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 »




June 27th, 2013

Pasta “Lecce”

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When Bill and I were in Rome last month, the weather–by Roman claims–was unseasonably cool and somewhat rainy. We decided, at a certain point, to rent a car and follow the sun. That trip took us first down to the Sorrento Peninsula, to a sleepy cliff town called Vico Equense. Brilliant sun, a balcony overlooking the Mediterranean, Mount Vesuvius looming in the distance–it was a lovely place to be. After two days, the rains came, so we headed east over the Apennines and then south—way south—to the heel of the boot.

We ended up in Lecce, a beautiful city sometimes called “The Florence of the South.” Particular to the region is a sandstone that is easily carved when first quarried, yet hardens over time. Lecce is replete with its own form of Baroque architecture made from this stone. The structures, churches and building facades, exhibit a more refined sensibility in their exuberant ornateness.

Ten kilometers inland from the Adriatic, Lecce also has a wilder feel to it–and I mean this in the sense of less traveled, less touristy, less sophisticated. Maybe bohemian is the right word. The pace is very laid back. The vibe is very friendly and welcoming. Perhaps because of its proximity to Greece and North Africa, it benefits from a confluence of cultures.

We became quickly captivated by the place and the people. We stayed in the centro storico-historic city center, in a flat on the Piazza Sant’Oronzo. Within the piazza confines is an amphitheater, circa 200 A.D. On the perimeters are numerous coffee bars, gelateria, and eateries with outdoor dining, where you could just sit in the breezy sunshine and soak up the beauty.

Cars are not permitted in the center; we could walk the maze of cobbled streets and discover what the old city had to offer.

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In our meander, we found a restaurant that we loved: i merli
Contemporary in look, intimate in size, fresh and seasonal in menu offerings–it suited us. We snacked on delicious fritto misto di verdure–tempura-like fried vegetables, including the delicate zucchini blossoms—and petite mussels with pungent aioli. Bill enjoyed a risotto, creamy green with fresh asparagus, but we were both crazy for my pasta dish–a housemade tagliatelle tossed in good olive oil, sweet Sicilian cherry tomatoes, zucchini, mint, and ricotta salata.

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All of the ingredients tasted so fresh, prepared with such care and immediacy, that it was a pleasure to eat. It was that touch of mint that elevated the dish from something predictably good to something unexpected and wonderful. I knew that I would try to recreate it after I returned home.

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Rounding up the right ingredients would not be a problem: John and Tally at Fresh Harvest Co-op have their terrific Sun Gold cherry tomatoes and Zephyr squash, and fresh mint is everywhere! I located ricotta salata, the aged, salted, and pressed version of ricotta at Whole Foods.

But, making fresh egg pasta was another key piece.

I experimented with a couple of fresh pasta dough recipes–seeking that golden yellow I had been served on countless occasions.
In my research I found a winner by Lydia Bastianich, made—improbably–in the food processor.

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She calls it “Rich Man’s Golden Pasta.” Five egg yolks whipped with olive oil and water are poured into the processor already filled with flour and salt. I was skeptical–shouldn’t the dough be diligently hand-kneaded for at least 8 minutes?

But Ms. Bastianich knows her pastas.

The dough comes together in a blink.

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After you remove the doughball from the processor, just lightly dust it with flour, knead it 5 times, form a disc and seal it in plastic wrap. The dough should rest a minimum of thirty minutes at room temperature–and if it rests longer, so much the better.

I rolled the dough seven times—through settings 1-7 on my machine—before rolling it through the ribbon cut. The dough remained supple and elastic. It was easy to make, and easy to cook: scarcely two minutes in the boiling water.

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The flavor of the pasta alone was incredible, and the texture light. Yet, it stood up well in the toss of vegetables, mint and cheese.

The recipe makes a big batch of pasta–enough for 8. You can cut the dough into half, reserving the other piece for another pasta dish, if you like.

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“RICH MAN’S GOLDEN PASTA” from Lydia Bastianich, for Cooking Light
2 level cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 egg yolks
6 tablespoons water
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Place flour and salt into food processor fitted with the swivel blade and briefly pulse, mixing the two together.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks with the water and olive oil.

Turn on food processor, and slowly pour, in a steady stream, the egg yolk mixture into the flour. As the flour absorbs the egg yolks, it will begin to form a ball. Once the ball is formed, cease processing. Remove and gently knead ( 30 seconds, that’s all) forming the dough into a disc shape. Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough sit for a minimum of 30 minutes.

When you are ready to roll, remove the plastic wrap and cut the dough into quarters. Dust with flour, and run each piece through the pasta machine, starting with notch 1–and go through notch 7 before using the fettuccine slicer. Don’t be afraid to use a bit of flour to dust the dough as you work with it. You don’t want it to get sticky!

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PASTA LECCE
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 lb. “Zephyr” summer squash (zucchini works well too) cut into julienned strips
3/4 pint “Sungold” cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 handful fresh mint, finely chopped
1/2 cup ricotta salata, shaved or cut into thin batons
1/2 cup reserved pasta water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and black pepper, to taste

Heat a large pot or saucepan on medium and add olive oil. Add julienned squash and saute for 2-3 minutes. Stir in halved cherry tomatoes and mint. Cook for another couple of minutes and remove from heat.

Bring lightly salted water to a rolling boil and cook the pasta. The strands should only take a minute or two to cook.
Drain, reserving some of the starchy water.

Toss the pasta into the pot with the vegetables. Season with salt and black pepper, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Pour in the pasta water, tossing and folding, so that the squash strips become enlaced with the pasta ribbons. Sprinkle in the ricotta salata as you fold.

Mound into bowls. Garnish with extra cheese and mint. Makes 2 huge bowls, or 4 small bowls.

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Posted in Pastas, Recipes, Vegetarian Dishes | 22 Comments »




August 10th, 2012

Butterstick Crudo

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Cocozelle Zucchinis, Yellow Crooknecks, and now, Buttersticks.
Thanks to our diligent garden, it’s been a squash-filled summer.

Are you familiar with Butterstick Squash?

New to our garden this year, these hybrids have dark green tips and deep gold bodies, with some green streaking. Similar to zucchinis, they grow long and straight. Unlike zucchinis, ( which can hide under vast stalks and leaves until they are baseball bats!) their bright yellow color brashly announces their presence, and readiness for picking.

The flesh is firm, with a delicate, almost nutlike flavor. Seeds are minute. Easily sliced into thin coins, batons, or planks, buttersticks are cooperative. They perform well in all manner of recipes.

This is indeed helpful, because, if you are like me, the quest for different summer squash dishes is a constant from June through September.

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Such a tender squash can be eaten raw.

As I was considering a preparation, I recalled a certain post in the delectable blog, My Little Expat Kitchen created by Magda.

A Greek woman living in The Netherlands, she introduces her readers to specialty dishes from her homeland interspersed with other recipes using the fresh seasonal goods found in Holland. Her photography is stunning, and her engaging voice unmistakable in her fine writing. (She also has an abiding love of chocolate, with recipes to match.)

Magda had marinated raw zucchini slices, and layered them several planks high, each in a slather of ricotta-feta cheese mixture with lemon and dill. It was her Tower.

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That post was over two years ago—but its simplicity and beauty stood out for me. Whenever you can prepare an exceptional dish without firing up the stove—well, that’s a huge benefit in the heat of August.

With her inspiration, and select ingredients on hand, I decided to make my version, Butterstick Crudo.

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It didn’t take long to whip up.

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Chevre, churned with olive oil, lemon, green onion, fresh oregano, and just a hint of honey, serves as both slather and marinade for the butterstick slices. I recently bought some local honey that has a light yet distinct floral taste. A scant teaspoon imparts a desired essence of lavender, without being too sweet, or overpowering.

Be sure to season with sea salt and cracked black pepper, to taste.

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The mixture will be thin–that’s to be expected. After you lay out a row of thin squash planks, get a spoonful and guide a stripe of the chevre down the center of each one. Place another plank on top and repeat the process.

Mine are not towers–just three stories high.

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On to the finishing touches:
Scatter more fresh oregano leaves,
Marigold petals–if you have them—give a distinctive pop
A quick squeeze of lemon, and
A drizzle of good olive oil over the dish…

Done!

Place in the refrigerator for an hour, if you would like the chevre to set up. The chilled butterstick stacks slice neatly.

But, it is just as delicious at room temperature. Eat with a piece of crusty bread to swipe up all the creamy dressing.

And, use any leftover seasoned cheese blend stirred into scrambled eggs, or spread on a piece of toast. So good!

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BUTTERSTICK ZUCCHINI CRUDO

3-4 small to medium sized young Butterstick Squashes or Zucchinis
4 oz. Chevre
2 t. fresh Lemon Juice
1 t. Honey
2 t. Olive Oil
1 Scallion, cut into small pieces
1 heaping Tablespoon fresh Oregano leaves
Sea Salt and Black Pepper–to taste

Marigold petals–to garnish

Wash, dry, and cut of the ends of the squashes. With a sharp knife, cut lengthwise into thin (1/4″ thick) slices.

In a mixing bowl, place goat cheese, lemon juice, olive oil, honey, scallion pieces, and oregano leaves. Using a hand-held blender, process until smooth. Season with salt and black pepper, and mix a bit more. Mixture will be a little runny.

Lay out squash slices onto a serving platter. Spread each slice with seasoned chevre. Layer each with another slice, then more cheese mixture. Finish each with a final slice. Drizzle olive oil over the vegetables. Sprinkle with salt, black pepper. Garnish with fresh oregano leaves and marigold petals, if you like.

Refrigerate for about an hour to set.

Serves 4

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Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Recipes, Salads, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 26 Comments »




May 22nd, 2012

(Surprisingly Wondrous) Zucchini Sauce, pasta, peppery watercress pesto

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I wish that I had a clever name for this dish.

Pasta with Zucchini Sauce seems rather lackluster, a ho-hum title that belies its subtle garden-green flavors, its whipped up creamy texture–with nary a trace of cream!–and its overall brilliant use of the soon-to-be ubiquitous squash, which are already starting to show up at our farmers’ markets.

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Rachel Roddy, a British ex-pat living in Rome for the last 7 years, and author of the splendid blog, Rachel Eats, deserves the kudos for this recipe, about which she posted in beguiling style here.

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It is tribute to the Roman zukes, zucchine romanesche, whose appearance she likens to little zeppelins, or twee fluted Corinthian columns. Prepared in umpteen delectable ways–sauteed with tomatoes, stuffed with orzo, grilled and folded into a frittata, cut into batons and fried like pomme frites–the zucchini is prized in Roman cuisine for its versatility and taste.

While I am familiar with many of these preparations, I had never tasted, seen, even imagined zucchini braised in olive oil with garlic, and pureed into a lush green sauce for pasta.

With our community potluck looming, it seemed to be the perfect time to make it.

I followed Rachel’s lead–assembling the first of the summer green squashes. In place of garlic cloves, I substituted a bundle of spring garlic scapes, those delicious curly-ques clipped from forming bulbs. Beyond that, the list of ingredients is short–olive oil, a bit of butter, salt, pepper, water and white wine.

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Plus, the pasta. Really, any shape you’d like will work.

Gigi had been praising Cipriani’s Tagliardi–imported, small, super-thin egg pasta rectangles that come boxed like some fabulous gift—so that’s what we chose as a base for the sauce. If you can find–try it. It is very very good.

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Young zucchinis cut into rounds are piled into a heavy duty pot with the scapes; all are tossed well in olive oil, salt, and a dash of pepper. A small amount of butter—a knob, as Rachel likes to say—along with a slow braise, helps to coax out the zucchinis’ savory-sweetness.

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It doesn’t take long for the squashes to release their inherent water. White wine simmered into the “soup” (indeed, this would be a terrific soup) adds depth, and a tinge of acidic bite. It’s important to check for salt—it is key in balancing the delicate taste.

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An immersion blender handily whips this into a supple, somewhat airy sauce that still retains integrity. There are lively bits of squash flecked throughout. The color—ah. Beautiful, don’t you think? And the taste–surprisingly wondrous.

I hasten to add: In lieu of passing a few grindings of cracked black pepper over the pasta, I dotted the dish with Watercress Pesto. It is simply watercress, good olive oil, and salt. Another vibrant green, it adds a fresh peppery finish to the dish.

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SURPRISINGLY WONDROUS ZUCCHINI SAUCE
½ c. Olive Oil
4 T. Butter
10 c. sliced Zucchini (5 lbs.)
1 c. chopped Garlic Scapes (1 bundle)
1 T. Sea Salt
1 c. White Wine
1 c. Water

immersion blender

1 lb. Tagliardi Pasta (or pasta of choice)

In a large (5-6qt. size) stock pot, heat olive oil and butter on medium. Add zucchini and garlic. Season with salt. Stir, coating the vegetables well. Saute for 5-7 minutes, as vegetables begin to soften.
Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Zucchini will collapse and release its liquid—becoming “soupy.” Add water and wine, and continue cooking uncovered for another 7 minutes. Remove from heat and puree the mixture with an immersion blender. Taste for salt.

In a separate large pot, cook pasta of choice according to package directions. (Tagliardi, thin egg pasta squares, require 4 minutes cooking time.)

Drain and return to pot. Spoon warm sauce over pasta, and fold throughout—gently coating the squares. Dot with peppery watercress pesto oil. Dust with cheese: parmesan or pecorino.

Serves a crowd at potluck!–or makes 8-10 generous servings

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Not always easy to find at the grocer (but easily foraged in some creeks and riverbeds) watercress is crisp and peppery.
You could make an arugula pesto instead, if you are unable to locate the cress.

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WATERCRESS PESTO
1 bundle fresh Watercress
1 c. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
pinch Sea Salt

Place all ingredients into a food processor fitted with the swivel blade and pulse until watercress is ground fine. The infused olive oil will be bright green. Keeps for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator.

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Posted in Pastas, Recipes, Vegan, Vegetables | 35 Comments »