This was a meaty weekend, starting with a tower of various pig and cow parts brought in from Hill Country Friday night, and concluding with a Peking duck from Peking Duck House. Aside from a bellyful of fatty flesh, I came away, strangely, with a deeper understanding of the vegetarian life.
Vegetarians, I realized, are like scientologists, dwelling in, but not of, the surrounding world. You watch everyone eat meat, yet you poke through a salad or a veggie burger, or, in the latter case, strapped to an e-meter (is there a hyphen in there…not sure). Especially as winter turns to spring and there’s nothing better than a nice walk around the neighborhood. Restaurants unpack the tables and chairs stored since last year and set them up on the sidewalks; I can only imagine the torture of walking up Lafayette past the swept open windows and doors of Soho Park knowing you’re forbidden to sample the burger.
Yet there is, I suppose, a sense of community (see: A.A.); vegetarians united. Alas, such a group doesn’t exist for the haters of tuna salad; this is true loneliness, anomie at its most intense. I take solace, however, in the knowledge that I’m right, and that someday the world will come around to the fact that fish packed into a can, potentially for years, is incorrect.
When it comes to fish, the most frequent adjective is “fresh”: right from the sea, the “daily catch”, “day boat scallops”, line caught this and that. I like my sushi as fresh as possible; if I preferred an older product I’d eat, well, canned tuna. I also prefer my fish clean smelling, with only a faint briny odor. For those who prefer otherwise, there’s always canned tuna, which, when opened, emits the nauseating aroma of cat food.
Objection #3: color and texture. Overcooking tuna is a basic cooking no-no. The fish turns the color of molding clay and acquires the texture of compressed pencil shavings.
If it’s a seafood salad you’re after, chunk up a piece of cooled, recently cooked fish and toss it with some sort of vinaigrette. When thinking up a seafood salad, the best thing to do is close your eyes and imagine you’re on a the beach on a sunny day, thoughts of lunch floating through your mind like the waves washing over your toes. Unless the beach is off Chatham in the middle of great white season in which case it’s wiser to focus on something other than lunch.
A shellfish salad, perhaps, complete with mussels and clams and squid, or of course, a salad nicoise. Which brings me back to tuna. Salad nicoise is a perfect example of a correctly prepared ingredient bathing in its correct context. Tuna, seared rare, sliced, with a bunch of Meditterraneany stuff. Swordfish, while not the most exciting fish, is almost genetically engineered for salads: the firm flesh doesn’t collapse when tossed with a dressing or pierced by a fork. And it’s bland enough to take on any desired flavor. It also doesn’t come from a can, which is nice when it comes to fish.
Swordfish Salad w/ Thai Dressing and Broiled Scallions
1 ½ pounds swordfish
2 bunches scallions, trimmed
salt and pepper
For the Dressing:
¼ cup fish sauce
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
juice 1 lime
1 minced garlic clove
1 minced fresh red chile
- Rub fish all over with a bit of olive oil and lay on rack over a foil-covered baking sheet. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Toss the scallions with oil. Preheat the broiler. Place on a rack with scallions. Place on a rack just under the heat. Depending on thickness, the fish will take 6-7 minutes, flipping once, and scallions 3-4. You want the veg just cooked through and just a little browned, not charred. Remove, let cool and refrigerate. When cold, cut fish into ½ inch pieces and the scallions into 1-inch lengths.
- Whisk the dressing ingredients until the sugar completely dissolves. Gently toss the fish and scallions in a bowl with the dressing and mint. Season as desired and serve.
Pear cookery is the subject of the day. Of course, for such an effort one needs pears, and when one needs pears one is confronted inevitably with the Bosc-Bartlett dilemma. (Okay, there’s Anjou and Comice etc., but let’s be real.) Despite sounding like a physics theorem or a House budget proposal, Bosc-Bartlett is universally familiar. And as I stood before the adjacent towers of Bartletts (green) and Boscs (brown), I was reminded of the Curb Your Enthusiasm episode, which hinges on the Bosc-Bartlett confusion.
To my mind, they’re interchangeable, the only notable difference being shape. I prefer the Bartlett, which is fuller-it reminds me of a bumpy baby’s head-and thus more impressive on the plate. The issue then, is how to cook these similar fruits. Because they hold their shape, pears are ideal for poaching. However, a roasted pear is equally delicious, though a bit more challenging. Roasting fruit is not as easy as it sounds: the goal is a unit of contradictory properties, caramelized on the outside but juicy and tender on the inside.
There’s nothing worse than a dried-out chunk of roasted fruit; the fruit world’s equivalent of an overdone piece of salmon. The key is surrounding and basting the fruit with just enough sugary liquid, which will coat the pears as they brown. You should also pack them together in the dish; the juices seep out and mingle nicely.
It all depends on what you’re looking for: a hot pear, soft and slightly golden out of the oven, or a darker, almost candied fruit sitting in a sticky sauce. Straight from the Chanterelle dessert cookbook, this recipe results in the latter, but you can’t go wrong with either version, especially accompanied by a dollop of full-fat strained yogurt. About these pears there’s no confusion.
Honey Roasted Pears (adapted from Chanterelle dessert cookbook by Kate Zuckerman)
Yield: 10 pears
2 tablespoons butter
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup honey
strained Greek yogurt
- Preheat oven to 425.
- Peel zest into a few strips. Peel pears and slice section 1/3 inch off the bottom so they can stand up.
- Place in pan tightly along with the sugar, honey, and butter. (They mix by themselves in the oven.)
- Bake pears for 30 minutes then turn over onto one side and bake 20 minutes. Turn onto the other side and bake 20 minutes more.
- Stand the pears up, baste with juices and bake 15 minutes. Repeat, basting every 15 minutes for another 45 minutes. You may need to roast further.
- Serve with the caramel sauce and yogurt. Removing the core from the bottom with a little knife is optional (for me at least).
Cheetos are a miracle of science. Consider the recent NYT magazine cover story on food conglomerates and their efforts to hook the public on their products. Of the chips, processed lunch meats, and sugary sauces, I was most impressed with the Cheeto. Not only does it crunch, but it pleasingly melts in the mouth, wherein lies a key added benefit: we tend to think airy, delicate foods are harmless. And so we keep dipping our orange hands into the Cheeto bag.
A morsel that both dissolves and addicts: genius. The first Cheeto emerged from a bubbling test tube, huddled over by a mob of lab-coated food scientists. Like a novel, it transformed from a dreamy vision into a real live object. But in the obsession with all things modern (see ipad, etc.), we lose sight of the past and the fact that all culinary history is full of experimentation.
Take Yorkshire pudding, for instance. As a rule, any expanding food, be it a Cheeto, Yorkshire pudding, or a loaf of bread, is the product of trial and error, in other words, the scientific method. A tiny amount of batter ladled into a hot muffin tin blows up into a golden, yummy balloon. The first gal to crack open the oven and witness this event must have fainted right into her tub of freshly churned butter.
Cheetos and Yorkshire Pudding: pools of liquid puffed up into addictive treats. Both products of food experimentation, the former was created with the intent of hooking consumers. Scientists tested sugar, salt, and crunch metrics with the precision of researchers hunting for a cancer cure.
Yorkshire Pudding may not be the perfect food (to my mind, the Dorito is unsurpassable), but they’re honest, successful and absurdly simple examples of kitchen chemistry. Fresh out of the oven, these things are plenty addicting, but if you want to be like the Cheeto guy, serve them as we do here, with a spoonful of foie gras mousse and strawberry preserves.
Yorkshire Pudding w/ Foie Gras and Strawberry Preserves
Makes about 12 Y.P.’s
1 cup flour
1 ¼ cup milk
foie gras terrine
1. Preheat oven to 450.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk salt and flour. Whisk in eggs until very smooth. Whisk in half the milk, then the remaining half. Transfer to a measuring cup and let rest.
3. Add a teaspoon of oil to each compartment of a 12 tin muffin pan. Place in oven until oil is extremely hot. Swirl around carefully.
4. Fill muffin tins about ¾ full. Bake about 15 minutes until golden and puffy. Serve with foie gras and jam.
Lunch in my old school was-throughout my twelve years of attendance-crummy at best. You learned to avoid anything heated even slightly beyond room temperature. In such a situation, one needs a bailout, and ours was laid out on a small folding table. An appendage to the end of the counter on which we slid our trays, the table held torn open bags of white bread, a large bowl of butter, and an equally sizeable aluminum tin of peanut butter. And so, mood-depending, I’d work my way through the week fortified by butter and peanut butter sandwiches.
Nowadays, supposedly things have changed: the food is better, more varied, and generally pleasing. Which isn’t much to ask for considering the tuition. Still, one wonders how to elevate institutional food from the nearly decent to the relatively good (adverbs are unavoidable when discussing this subject).
The answer to this conundrum hit me on the 6 train, my eyes buried in our recent copy of Saveur, admiring the article on spicy Chinese cooking. Saveur is a shabby chic version of National Geographic: meandering travel writing which assiduously dodges revolutions, slavery, and bloodshed, instead focusing on, say Rwandan goat curry. Or an essay on a lovely Iraqi family and its bread recipes minus any mention of them eating their meals in a bomb shelter.
Nonetheless, occasionally they publish a potentially exciting recipe. For instance, this week’s red chile oil straight from spicy China. Rather than a simple chile-oil infusion this version contains other, more fragrant and unexpected spices such as cloves and cardamom.
Which brings me back to school food. How about a line of garnishes, a little red chile oil, some flavored salt, and so on. Not only to improve the fare, but also expand young palates. Unless the idea of private school kids sprinkling clove dust on their curry nauseates you. In which case, just make this stuff at home and keep it in the
fridge to help your cooking.
(NOTE: as you can see in the picture, we didn’t strain the oil. This is more for photographic aesthetics, however, since the oil contains its own garnish, no harm in using some for flair.)
Whole Spice Red Chile Oil (from Saveur)
2 cups canola
4 star anise
3 cloves garlic, smashed
3 cardamom pods
2 bay leaves
1 stick cinnamon
1 3” piece ginger, smashed
1 cup fresh red Thai chiles (they say chiles de arbol, we used Thai), chopped
3 tablespoons Szechuan peppercorns
1 tablespoon soy sauce
½ teaspoon salt
- Heat everything up to (not including) the chiles in a medium pot over medium heat until garlic is golden, about 10 minutes.
Transfter to a heatproof glass jar, with chiles, peppercorns, and salt. Let cool to room temp. Discard garlic and ginger, seal and let sit for 24 hours. To use, strain oil, discarding solids. Keeps in fridge 3 months.
Intro to a duck a l’orange recipe, source to be named later:
“This classic dish displays all the talents of the saucier, a position normally reserved for the most qualified cook in the kitchen. Duck a l’orange brings out his talents to combine three distinctly different flavors.”
Given the dish (dated) and the pedantic tone, you’d think perhaps Escoffier or a cooking school textbook (I know it sounds like ours, with its soufflé and mousse addiction). But it’s from the Balthazar cookbook, one of our favorites, for its food clear directions, and structure, but moreso its honesty: the dishes seem simple but spring from years of toil, a fact which, despite the seeming simplicity of the recipes, comes through loud and clear.
Like the Federer forehand, the Balthazar book embodies one of my favorite sayings: “he makes it looks easy”. It’s a good measure of excellence; if something looks like a breeze, it’s probably exactly the opposite. Of course, it goes around and around: what looks easy should be easy and thus generally doable.
But it’s not, which is where the obnoxious American enters the picture. The football fan screaming at that bastard who “somehow” fails to catch a badly overthrown ball. The superhuman leap, which leaves the player’s knees hanging in the air ready to be torn off by an angry giant, is forgotten. Or the restaurant critic reaming a chef who fails to produce a perfect plate of food; the dance critic wondering how a ballerina could have slipped.
The unfortunate reality is that excellence is the result of hard work. In this respect, good cooking is deceptive: tasty dishes with a limited ingredient list, are often the product of more blood sweat and tears than something molded, stuffed, wrapped, braised, sautéed, chilled, sliced, and glazed with aspic.
The sauce in this recipe is really good; it pairs perfectly with a quick cucumber sauté. We got it from, the Japanese chef Tetsuya Wakuda, who spoons the stuff over rare salmon. It’s a simple mixture, or should I say, he makes it look simple, which is high praise indeed.
Warm Cucumber With Nori Dressing
Serves 4 as a side dish
2 seedless cucumbers
1 sheet nori crumbled into small flakes
1 ½ tablespoons soy
2 tablespoons mirin
¼ cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ cup olive oil plus 2 tablespoons
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
- Peel and halve the cukes lengthwise. Remove seeds with a spoon. Slice halves widthwise in 1 inch pieces then cut the sections in half to form pieces about 1 by ¼ inch. Reserve in a bowl.
- Make the dressing: in a medium bowl, whisk the ingredients together except for the nori and the 2 tablespoons olive oil. Stir in the crumbled nori. Let sit ½ hour.
- Heat the two tablespoons oil in a large sauté pan over medium high heat. When hazy, add the cucumbers and saute, stirring occasionally, for about 2 minutes or until warmed through and tender but not overcooked. They should have a bit of a bite.
- Pour the warm cucumbers into the bowl with the dressing, toss, and serve on a platter.
I begin packing his school lunch when he presses the elevator button. By the time the elevator arrives, the meal is sealed up in his little frog knapsack, and we’re out the door. And we live on the third floor. If any of the major food groups are represented, it’s been a success. I shiver to think of the teachers as they watch him pull out a piece of white bread, goldfish, and a chocolate chip cookie.
But starch is an important part of life, and thus he’ll have a firm head start on those children with bags of mini carrots and organic ham. There is, we’re told, a wide variety of foods out there. Not eating correctly and choosing according to our bodily needs is wasteful, ignorant, and lazy. Or so they say. But a diet of pure fat can be even more sophisticated and clever.
The options are staggering: dairy (cream/milk/cheese/butter/etc.); animal (bacon and every other pleasant item); oils (preferably used to fry stuff); and the healthy area (avocados/nuts, preferably pureed with extra oil in a pesto). Everyone has a favorite. For instance, one might enjoy cream, say in a bowl of clam chowder (ingredients: bacon and cream), or an equally creamy potato gratin (ingredients potatoes and cream).
And then there are the neglected fat delivery systems, such as offal (sweetbreads and liver). And like the pimpled teen Donkey Kong champ, marrow fat is king of offal-fat land. It’s a strange item calling for a strange eating method: stick a tiny spoon into a roasted bone hunting for gelatinous ooze. It’s like mining for gold with a toothbrush . Some of the fat melts and oozes into a puddle in the hot pan while the rest remains inside the bone, soft and unctuous.
The best part of marrow fat, and why it is so prized by chefs, is its ability to donate, in one tiny spoonful, both an interesting flavor as well as a fatty mouthful, to a range of dishes, from salads to pasta, and cooked meats and fish. In this sense, it’s like cream or butter, which, let’s face it, added in small (or large) amounts, improve everything, from soups to sauces or shampoos. But because it has an actual flavor, marrow fat, if you can get your hands on it, can be even more useful.
As I did yesterday, this morning I pried four congealed leftover dumplings and threw them in the kid’s lunchbox for a balanced meal of fat and carbs. When I get the energy, I’ll bring in molten marrow fat for the class snack. It’s a valuable introduction to the wonderful world of fat.
(NOTE: you usually spoon marrow over a crostini and leave it at that, but I draped a few anchovy fillets over the top. It’s pretty darn good.)
Bone Marrow and Anchovy Crostini
Makes enough for at least 20 crostini
5 large marrow bones
few tablespoons canola oil
4 large sprigs thyme, two reserved and leaves minced finely
20 anchovy filets (salted)
1 thin baguette (ficelle)
cracked fresh black pepper
1. Preheat oven to 400.
2. Coat a small pan with oil, season bones all over with a bit of salt and pepper and stand in the pan. Roast for about 15-20 minutes, depending on size. The interior should be thoroughly soft and melting when pierced. Remove to a platter, add two of the thyme sprigs to hot fat in the pan and fry until lightly browned, add to plate with bones.
3. Meanwhile, slice bread into thin (no more than ¼ inch) slices and arrange on platter with bones, fried thyme, and demitasse spoons for spreading marrow. Drizzle hot fat in pan over the bread as well as the minced fresh thyme.
4. Serve immediately with anchovy filets.
A culinary student colleague, returning from an internship at Daniel told me the experience was generally crummy. One can only tolerate being called a jackass in French for so long. Most astonishing was the sheer waste: a celery stalk is reduced to a precisely measured pile of brunoise barely able to fill a demitasse spoon. A parsnip yields a few wispy threads destined to be dropped ever so delicately into the fryer and cooked to the color of the late afternoon sun.
A restaurant is medieval in structure, gentry in the front, serfs (slaves?) in the rear, which, as it happens, is chock full of period appropriate torture instruments: raging fire, boiling oil, and severe taskmasters. And the persistent fear of infiltration by a fierce power – the INS.
In another genuine touch, the cooks are fed scraps shaved from whatever feast is shipped to the paying diners. In an odd way, however, this phenomenon, the staff meal, should serve as a valuable modern day lesson to us all. Nothing is wasted; bits of veg and meats are turned into stocks and soups and stews and sandwiches and so on, most of which, due to lack of time, are pitifully flavored, but can be, in the leisurely environment of the home cook, turned into satisfying meals.
Nowadays, a chef is measured by his nose-to-tail skills; can he transform every last part of the pig into a delicious morsel. For some reason, especially at home, vegetables are not given the nose-to-tail respect; lop off the broccoli florets and chuck the stem; throw out that unused quarter of a fennel or half a shallot.
While it would be nice to read less about nose-to-tail and more about stem-to-stalk, the home chef should take a page from the restaurant kitchen and use up these bits and pieces. Stuff can be turned into pickles or relishes, chutneys, etc. And it’s a sin to dump something as worthy as a broccoli stalk, which is the moral of today’s post, the all-broccoli salad, or in chefy terms, broccoli two ways. A worthy recipe in the savvy, thrifty spirit of the modern galley workers.
(NOTE: 1. If you don’t have a mandoline, this is the time to buy one. 2. The amounts are purposely vague (you should know how you like your dressing), the only caveat being not to make it too thick and not to overdress. It’s a delicate salad, the last thing you need is soggy, heavy veg.)
Salad of Broccoli Stems and Florets
2 medium bunches broccoli
2 slices bacon
touch olive oil
salt and pepper
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Have bowl of ice water nearby.
- Cut off florets into 1/2 –inch size. Using a paring knife, peel stem from end to end, removing tough exterior. Slice peeled stems into strips, ¼-inch thick and about 2 inches long, stack, then julienne. Alternatively, use a mandoline and make your life easier. Keep florets and stems separate.
- Blanch florets very briefly, no more than 30 seconds-they should still have bite. Repeat with julienned stem. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the vegetables to ice water.
- Saute the bacon and crumble. Reserve on a paper towel
- In a small bowl, whisk buttermilk and sour cream to a dressing consistency (not too thick – SEE NOTE). Add a touch of olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Toss and serve.
Given the fascinating degree of human variation, from DNA (useful in fighting crime) to eye color (useful in not much), it’s interesting that tourist-choked Broadway is a study in similarity. In other words, we look so alike that a 5’6” guy is considered on the short side-a difference of only a few inches from “the norm”-and surplus of a mere 20 pounds or so is thought of as distinctive.
However, there do exist on this earth, people who are truly different: they may best be seen courtside at your local NBA arena, the land of the super-tall, where 6’1 is a height worthy of compassion, a look that says “what a sweet little guy”. Bill Walton strolled past me once on the way to the announcer’s table, and it was like being nudged by a walking palm tree.
Reading a recipe the other day, Knicks game in the background, I considered the definition of “pinch”, the most common-yet universally accepted-imprecise quantity cookbook suggestion. I appreciate imprecision in recipes, actually: it carries an air of creativity and whimsy to cooking, so often “constipated” (in Roux brothers’ Franglais) by military-like commands.
And so, I enjoy the “pinch” (or its sister, the lesser used “splash”), cooking’s tiny version of free-form verse. The only issue with the pinch is that it doesn’t account for variations in finger size, which is how we return to human variation. While most fingers are similar, there’s always the guy with super-tiny digits, or an otherwise proportioned human save for a set of giant hands. Or, as we return to the NBA, a 7-foot center who could crush a coke can with two fingers.
In the creative spirit of “the pinch”, this recipe is inexact and not intended as a strict guide. And since, even power forwards have to cook, a “pinch” of this or a “splash” of that, will do.
(NOTE: The instinct with this pasta is to toss it with some kind of seafood or chicken, but just because a dish has saffron doesn’t turn it into paella. I say honor the saffron. The chili flakes add a little balance.)
Pasta with Saffron Cream and Chili Flakes
2 shallots, minced
splash olive oil
½ cup or so white wine
generous pinch saffron
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup or so heavy cream
1 pound spaghetti
several pinches chili flakes
salt and pepper
- Heat a large pot of salted water over medium heat.
- Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan over medium heat, warm the oil, add the shallots and gently cook until soft but not browned.
- Add the wine, butter and saffron and simmer until reduced by half. Drop the pasta into the water to cook. Add the cream and simmer until reduced by at least half or until sauce consistency.
- Drain pasta, add to the saffron cream, season with chili flakes, salt, pepper, and serve.
Sur La Table, a cooking store majoring in gadgets with a minor in
pots and pans. It’s like stepping out of a Vegas elevator right onto the casino floor. Past the entrance and just beyond the entrance and the shelves of pots, one enters a brightly lit world of smiles and, well, rubber: neon red whisks, lemon yellow basters, and food-coloring blue peelers. A riot of excess, the epicenter of kitchen fad-land, and the world’s whitest store.
Missing among the slew of reminders and timers, is something which nudges and jars your memory of dishes cooked and forgotten. Weeks ago I made a jar of Indian pickle with jalapenos: marinated overnight in spices (on the windowsill!?), cured in lemon juice overnight (same windowsill), then mixed with boiling sesame oil and left to sit for three days (windowsill) prior to refrigeration. (You have to sterilize the jars in a pot of boiling water before all this windowsill stuff.)
And so into the fridge sailed two jars of delicious homemade pickle, superior to any standard take out version and a condiment ready to adorn any variety of dishes. Two days ago, reaching for the ketchup, I glimpsed the lid of a gold Ball jar accompanied by the instant aromas of freshly sliced jalapenos and the sounds of drizzling rain as I stared for hours at the windowsill and the curing pickle.
Sometimes you forget the food you cooked a mere two hours ago. For example, the classic wine-braised short ribs we simmered-till-melting Sunday at noon and re-discovered around dinnertime, soft-bubbling away in the oven. Being short ribs, that most forgiving of treats, they were extremely tasty, despite the slightly disorienting feeling of having a warm pot of stew magically appear in our oven, as if the tooth fairy or Santa himself had visited our apartment.
While loathe to suggest yet one more gadget to the folks at Sur La Table hq, here’s an idea: a retractable arm attached to the kitchen timer which, when the timer beeps, shoots out and smacks you in the head. There also might be a market for a similar item attached to a very long-term timer (“The Pickle Timer”), which can be suction-cupped to one’s windowsill.
The following is an unbelievably fantastic short rib recipe.
(NOTE: You don’t have to bind each short rib (of course), but it really does hold the thing together, which both makes it look better on the plate and eliminates the need to fish floating bones from the pot, possibly shredding meat in the process. Veal stock, frankly is critical here, unfortunately, but if you don’t have it, use boxed chicken stock and thicken with cornstarch. I’d be sad if you did that, however. Finally, good short ribs are hard to find; even Pino, our trusty butcher, gave us some lousy ones. They’re often scrawny, so don’t compromise and search out a good source for meaty ribs.)
Red Wine Braised Short Ribs (from Balthazar Cookbook)
5-6 pounds meaty short ribs (see NOTE)
few sprigs rosemary
few sprigs thyme
1 celery stalk halved crosswise
4 carrots, peeled, cut in 1-inch lengths
1 onion, diced ½ inch
4 shallots, sliced ¼ inch
5 garlic cloves, halved
3 tablespoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons flour
½ cup ruby port
4 cubs red wine
4 cups veal stock
salt and pepper
- Preheat oven to 325.
- Tie butcher twine around each rib. Place herbs in between celery halves and tie in a bundle.
- Heat a splash of oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Season ribs well with salt and pepper. Add to pot without crowding and brown well on all sides (about 5 minutes). Transfer to a large bowl and brown the next batch, add to same bowl.
- Pour off fat, add another splash of veg oil and add the carrots, onions, shallots and garlic, cooking until lightly browned. Season.
- Add tomato paste and stir in for a few minutes. Add port, wine, and celery, reduce by 1/3.
- Return ribs (hopefully in one layer). Season again, pour in stock to cover by 1 inch (add water if necessary). Bring to a simmer, cover, and place in oven for 3 hours.
- Transfer to a large platter, remove strings. Strain sauce and simmer down by half. Return ribs to pot and simmer 10 minutes. Serve. (We didn’t bother straining. An overdone carrot is a wonderful thing-just pick out the celery bundle).
They say the “dining scene” in the city has never been stronger. The vibrancy of the eating scene, however, is less discussed and a bit shakier (by pop math, less discussed i.e. in the news = less important). One need only stand on the corner of 9th and 2nd to be convinced.
Veselka, which occupies this corner, is a Polish/Russian eatery and a longtime neighborhood staple. They serve pirogies and borscht and a long menu of similarly bland – borscht has yet to hit it big – Eastern European dishes. As tends to occur, ethnic neighborhoods shrink and shrink and shrink like a crummy shirt until (no pun)– the true sign of a dead end – they’re referred to as “pockets”. Veselka exists in one such pocket, a row of Polish bakeries and funeral homes and secret societies spreading a few blocks along 1st Avenue.
The bakeries and so on seem pretty genuine, or at least high on the dirty-brown-brick-angry-old-Polish-man scale, but Veselka looks and feels like a clean diner, such as one you might be happy to see by the side of a highway during a long family road trip. The clientele, however, is a cross-section of youngish downtowners and the NYU student showing the parents his favorite lunch spot.
Veselka the roadside diner only throws into relief the borough’s lost memories, as if someone jumped in with a giant eraser and wiped out pages and pages of urban history. When rootless, we often turn to food to find our way and these days chefs have dug up roots, but those from a little earlier than Veselka’s.
These cooks have descended pilgrim ships: farming and growing and carpentry and brining and pickling and cheese-making and vodka-making. Admirable activities all, but taking a cab to eat where some guy has spent the afternoon churning his own butter feels a bit disorienting. The more stuff he does from scratch, the weirder it feels, almost like a Polish grandma might feel on lower 2nd Ave. The following recipe brings us back to a just-right time and place.
This meat-heavy “Sunday Gravy” recipe, from On Top of Spaghetti, is a staple pasta sauce over here. What I love about it is the rich variety of meats, which necessitates two bowls, one for sauced pasta, the other for the meat.
Sunday Gravy w/ Sausages and Meatballs (from On Top of Spaghetti)
Makes enough sauce for 6-8
¾ cup olive oil
3 center cut pork chops (about 1 ½ pounds)
1 ½ pounds Italian sausage
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 ½ cups canned tomatoes
6oz tomato paste
rind from a piece of Parmesan
1 pound spaghetti
salt and pepper
- Heat oil in a large pot and brown the meats. Remove to a bowl. Add onions and garlic and brown a bit. Season with salt and pepper and scrape bits from bottom of pot.
- Return meats to pot along with 4 cups water and everything but the meatballs and spaghetti. Bring to a boil, lower heat to simmer, cover and cook about an hour. Add meatballs and cook about 20 minutes.
- To serve, remove meats to a platter. Cook pasta, toss with sauce, and add to a second platter. Serve with grated cheese.
12 oz ground beef
4 slices crustless sandwich bread cut in cubes
¾ cup milk
1 cup grated pecorino
1 tablespoon minced parsley
1 egg, beaten
salt and pepper
1. Mix all ingredients. Chill in fridge for a bit. With wet hands roll into 1-inch balls.