakester.” “Whoopie pies are better you know!”

Luckily, people still like me despite this minor personality quirk and put up with my abuse, but only up to a point. I could tell that it was time to stop talking and start acting on my whoopie pie assertions.

Shadows

So, despite being desperately late to work yesterday, I dashed into the greenmarket, no mean feat as they’ve changed the layout (p.s. I hate it), and found the stand I was looking for. I glanced around. Meats. Check. Scrapple. Check. Stone-ground corn. Check. Lots and lots and lots of plants. Check. Whoopie pies? Uhhhh… So I asked the guy, “Where are the whoopie pies?” “Oh, they’re seasonal, fall and winter only.”

Whaaaaaa? I had no choice but to believe him. I mean, you can’t argue with someone who doesn’t have whoopie pies. So I turned away, and slunk off to the office with my metaphorical tail between my legs. Getting my co-workers off the “cakesters” just may take a bit more effort than I had initially assumed.

Swoon

But, there’s a reason I bring this up, and that’s seasonality. Who knew that there was a season to whoopie pies, and who knows the reason why? At Pegasus, our favorite Greek-Cypriot spot in the neighborhood, the owner make the world’s best avgolemono, but, much like the whoopie pies, only in fall and winter.

The soup I can understand. So much whisking and standing over a hot stove, no one wants to do that in the middle of summer! But whoopie pies? I mean, wouldn’t the machines and stoves do most of the work?

Saint

But really, the point I’m trying to make is that this is a tough season for eating. The weather can’t make up its mind and the culinary standbys of the past season are gone while fresh, new vegetables that make spring so exciting are only just beginning to make an appearance. It was one of these vegetables that I was obsessing over this past Saturday. Asparagus.

As I lay napping on the couch, I dreamed of supping on lightly pan-roasted asparagus topped with a gently poached egg and pillows of lemon and black pepper flecked fresh goat cheese. Then I woke up. At 5.30pm. In Bay Ridge. An hour’s subway ride from Union Square. It was never going to happen. So I rubbed my eyes, shook the cobwebs out of my brain and snapped to attention. If we were going to have a delicious dinner, I needed to act fast.

Shadows

I roused Isaac, slipped on my shoes and dashed out the door. We headed to the fish monger. Isaac had seen that he had halibut fillets earlier in the day, but they were gone, so we settled on flounder and some colossal shrimp. We ran across the street to the Korean market and grabbed leeks, mint and lemons. They had asparagus, but it was flown in from somewhere that wasn’t upstate New York, so I left it there. I can wait for local asparagus.

Copper

The meal was composed entirely on the fly. I made a quick shrimp stock from the shells and then melted the leeks. I decided pretty late in the game that the dish needed bacon. It was a good move.

This meal is seriously delicious. And the leftover sauce was exceptional a few nights later as a post-work dinner with pasta, a dash of sherry vinegar and a flurry of grated cheese.  And, in it’s way, being based on wintered-over leeks and citrus, it is in fact seasonal.

Flounder Smothered in Melted Leeks

I know it’s kind of a cruel turn, to start with whoopie pies and end with flounder, but I hope that, like my co-workers who put up with my occasional tirades and bursts of vulgarity, you’ll forgive me. It is my birthday after all.

Head below the jump for the recipe for Flounder Smothered In Melted Leeks.

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