Tag Archives: Arthur Schwartz

Tastes of the Week

11 Dec

Dec. 5 through Dec. 11th, 2011

Without a doubt, the taste of the week was the hand-sliced “5J Jabugo de Bellota” ham from Spain, meticulously carved by a master ham-slicer, also known as a cortador, at a private tasting last week. There is great romance around the entire production of the beloved 100% pure bred Iberico pig of Spain. Unique in myriad ways, it’s worthy of a taste of your own. Read more about it.

I made a cake from Arthur Schwartz’s wonderful and encyclopedic book Naples at Table, while I listened to the soundtrack from John Turturro’s voluptuous film Passione. Talk about having a good time (by yourself!) The cake is the famous Torta Caprese from the Amalfi region of southern Italy, which we enjoyed this summer during our trip to Ravello, Atrani, and Amalfi. The cake is flourless and based on an abundance of ground almonds. I had a hankering to make it for company this weekend. I added some espresso powder (not an authentic but a still-in-the-vernacular touch) and served it with my own homemade chocolate sorbet. Recipe below. But you might have to browse Arthur’s book, or website, for his marvelous torta.

To celebrate the completion of several years of research and a voluminous manuscript about a beloved food personality, we toasted our colleague, the author, with a bottle of 2000 Moet and Chandon champagne. The champagne was a beautiful golden color with yeasty complexity, honeyed tones and bright acidity. If only all champagne tasted this way! A perfect match with still-warm slices of smoked ham meticulously cut by another master ham-slicer (my husband), and my homemade tapenade whose salinity was softened by sweet butter and a touch of brandy. To finish? Deeply flavored espresso and amazing chocolate-covered pecans from Blue Apron gourmet food store in Park Slope — a gift from our guest.

Another house gift, this time from my brother and his wife, was a box of the best Italian cookies from Giorgio’s Bakery in Hoboken. They are famous for their cannoli and pignoli cookies, but I now love their chocolate-enrobed spice cookies (I don’t know their official name but they taste like Christmas) and almond-studded quaresimali (biscotti).

There might be nothing more refreshing to drink than freshly-squeezed pink-hued grapefruit juice! At a breakfast I hosted at my home this week for students in my class (Foundations in Buddhist Contemplative Care), someone brought a jug of the said juice from Lambeth Groves. OMG! The brand is available at the famous Park Slope Co-op and, I imagine, many other places, too. Located in Vero Beach, Florida you can find out more about it by calling 1-800-JUICE-4-U. It’s been a long time since I’ve even thought about grapefruit juice. So glad to get re-acquainted.

And since it’s “the season,” I enjoyed two wonderful dinners in town last week.  A superlative holiday hosted by Les Dames d’Escoffier at the glamorous Barbetta restaurant in the theatre district. The cannelloni alone were “da morire” (to die for) as was the risotto, braised beef in Barolo and many other specialities from the Piedmont region of Italy.

And there was the Indian feast for four at Tulsi, the Michelin-starred midtown restaurant owned by the great tandoori master and lovable chef, Hemant Mathur. I believe we consumed the entire menu (well, almost!) and savored the tandoori lamb chops, dum biryani – a “time honored Mughal rice dish, slowly baked in a Handi pot sealed with naan dough” — made with goat, ginger, cardamom, mace & saffron, lamb nargisi kofta (with cashew nut sauce and cumin-greep pea quinoa), black pepper and coconut shrimp, and masala ceviche (with citrus, green chile, cilantro and gun powder (!)…for starters.

Tomorrow I’ll eat yogurt.

My Homemade Chocolate Sorbet
You don’t need a fancy ice cream maker. I make this in a $30 Donvier (just make sure the canister, and the chocolate mixture, are very cold) before starting to churn. If not eating right away, let the sorbet soften a little before serving.

3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup dark corn syrup
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
4 ounces semisweet chocolate
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
pinch of salt

Combine the sugar, corn syrup, cocoa powder, and 1-1/2 cups water in a large saucepan. Whisk until smooth and bring to a boil. Boil 1 minute, whisking.  Remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate, the espresso powder, a pinch of salt and 1/4 cup water. Stir until the chocolate melts. Pour the mixture into a blender and process 1 minute, until smooth. Refrigerate the mixture until very cold. Stir briskly and freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. Serves 6

Lunch in the Country at Bell’s Mansion

12 Sep

Last week I had the pleasure of being taken to Bell’s Mansion in Stanhope, New Jersey for lunch. Accompanying me were food maven Arthur Schwartz (who knew he was also so knowledgeable about Polish food!), historian Bob Harned, and Brendan Fahy, my old boss at Lord & Taylor, when I was executive chef in charge of their 38 restaurants across the country. At that time in my life, right after my stint as Mayor Koch’s chef at Gracie Mansion, I was hired by L&T’s Chairman of the Board, Joe Brooks, to re-conceptualize the Bird Cage (do any of you remember those wonderful places?) with the task of making in-store dining more, well, fashionable. Mr. Brooks was fastidious in every way, and elegant as all get out. He anticipated the needs of his customers and satisfied fantasies they didn’t even know they had. I remember the sheer joy, and terror, of cooking lunch for Mr. Brooks while he was entertaining Sophia Loren one day in the private dining room atop the Fifth Avenue store. I credit Mr. Brooks and Mr. Fahy as mentors in my life and for giving me the opportunities and education that were life-changing.

I can’t think of a better place to reminisce with old and new friends than at Bell’s Mansion. The new friends are Jack and Maria Kaczynski who own the historic house and restaurant that have made Stanhope, New Jersey a destination. Their “garden-to-table” cuisine is glorious as is the environment and food offerings. “The best pierogies I’ve ever had,” said the food maven, Arthur Schwartz. Homemade kielbasa with caramelized onions, ethereal stuffed cabbage in a wondrous beef broth, and “New American” dishes spice up the menu. Although the 170-year old mansion speaks of “special occasion” dining, as does the beef wellington that graces the menu, the atmosphere is casual enough to make you want to come everyday — as several of their customers do! Despite the heavy rains this summer, the gardens, including fruit trees and grape arbors, were lovely and provided the prime materie (primary materials or ingredients) for our delicious meal.   During the course of the lunch, I found myself asking time and again, “Did you grow this?,” “Are these your tomatoes?,” “This parsley is so vivid, is it yours?,” “Just look at that lovely purple basil.” Not only was the refined stuffed cabbage made by Maria, the cabbage was also grown by Maria, who serves as head gardener of the property. Their executive chef, Thomas Wohlrob, is a local celeb who once owned his own restaurant, but now he is wowing locals with Duck Alexis (duck breast with sun-dried cranberries and shiitakes), rack of lamb, an enlightened eggplant rollatini. The kielbasa that I loved comes with house-cured sauerkraut and there are always pierogies-on-parade. We especially liked those stuffed with wild mushrooms and sauerkraut; those filled with potatoes and cheese, and a “new world” variety filled with cheddar and jalapeno.

The generous bar, originally built for the Palmerton Hotel in Pennsylvania during the 1880′s, is all oak and mirrored and welcoming. I can’t imagine anything better than a bucket of mussels and a glass of sauvignon blanc, or a large platter of those wild mushroom pierogies and a glass of cab, on some upcoming snowy evening. Before the season changes, however, you might consider Sunday brunch on their terrace, eating like a locavore, under the canopy of trees and flowers.  Save room for their lovely creme brulee, white chocolate mousse with raspberries, or…fresh fruit pierogies!

I am grateful to Jack and Maria for their hospitality and for the abundant offerings from their gardens:  Slender eggplants, sweet corn on the cob, pale yellow peppers, just-picked apples, juicy tomatoes, and tasty hot peppers. Love in a basket.

Bell’s Mansion:  11 Main Street, Stanhope, New Jersey.  973-426-9977

Tastes of the Week

14 Aug

August 7 through August 14th

Began this morning with a bowl of yogurt and a copious pour of raspberry-rhubarb birch syrup brought to me by a friend who just returned from Alaska. Apparently they use this brooding, deeply complex elixir, instead of honey, in many ways. Birch syrup is a unique flavor from Alaska’s forests and is apparently quite rare. It takes an average of 100 gallons of sap from paper birch trees to make 1 gallon of birch syrup (www.alaskabirchsyrup.com).

Great french fries at the Hotel Kitano jazz club where we heard the remarkable saxophonist Ted Nash and his quartet the other night. The burgers looked good, too — and so did the drummer! Ted Nash, is one of the country’s top jazz musicians — we met him a few weeks ago in Ravello when he was traveling with Wynton Marsalis.

I finally went to the Park Slope Food Co-op! It’s considered one of the best in the country and it’s only a few blocks from my house. Purple okra, bouquets of perky basil, wild fennel, and watermelon with seeds! 

Fabulous dinner at ilili– a very sophisticated Lebanese restaurant (Fifth Avenue and 28th St.) — whose chef, Philippe Massoud is becoming a rock star. Begin with a table full of cold mezze (the best labneh!) and follow with a round of hot mezze, (and fried sweetbreads!) and savory pancake “sliders.”  Baskets full of warm, homemade, ultra-thin pita.  Great pounded raw meat (kibbeh naya) that you place on the pita with a slice of onion, jalapeno and fresh mint!

An amazing tasting dinner at Eddie Schoenfeld’s new restaurant Red Farm in the West Village.  The bbq’d Filet Mignon Tart with curried vegetables & frizzled ginger was one of the best “first tastes” I’ve ever had!  Also great? Kumamoto oysters wtih meyer lemon-yuzu ice, grilled vegetable salad with artichoke-bean curd dip and amazing homemade “crackers,” and shu mai shooters, with carrot-ginger juice and fresh morels!

A great lunch, on one of New York’s most beautiful afternoons, at Mario Batali’s La Birreria on the rooftop of Eataly!  Sat outdoors and chomped down on a terrific sausage of pork and beef, flavored with coriander, a kind of half-cured chunky kraut, and a fabulous dish of maiitake mushrooms with asparagus and peas. I can’t wait to go back.

A morning snack of Sicilian pesto (made with almonds, tomato, very good garlic, and basil) at Arthur Schwartz’s house, followed by one of the year’s best caponata‘s (check it out in Arthur’s book “The Southern Italian Table“), eaten on crusty loaves of grain bread from Orwashers. I used to buy Orwasher’s bread for Mayor Ed Koch when I was the chef at Gracie Mansion — in 1978!

A peach so good
at Union Square Market that several people stopped me, as the juices were running down my arm, to ask me where I got it. I think they were from Breezy Hill Orchards. 

Cannoli on the Move

27 May

Photo Credit: Jeremy Whiteman

Straight from the lens of my son’s camera in San Bruno, California are two winning photos with the caption:  SO BAD, BUT SO GOOD!  Clearly, this is the latest in food truck rage — not yet seen on the East Coast to my knowledge.  Cannoli!  Specialty filled cannoli to rival the niche marketing of tacos, botanical ice creams, yeasty waffles, summer slushes, and hummus with hubris (the Taim Mobile), for our daily affections.  But the Roamin’ Cannoli truck wins my heart. Whereas, cannolo is the correct terminology for a single pastry, cannoli is the name given to two or more pastries.  In that sense, the spelling on the side of the darling cannoli carriage is correct, as there are THREE varieties to choose from.  You can have any flavor for $4 bucks.  The “Not So Traditional” is filled with sweet mascarpone and goat cheese, orange zest, and TCHO dark chocolate chunks.  The “Lemon Meringue” is filled with smooth lemon cream and dried meringue stars.  The “White Raspberry Brulee” is filled with El Rey white chocolate filling, fresh red raspberries and bruleed sugar edges.  According to the empirical evidence, “meringue stars,” my son, no doubt chose the “Lemon Meringue.”

Photo Credit: Jeremy Whiteman

I am quite certain I would have had the “Not So Traditional.”  And Jeremy’s grandmother, who lived to be 90, loved cannolis but would not have wanted any of these.  Anne Frieda Whiteman would have opted for a cannolo at Ferrara’s in New York’s Little Italy.  I read that they make their cannoli shells with red wine — to impart the requisite hue to the crispy pastry tubes — whereupon they are filled with a sweet ricotta filling and maybe a dash of almond extract, a few mini chocolate bits or some crushed pistachios.  More than the delicious noodle pudding she used to make (written about by award-winning author Arthur Schwartz in his tome “Jewish Home Cooking: Yiddish Recipes Revisited”), this was the ultimate in sweets.  Anne, who never got use to leaving a message on an answering machine (she called it “the monster”), would certainly not cozy up to a dose of goat cheese in her beloved treat.  (But then again she put corn flakes on her noodle pudding.  Risky business in her day.) Boy do we miss her.

In my first 1-2-3 book, Recipes 1-2-3:  Fabulous Food Using Only Three Ingredients, is a curious recipe for “Cannoli Custard.”  I recommend serving it with biscotti for dipping and ice-cold shots of Strega.  Espresso to follow.

Cannoli, by the way, are of Sicilian origin, and in Italy are commonly known as “cannoli Siciliani.”  Someday history may tell us they were invented in San Bruno, California.

Thank you, Jeremy, for the photos and the memories and a brand new trend to add to your father’s list.

Cannoli Custard (from Recipes 1-2-3)

2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
9 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
3/4 teaspoon rum extract

Gently whip the ricotta, sugar, and rum extract in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Do not over-mix. Divide equally among 4 martini glasses and chill well.  Sprinkle additional confectioners’ sugar, pressed through a sieve, over the top before serving.  Serves 4

Sherry, Anyone?

28 Mar

A little more than six months ago, Alessandro Piliego opened a sleek, inviting tapas bar, and decked the walls with Botero paintings and high shelves teeming with sherry bottles. The hanging rustic chandeliers cast a warm glow along the bar and caress the tall tables and high-back stools where one sips and sups small plates of Spanish food.  Located on the burgeoning end of Court Street in Brooklyn, near the now-famous Prime Meats and Buttermilk Channel, Alessandro named his place Palo Cortado, and I asked him what it meant.  Something new to me, although I am an avid fan of fino sherry, palo cortado is a style of sherry, slightly richer than oloroso.  To that end, he could have similarly named his tapas bar, Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado, Oloroso, Moscatel, or Pedro Ximenez, as each is a different type of sherry along the spectrum of very dry to very sweet. I was delighted to learn about this and even more delighted to drink it.  These fortified wines deserve more respect.  The varying descriptors of their flavor profile are rich and include, unlike wine, words like salty and nutty.  They are great companions to authentic, and not-so-authentic, tapas — at once both piquant and lusty.

It was fun to share the night with the food maven, Arthur Schwartz, whose birthday we were celebrating, and Bob Harned, who had not been to Palo Cortado since it opened.  They did, however, know Alessandro and had been to a tasting in the summer.   If I could order 5 servings of the patatas bravas for myself, I would have.  At $4 a plate, that would be bargain. They were exceptional: small cubes of perfectly fried potatoes laced with aioli and Rioja sauces.  We had delicious octopus (pulpo a la gallega) served with small potato discs and a pimenton vinaigrette.  Next came spiced lamb meatballs with mint-cucumber yogurt and preserved lemon, and piquillo rellenos — small roasted peppers stuffed with chicken and cheese, served with a white bean puree and pepitas.  We enjoyed fabulous mixed olives and briny caperberries and acidic boquerones, which are marinated white anchovies with capers, garlic and parsley.  These two palate openers went especially well with the super-dry, and slightly salty, mineral-y, manzanilla that we had.  We moved on to a delicious full-bodied Rioja.  Instead of birthday cake, Alessandro brought something brilliant to try:  Medjool dates marinated in sherry with vanilla yogurt mousse and roasted almonds.  Happy Birthday Arthur, and muchos gracias to Alessandro.

I offer you one of my most radically simple and delicious tapas to serve at home.  Fatty and rich, these chorizos will taste wonderful with a glass of cellar-temperature Amontillado, or…Palo Cortado!  (located at 520 Court Street, Brooklyn, NY.  tel: (718) 407-0047).

Grilled Chorizos in Red Wine

In a shallow ovenproof dish (a small paella pan is great), slice 8 ounces chorizo or pepperoni 1/4-inch thick.  Place flat-side down, 1/4-inch apart.  Pour 1/2 cup red wine to come halfway up the sides of chorizo.  Preheat broiler.  Broil 6 to 8 minutes until crispy.  Spoon pan juices on top.  Sprinkle with finely slivered cilantro.  Serves 4

Merci, Bon Appétit

24 Feb

This month’s Bon Appétit magazine, March 2011, has a cover story with lots of appeal.  On the upper left are big letters that spell out everyone’s favorite comfort dish:  MAC & CHEESE.  “Hands down the tastiest version we’ve ever made” — the editors agreed to comment on the cover.  “And other remarkably sumptuous baked pastas,” it goes on to say.  Those are great headlines, I have to admit, especially because that story is mine!  More than five months ago I was asked to write an article featuring baked pasta recipes.  I struggled with it more than most and even complained to my best friend, pasta-maven Arthur Schwartz, that it was difficult to put a new spin on not one, but five such recipes.

The reasons were plentiful: pasta continues to absorb liquid and tends to “grow” in the dish; there can be a “sameness” about the flavors of most baked pastas, and there are far fewer recipes for baked pastas in the Italian repertoire than you would imagine except for lasagna, baked ziti and cannelloni (when was the last time you saw that on a menu?).   It occurred to me that macaroni and cheese might fit the bill, and so I “amp-ed” up the classic by tossing pasta with my version of pimiento cheese!, then stirred three cheeses into its coral creaminess, and added a flourish of parmesan crumbs on top.  Simply baked until the topping gets crisp and the sauce is bubbling, this slyly named Pimiento Mac & Cheese is rather good.  Are you perchance thinking of making it tonight?  (Recipe below).  The four other featured recipes are Moroccan-Spiced Pastitsio with Lamb & Feta — perfumed with ras el hanout and dried mint; Rigatoni with Eggplant and Pine Nut Crunch; a lusty Lasagna with Turkey Sausage Bolognese, flavored with fennel seed, white wine and basil; and Tortellini Gratinati with Mushrooms & Parsnip “Bechamel.” That one may, in fact, be my favorite — flavored with fresh rosemary and grated nutmeg, I’m rather certain no one has ever made a parsnip bechamel before.  The root vegetable, cooked and pureed, takes the place of the butter and flour in the classic sauce, and adds a sweet earthiness of its own.  Hey, maybe the March 2011 issue should be named Buon Appetito!  Enjoy!

Rozanne Gold’s Pimiento Mac & Cheese
The mix of Parmesan, cheddar, bell pepper and sweet-tangy Peppadew peppers coats the pasta perfectly — and the panko topping adds great texture.

1 large red bell pepper, 7 to 8 ounces, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
3/4 cup drained Peppadew peppers in brine, 1 tablespoon brine reserved
1/4 teaspoon ground ancho chiles
1-1/4 cups packed shredded extra-sharp yellow cheddar cheese
1 packed cup shredded whole-milk mozzarella
8 ounces medium shell pasta or gemelli

Bring 1/2 cup water, bell pepper, and 1-1/2 garlic cloves to a boil in a small saucepan.  Cover; reduce heat to medium-low.  Simmer until pepper is soft, about 15 minutes. Toast panko in a skillet over medium-high heat until golden, stirring often, 5 minutes.  Transfer to bowl; cool to lukewarm.  Rub 1 tablespoon butter into crumbs to coat.  Mix in 1/4 cup parmesan cheese.  Transfer bell pepper mixture to processor.  Add Peppadews and 1 tablespoon brine, 2 tablespoons butter, ground chiles, and 1/2 garlic clove.  Then add cheddar and 1/4 cup parmesan.  Process until sauce is smooth; season with salt and pepper.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Butter an 8-cup baking dish,  Cook pasta in a pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite.  Drain; return to pot.  Stir sauce and mozzarella into pasta.  Season with salt and pepper.  Spoon pasta into dish.  Sprinkle with crumb topping.  Bake until topping is crispy and sauce is bubbling, about 25 minutes.  Let rest 10 minutes and serve.  Serves 6

Meatballs “To Die For”

13 Jan

This brings us to our last of Google’s most sought-after recipe requests.  Even at position #10, this number undoubtedly represents thousands of pots of simmering tomato sauce begging for orbs of ground meat, mixed with spices, and love.  “I love my meatballs,” Italian cooking maestro Arthur Schwartz whispered to me just last night.  This, from the man who helped put Neapolitan cuisine on the map, about the dish that, “along with pizza and spaghetti with tomato sauce, (meatballs) have to be the most internationally famous, even infamous specialty of Naples.”  And while other cultures have their versions, Jewish sweet-and-sour meatballs, albondigas from Spain, Swedish meatballs, Lions head meatballs from China, meatballs from India and the Middle East called kofta, I believe it is the southern Italian prototype that people most desire. According to Arthur in his delicious book Naples at Table, “often the meatballs of Naples are considered too bready — too meager, too poor, too deceptive.  But it is, in fact, the high ratio of soaked, dried bread they complain about that makes them so light, so crusty, so juicy, so really clever.”  The inclusion of mollica di pane — the milk -or water-soaked interior dough of fresh bread — gave way to dried breadcrumbs when Italians migrated to America.  In this mecca of meat and gold-paved streets, they upped the ratio of beef to bread, and presto!, the meatballs became heavier.  But no, not Arthur’s.  His are considered among many to be “da morire”  (To die for.)

Meatballs can be eaten as a main course with a vegetable, as they often are in Naples.  Or, they can be fried and dropped into tomato sauce; or served atop a bowl of spaghetti. I personally love meatballs in a hero sandwich (some of you say “subs” or “grinders”), topped with melted mozzaralla.  I adore the tomato-soaked bread that lingers behind.  Arthur’s recipe, which you will find below, has pine nuts and raisins in the mixture.  These days, he laments, not everyone adds them — it’s up to family tastes — “but these embellishments make for a much more interesting dish, a Baroque touch from the Baroque city.”

All this talk about meatballs makes me want to run to the Film Forum next week to see director Pasolini’s movie “Mamma Roma” starring Anna Magnani — beginning 1/21.  The movie itself tells the story of a life that, like Neapolitan meatballs, depicts poverty and deception.  It is the tale of a middle-aged prostitute trying to put her sordid past behind her and fashion a good life for her teenage son.  Pasolini, by the way, is considered one of Italy’s greatest modern poets, novelists, and film directors (he died in 1975.)  And Magnani, no doubt, is considered one of Italy’s finest actresses.   See you at the Forum!

Polpette alla Napoletana
adapted from Naples at Table

3 cups dried crustless bread cut into 1-1/2-inch cubes before measuring
1-1/4 pounds ground beef (80% — not leaner)
3 eggs, beaten well
2 large cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 cup (loosely packed) grated pecorino cheese
1/4 cup (loosely packed) finely cut parsley
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup raisins
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 quart favorite tomato sauce

Soak the bread in cold water.  Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, combine, but do not yet mix, the remaining ingredients, except the oil and tomato sauce.  Squeeze the bread by fistfuls to drain it, then break it up into the bowl.  First with a fork, then with your hands, blend the mixture very well, squishing it in your hands to make sure the bread blends with the meat.  Do not worry about handling the meat too much.  With your hands moistened in cold water, roll the mixture between your palms into 12 meatballs. When a drop of water sizzles immediately, it’s hot enough for the meatballs.  Gently place them in the pan and as soon as the first side looks brown, dislodge them and turn to another side.  Continue rotating the meatballs, using a wooden spoon and/or spatula.  After 10 minutes the meatballs should be well browned but slightly rare in the center.  If serving without sauce, continue cooking them for 5 to 8 minutes, rotating them as you go.  If serving with sauce, place them in the sauce now and simmer for 15 minutes.  Makes 12 meatballs

New Year’s Resolution #1

1 Jan

More entertaining at home. Just last night we had an absolutely wonderful dinner at the foodmaven.com‘s Park Slope apartment to usher in the New Year.  Instead of sitting at his elaborate dining room table, Arthur created a stage set in his living room, dressing the coffee table in gold leaf finery with massive candles and beautiful wine glasses laid upon tapestry.  Although we had agreed upon a simple supper for “a party of five” — the menu morphed into an extravaganza that began in 2010 and ended sumptuously in 2011!   The evening commenced with “aperitivi”– a great white wine from Italy (Fiano di Avellino) for me and martinis for the men.  Fleshy black olives, peppadews (tiny sweet and spicy peppers) filled with tuna, salumi, black pepper taralli, the best potato chips, and tiny white anchovies in vinegar.  For Arthur, the menu bridged old and new.  The first course was an old friend — a beloved pasta with lentils (good luck for the New Year) that tasted meaty and primal.  He said it was the great tomato paste he used!  I also remarked how good the actual malfatti (mixed-shaped) pasta was and Arthur declared it an excellent brand from Italy.  Will find out the name.  Next came a few dishes new to Arthur — he loves to experiment and was intrigued with a recipe that he adapted from Jamie Oliver.  In the style of cooking I love best, it was radically simple and very, very delicious:  A bone-in, tied lamb shoulder, braised ever so slowly, with lots of fresh rosemary and whole garlic cloves.  It cooked, covered, for hours until it exuded fragrant juices into which we dunked copious amounts of bread.  With that we drank a 1982 Chateau Gloria (a very good year) from our wine cellar.  A bowl of mashed root vegetables with butter and snippets of scallions and parsley added great color and were radically good.  Arthur had called to ask if I had a potato masher, and I was happy to bring the treasured utensil that once belonged to my mother-in-law.  The memories started to mount.

‘Round midnight (one of my favorite Dexter Gordon jazz tunes), I was treated to four small birthday cakes, laid upon a large ceramic platter, one in every color.  I blew out many candles and could barely hear my wishes above the fireworks outside.  The beautiful cakes, “made with real buttercream,” came from the Ladybird Bakery in Brooklyn. They were delicious.

And as tradition has each year beginning with a bite of cake, another tradition follows.  My birthday breakfast:  A glass of champagne followed by the most delicious scrambled eggs made by my husband in a double boiler so that they become velvety and Hollandaise-like.  He piles them atop a hillock of smoked salmon and often garnishes them with caviar.  As traditions go, it ain’t half bad.

Have a happy and healthy.

Barton Fink Comes for Cocktails

14 Dec

Last night I had the pleasure of playing matchmaker to the great actor John Turturro and my great friend Arthur Schwartz.  They are both in love…with Naples! John Turturro, as many of you know, is one of America’s finest actors, writers and directors best known for his roles in Barton Fink, Quiz Show, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and more than 50 other movies. Today, he most wants to be known as the director of a new film, Passione, about the street life and music of Naples.  Arthur Schwartz, as many of you know, is one of the world’s great cooks and authorities on Italian cuisine, specifically food from Naples.  Today, he wants to bring a musical production from Naples to Brooklyn (and brought the sound track to seduce us.) Since the Turturros live directly across the street from us and Arthur and Bob live around the corner, it seemed the perfect moment to open a bottle of Prosecco and talk about their beloved city.  We had a blast. The day started with Arthur and I going to buy salumi and prosciutto and pane at Di Palo’s — the city’s most celebrated Italian food store.  It has been in existence since the 1930′s.  They recently expanded to include a fantastic wine shop and it was too much fun spending time with Lou di Palo who, according to Arthur, knows more about Italian food producers and products than anyone.  At 7:30 p.m. the six of us (with John’s wife and my husband), sat in our living room talking, laughing, eating, drinking, and watching John slowly unfold:  Before we knew it, John was “in character” telling us about the joys of producing his new musical — which will be available in the states sometime early next year.  Arthur and Bob have already seen it in Italy…and loved it.

You can experience a bit of last night by making Arthur’s fabulous caponata.   Arthur brought it, along with some lovely parmesan “cookies”, and they went beautifully with all the cheeses, salumi, “melted tomatoes,” Sicilian breadsticks, olives and fresh fennel that we had.  After the Turturros went home (it was snowing when they left!), Arthur and Bob stayed for a light supper — a cheese-and-onion tart, wild arugula salad, and wine cake with lemon buttermilk sorbetto for dessert.  Strong coffee followed.

Here is Arthur’s classic, unpublished, recipe for caponata; and here is the link to the trailer for John’s “Passione.”   Ciao, ciao

Classic Caponata

Classic caponata can be very oily, but Arthur has reduced the final oil content by soaking the eggplant in salt water, which decreases the amount of oil it absorbs when fried, and by draining the oil from the fried eggplant before adding it to the sauce.

2 1/2 pounds eggplant (I prefer several small ones instead of 1 very large)
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
2 outside ribs celery, cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 1 cup)
1 large onion, sliced very thin (about 1 1/2 cups)
3 tablespoons plus 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups tomato puree
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar, or more to taste
2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa (optional)
12 (6 to 7 ounces) large Sicilian green olives, cut off their pits in large pieces
1/2 cup salted capers, rinsed well and soaked in cold water if very salty
3 rounded tablespoons raisins
3 rounded tablespoons of pine nuts or almonds (optional)

Put about 2 quarts of cold water into a very large bowl with about 3 tablespoons of salt.

Wash the eggplants. Cut them into 3/4 to 1-inch cubes. As they are cut, put them into the bowl with the salted water. Let stand for at least 30 minutes, weighted down with a plate so the cubes stay submerged.

Meanwhile, boil the celery in lightly salted water for about 3 minutes, until crisp-tender. Drain well.

In a 12 to 14-inch skillet, over medium-low to medium heat, sauté the onion in 3 tablespoons of olive oil until tender and lightly golden, about 10 minutes.

Add the tomato puree, stir well and simmer 1 minute.

Add the vinegar, sugar, salt, and cocoa. Stir well and simmer another minute.

Add the olives, capers, raisins, and the reserved celery. Stir well again and let heat through 1 more minute. Set aside.

Drain the eggplant cubes.

Heat 1 cup of olive oil in a 9 to 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. When hot enough to sizzle an eggplant cube immediately (or bubbles gather around the handle end of a wooden spoon), fry the eggplant cubes in several batches. The eggplant can fill the pan, but only in 1 layer. Fry for about 4 minutes, turning the cubes a couple of times. The eggplant should be soft but no more than very slightly browned. Remove with a slotted spoon or skimmer and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining eggplant. There will probably be 4 batches.

After each batch of eggplant has drained a minute or so, transfer it to the pan with the sweet and sour sauce. Stir each addition into the base sauce.

When all the eggplant has been fried and it is all in the sauce, mix well but gingerly so as not to break up the eggplant too much. Heat through gently, just until the mixture starts bubbling at the edges.

Taste for salt and vinegar. You may want to add a little more of each. Or a trace more sugar.

The caponata is best eaten at room temperature the day after it is made, but it is quite good even fresh and still warm. Makes about 2 quarts

The $2 Little Meal

13 Dec

My husband and I have a funny routine when we make dinner.  We’re usually so exhausted after work that we don’t go shopping, so we challenge each other to make a meal from whatever is in the house.  The result of one very inexpensive “improv” dinner years ago was a bowl of “caramelized onions and pasta.”  That recipe wound up in my very first cookbook called Little Meals:  A great new way to eat and cook (Villard), and I affectionately named it the $2 Little Meal.   The cost of the entire dish was no more than 2 bucks and relied exclusively on things you would have in your kitchen: onions, salt, sugar, balsamic vinegar and pasta, and a smattering of thyme and basil leaves (that I had dried from the summer window box.)  Freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, always in my fridge, is actually optional here.  At the time, I made the dish with farfalle (bowties) because, as “house rules” dictated, it was all we had.  But it is quite good with any pasta shape, short or long.  Years later, the recipe morphed into a dish I created for my monthly column in Bon Appetit where roasted peppers and fennel seeds added a bit of complexity and sophistication.  You can find a version of that recipe by “googling” Caramelized Onion and Roasted Pepper Pasta.  But here, and now, I will share the original, humble dish.  A bottle of $2 Buck Chuck wine (now more expensive) would be just the thing to drink!

For more ideas on “improv cooking” you might want to look at Arthur’s Schwartz’s gem of a book called “What To Cook When You Think There’s Nothing in the House to Eat! A book that truly lives up to its title. 

The $2 Little Meal (adapted from Little Meals)
This can be served as a first course for four or a main course for two.  It is also a nice side dish alongside a simple roast.

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1-1/2 pounds yellow onions, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons dried basil leaves, crumbled
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves, crumbled
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
8 to 12 ounces dried pasta
freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet.  Add sliced onions and cook over high heat until they begin to brown, about 10 minutes.  If they begin to burn a little, that’s okay. Lower heat and add the sugar, basil, thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Cook 10 minutes, stirring often, until onions are uniformly caramel-colored.  Add water and vinegar and cover pan.  Simmer while pasta is cooking.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Cook pasta until just tender; drain well and shake dry.  Divide pasta among 2 to 4 warm bowls.  Top with cheese, if desired.  Serves 2 to 4


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