August 26th, 2015

End of a Cycle, with end-of-summer recipes

36 Gramercy Park East

I recently spent a week in New York City helping my girlfriend Pat pack up her apartment, a studio on the tenth floor of a grand old building overlooking Gramercy Park.

Rare and remarkable are two words for Gramercy Park, secluded within the heart of this electric city. Four short blocks of mid-rise brownstones surround the gated haven full of shade trees and flowering plants. No major streets, no rumbling traffic, no Lexington or Madison avenues barreling through. It’s a neighborhood that still feels like old New York.

Pat’s building, constructed in 1909, is unique to the square; the facade of the 12 story landmark is white terra cotta, Gothic in design, with ornate detailing. At the entry stands a smiling doorman in dapper uniform to greet you; inside is a gilt vestibule with a reception and two narrow elevators. Step inside those gleaming brass doors for a lift up to 10T.

Pat’s apartment measures right at 330 square feet. Yes, it’s small. Basically a room and a bath. Tall ceilings, wide windows, minimal furnishings, and a couple of strategic angles that trick the eye into thinking there is something more around the corner all combine to give it a more spacious feel.

I dubbed it her “Gramercy Palace.”

When you are out in the frenetic thrum that is Manhattan, a nest such as hers is the ideal respite–all you need, really. Over the years, I have enjoyed staying in its cozy quarters.

Change happens. And one begets another. Last fall, Pat’s husband died. She quit her high-powered job of many years. Then, she got an unsolicited—and generous—offer for her apartment. The end of a cycle. The closing of a life chapter.

When I learned that Pat was selling this special place, I wanted to be there to help close things out, say good-bye. It wouldn’t take the whole week to pack. We wanted to relish the final days at The Palace, and soak up as much of the city, from the perspective of being a resident rather than a visitor.

As someone who was born in New York (Queens) there is always a part of me that yearns for time there. Partly to reconnect with the place, and its magnificent and gritty sense of place. The city is potent with memory—each visit serves to recall visits gone by while creating new experiences. Making memories.

This time, I got a good dose.

We saw the Broadway play, Hamilton. (Hard to imagine, but this Hip-Hop musical about the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton is one of the best things I have ever seen.)

We went to museums: MOMA and the new Whitney. We strolled the Highline. We met friends for drinks in different neighborhoods. We ate at some wonderful restaurants.

I also did some cooking.

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Union Square, with its open air Green Market (open 4 days a week!) is an easy walk from the apartment. From an array of vendors, I purchased heirloom tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, corn, basil and melon.

Walk a bit further south, and you’re in Little Italy. Pat’s sister Lynn and I jaunted over to Alleva Dairy, the oldest Italian cheese store in the city—and the United States. Lynn bought sausages and I got pasta and a ball of luscious burrata.

It was fun to cook in the tiny kitchen and dine on a fresh summer feast. Bittersweet. A last supper, to be sure. Are other New York adventures still to come? No telling when, but I feel certain they will.

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ZUCCHINI-LINGUINE TANGLE WITH SWEET RED BELL PEPPER-TOMATO SAUCE
3 small zucchini (small size is more tender)
olive oil
1/2 pound linguine
salt and black pepper to taste
Sweet red bell pepper-tomato sauce (recipe below)
to garnish:
pecorino-romano
toasted pine nuts

Place a large pot of salted water on medium high heat and bring to a boil.

Trim the zucchini ends and slice it lengthwise into thin slabs. Take each slab and slice it into long thin julienne strips.

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Cook the linguine according to package directions.(about 10 minutes) Drain and set aside.
Return the pot to the stovetop. Set the heat on medium and add olive oil–about 3 tablespoons.
Add the zucchini. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper and saute for 2 minutes—so that the zucchini becomes pliable. Stir in the linguine. Toss until the two are entangled.

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Ladle the red sauce into each bowl. Top with the pasta. Garnish with grated pecorino-romano and toasted pine nuts.

Serves 4

Sweet Red Bell Pepper-Tomato Sauce
3-4 red bell peppers, cut in half, stemmed and seeded
2 large tomatoes, cored and cut in half
1 large onion, cut into eighths
4 cloves garlic
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper

Place red bell pepper and tomato halves onto a baking sheet. Tuck onion pieces and garlic cloves underneath the peppers. Brush the tops with olive oil.

Sprinkle tomatoes and red bell peppers with salt and black pepper.

Roast in a preheated 425 degree oven for 25 minutes until the skins of the peppers and tomatoes are blackened and blistered.

Remove from oven and allow to cool. Peel the blistered skins and discard.
Place roasted vegetables and juices into a bowl. Using an immersion blender, process the ingredients into a brilliant red-orange sauce. Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed.

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WATERMELON-PEACH SALAD WITH BURRATA
4 cups large dice watermelon
2-3 peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced
1/2 jalapeno, cut into very thin rings
1 bunch of basil (or mint) finely sliced
juice of 2 limes
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 round of burrata
salt and black pepper

Place cut watermelon, peaches, jalapeno and basil into a large bowl. Pour lime juice and olive oil over the salad. Gently toss.

Place the round of burrata in the center of the salad. Drizzle a little more oil over it. Season with salt and black pepper.

When serving, break into the burrata so that shreds and the creamy inside become mixed with the fruits.

Serves 8

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Posted in Fruit, Recipes, Salads, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 23 Comments »




July 28th, 2012

Ricotta-Making, Spiced Peach Salad and a Review

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A recipe can be deceiving. We’ve all experienced a seemingly daunting one with scrolls of ingredients, only to find that we can whip it up with panache. Conversely, there’s that recipe with, say, three ingredients that you’d think would be a breeze. And yet, it’s those simple ones that can be trickiest–and require practice. Like making pillowy-light gnocchi, or fluffy biscuits. Or creamy ricotta cheese.

I’d been wanting to make ricotta for a long time. Maggie and I researched and learned that it is, essentially, Whole Milk-Salt-Acid. Sometimes the milk is enriched with cream. The acid can be lemon juice, white vinegar or buttermilk, which is added to the milk-salt mixture after it is simmered to 180 degrees.

For our first foray into cheesemaking, we chose vinegar, as it is the most neutral in taste. We purchased a gallon of whole milk at our local Hatcher Dairy Farm.

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Low and slow, the milk came up to a froth at 180 degrees. We added the vinegar, and almost immediately, the curds formed in big clumps, separating from the whey. I scooped them out and let them drain in Maggie’s floursack-lined colander.

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The yield: 4 cups of cheese and 3 quarts of whey! (We saved the whey, which Maggie has since used in her breadbaking–with astonishing results. The flavors are enhanced Tenfold.)

Shortly thereafter, we spread the cheese onto toast topped with slices of Maggie’s garden tomatoes. The ricotta was a bit firmer than I had expected, but delicious nonetheless. It reminded us more of Paneer, that Indian cheese.

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However, it became almost rubbery in texture, as it cooled. Had we overcooked it somehow?

I decided to experiment again, this time–a smaller batch, with added cream, and lemon juice as the acidifier.

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As luck would have it, I had been asked to review a cookbook scheduled for release next month, JAM ON The Craft of Canning Fruit by Laena McCarthy. McCarthy is the founder of Anarchy in a Jar, making delectable, creative, and wildly popular artisanal jams, jellies, marmalades and preserves.

It’s a beautiful book. The photographs are stunning. Moreover, it is clear in guidance for novice and seasoned canners, and replete with fruit recipes in gorgeous combinations.

Tucked among her recipes for Grapefruit and Smoked Salt Marmalade, and Rhubarb Hibiscus Jam, I found her recipe for Homemade Ricotta. It was just as I had imagined: a small batch, made with whole milk and cream, salt, lemon juice. A-Ha!

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I followed her recipe, and to my surprise, the result was almost the opposite of our previous trial. Curds were slower to form, tiny in size. McCarthy writes that this can occur with organic milk that has been ultra-homogenized. (I didn’t use my local milk this time, but Organic Valley brand.)

I let my cooked-and-curdled pot sit and cool to allow the curds to better separate. Then, I poured into my cheesecloth lined strainer. It would take some time–about a half hour—for the whey to drain off.

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But what remained was lush ricotta cheese.

I cannot overstate the wonder of its texture and taste–like no other ricotta I have ever had. Rich and smooth, spreadable yet scoopable, as you can see on the spiced peach salad plate.

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HOMEMADE RICOTTA from JAM ON by Laena McCarthy
3 cups Whole Milk
1 cup Heavy Cream
1/2 t. Sea Salt

3 T. fresh squeezed Lemon Juice (about 1 1/2 lemons)

equipment:
non-reactive pan, candy thermometer
cheesecloth or floursack cloth, strainer or colander

In your non-reactive pan set on medium heat, bring milk, cream, and salt to a slow simmer. Stir so that the milk does not scorch or cook on the bottom. The temperature reading should be about 180 degrees F. Stir in lemon juice and reduce heat. Stir for about two minutes while cooking. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

When the mixture is cooled, you’ll notice a thickening. Pour into cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl to catch the whey. Let this drain for about an hour. Place ricotta into a clean container and refrigerate. Makes about one pint. Use within a few days.

There will be about 2 cups of whey, (much better ratio of cheese to whey than our first trial!) which some people discard. But it is terrific in breadbaking and soup making.

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SIMPLE SPICED PEACHES
The Syrup:
1 c. Cider Vinegar
1 c. Turbinado Sugar
1 inch length Cinnamon Stick
Strip of fresh Ginger
2-3 whole Allspice
3-4 whole Cloves
1/2 t. Kosher Salt

3 or more Fresh, Ripe but Firm Peaches–cut in half, pit removed
Bowl of Ice Water

Place all ingredients into a nonreactive saucepan set on medium heat. Stir well to dissolve sugar. Bring to a simmer.
Place peaches into mixture and allow to poach for about 4 minutes.
Remove peaches and plunge into ice water. The skins will come off very easily.
Drain peaches and refrigerate.
Continue cooking spiced vinegar solution until reduced by almost half. It will be syrupy.
Pour into a bowl and cool.
Place peach halves into syrup. Over the next several hours, refrigerated, they will absorb more of the sweet-sour taste. If you can wait, and let them soak overnight, they will taste even better!
(You could also make this in large quantities, put spiced peaches and syrup into mason jars and process in a hot water bath to preserve them.)
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SPICED PEACH-RICOTTA SALAD (makes 4 individual salads)
4 oz. Fresh Arugula
4 oz. (or more!) fresh Ricotta
4 Spiced Peach Halves and syrup
handful of Marcona Almonds
Fresh Ground Black Pepper

Assemble Salad:
Mound arugula on plates.
Scoop ricotta and place onto plates.
Slice each peach halve and arrange on plate, encircling the ricotta.
Drizzle syrup over the peaches, greens, and ricotta.
Scatter almonds over the salad
Season with black pepper.

Serve with a sliced of toasted crusty bread, if you like.

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Posted in Articles, Egg/Cheese Dishes, Fruit, Recipes, Salads | 28 Comments »