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NY, I Love You

Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Gone Running

If This Town is Just an Apple, then Let Me Take a Bite...
(M. Jackson, Human Nature)

Mission NY.

• 26.2 miles
• chasing Aldo Rock (famous Italian marathon and triathlon runner)
• pilgrimage to Sullivan Street Bakery to shake hands with Jim Lahey
• hunting for an alternative to Una Pizza Napoletana
• taking a stroll on Fifth Avenue to feel like Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's
• shopping at Rizzoli Bookstore, hoping to meet my own Robert de Niro (remember this?)
• going for a walk In the Park, Barefoot or with the shoes
• homage to the famous diner on 112th Street, set of many Jerry Seinfeld's episodes
• admiring the 59th Street Bridge at night, sitting on a bench like Woody Allen & Diane Keaton, without thinking of the five bridges that are waiting for me
• a Long Island Ice Tea, but after the marathon : )

- Chapter one.
"He was as tough and romantic as the city he loved. Behind his black-rimmed glasses was the coiled sexual power of a jungle cat".
- I love this.
"New York was his town and it always would be".

(W. Allen, Manhattan)

Una Pizza Napoletana

Sunday, October 25, 2009
Anthony Mangieri
Picture taken from the New York Times official website

Anthony Mangieri, who is him?

Once upon a time there was a fundamentalist pizza maker, one of those who aren't willing to come to terms with anybody, no cheap mozzarella, no artificial yeast, no canned tomato sauce. Anthony Mangieri had a dream, pursued for years like the Holy Grail: understanding the secret of pizza, dissecting it, making it his own in order to be able to offer it to the rest of the world. Anthony Mangieri knew that Neapolitan pizza is a serious affair, a magic one needs to conquer with very few ingredients, but all of top quality. No tricks here, no superfluous additions: salt, water, flour and natural rising. Tomatoes, mozzarella, olive oil and basil. Take it or leave it. All the extras are banished, what do you need them for?

Not an easy challenge, in a market where spoiled customers are used to ask and get whatever they want: thick pizza, thin, square or round, with pesto or with chicken, well-done or half-baked, with pineapple or ham, or with everything at once, just tell me what you want and I'll make it for you. So-called pizzerias and take-out pizza on every corner, fast-food prices, who did he think he would compete with?

Una Pizza Napoletana was everything but a traditional American pizza restaurant. Right when you'd read the sign on the door, you could understand there was something odd:

"Open Thursday-Sunday
5 pm until sold out of dough"

Is this a joke? What do you mean Thursday to Sunday? And those who may want pizza on Wednesday, what are they suppose to do? And then, we are in the US, how dare you closing and taking a day off? And what's this thing that you may run out of dough? No, no, no, that's not possible, dough never ends. Until there's a client, there must be dough; it doesn't matter if it hasn't fully risen yet and if in reality it's supposed to be for tomorrow. Use it and that's it, what's the difference?

By the time you had read the menu, you didn't know what to think anymore: Anthony was a visionary or he was simply crazy. Una Pizza Napoletana offered only four pizzas, all of them variations on the same subject: Marinara, Margherita, Bianca and Filetti (with chopped cherry tomatoes on top). A swap between the same ingredients, tomatoes, mozzarella, olive oil and basil. Nothing more. Four pizzas. No salads, no appetizers, snacks or finger food. Not even dessert. Pizza like a religion, a fundamentalist faith to which Anthony would grant only one thing, some red wine from Campania, served in a carafe.

In reality, his visionary delirium was equivalent to a business suicide, the willingness to attract criticism and disapproval from hungry people. What? How come I can't make substitutions? And you don't even have pepperoni? Next time I'll think twice before waiting here for half hour... And yet, pizza was coming out as beautiful as ever, round, fragrant and steaming hot. And it was whole, as it should be, not already sliced or cut in half, American style. To everyone his own pizza, because for things like these it's right to be selfish.

And then there was this thing about the ingredients, all rigorously imported and carefully selected, chosen with a fanatical precision: organic flour, San Marzano tomatoes DOP (acronym for any certified Italian food product), sea salt from Sicily, extra-virgin olive oil that was more like a olive nectar, fresh buffalo mozzarella from Campania.

Those who want to understand will follow me, for all the others there will always be the other thousand and thousand of NY pizzerias. Those who wanted to understand patronized that tiny place in the East Village as if it were a temple, with the same worship and respect one has towards the Holy. I hope, Ho Fede, just like Anthony had tattooed on his fingers. Those who wanted to understand would never give up that brick oven for any other pizza in Manhattan.

Obviously, Anthony Mangieri was not crazy, and this idea of a hard-core pizza, he had got it right. His insane obsession for Naples - he was born in New Jersey and had never been in Naples - had taken him on the right path. And yet, at the height of his career, Anthony Mangieri took courage and decided that the East Village dream had come to an end. It was about time to give someone else the chance. Una Pizza Napoletana closed its doors few months ago, all of a sudden, with a simple Thank You message to the customers for the support and the love they showed him during the whole 5 years.

But those who know Anthony Mangieri, know that a man like him can't stop dreaming at 40: I want to make a change, man, he tells to the Diner's Journal reporter, the NY Times' blog dedicated to the restaurant business. I’m almost 40. I’ve lived my life between New Jersey and this neighborhood. If I don’t do this now, then when?

And you wanna bet that...

Squid Ink Tagliolini with Squash

Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Squid Ink Tagliolini with Squash

Few days in advance, here is my recipe for Halloween, taken from the latest issue of Gourmet Magazine. I even stole them the idea for the picture, because I really liked those tagliolini thrown against a black background with no plate.

And with this, I hope you'll forgive me for the canned pumpkin, since I really put a lot of effort into it. Not only I went to the Farmers' Market to buy a nice piece of squash yet to be cleaned, but I even made tagliolini from scratch, retrieving the Imperia Pasta Maker that was standing aside, nice and quiet, in the least accessible corner of my so-to-speak kitchen.
Trick or Treat? What about some spaghetti instead?

Squid Ink Tagliolini
with Squash

for 3 people

For tagliolini:
type O flour approximately 150 gr.
semolina flour 50 gr
eggs 2
squid ink 1 small package
(OK, I admit it, this comes from the package, but if you'd like to go hunting for the impossible fresh squid in San Francisco, please do...)

For the vegetables:
squash about 1 lb. (cleaned)
yellow pepper 1
garlic 2 cloves
shallot 1
black olives a handful
salt, pepper, red hot chili pepper, fresh thyme, olive oil

Peel the squash, discarding the skin and the seeds, and cut it in cubes. Wash the bell pepper, discard the seeds and the white filaments and cut it into small pieces. Place the vegetables on a baking tray, add garlic cloves and the shallot, peeled and sliced, season with salt, pepper, red chili pepper, thyme leaves and extra-virgin olive oil. Toss well, then roast at 425 until vegetables are tender (it will take about 25-30 minutes).

Meanwhile prepare your egg pasta as usual, adding black ink to color the dough, and then cut it into tagliolini (no explanation on the egg pasta, sorry...).
Cook tagliolini in salted boiling water, drain them after few minutes and sauté them shortly in a pan together with the vegetables, adding the chopped olives and few spoons of the reserved pasta cooking water. If you'd like, sprinkle with freshly grated parmigiano cheese (I think it'd go well here, but I omitted it out of respect for the packaged squid ink).

Pumpkin Walnut Bread

Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Pumpkin Walnut Bread

HURRAH for pumpkins! That is, even fall has a reason to be. So stop complaining, stop being annoyed and repeating that it's raining outside, that, oh bummer, you need to start wearing socks again, that your suntan has faded, that the next trip to Greece is over 10 months away, and that it gets dark too soon.
Go to any farmers' market, buy a ripe pumpkin, nice and sweet, and make peace with the world. Everything will turn a different color (something like orange, maybe?): cold weather becomes the excuse to turn on the oven, socks and UGGs are way more comfortable than little sandals and thongs, who needs a suntan when I'm so beautiful the way I am, how nice is the feeling of Christmas getting closer, along with chestnuts and panettone...

Now let me ask you: do you think you'll get the same effects with canned pumpkin?
Since by now I'm much more familiar with you, I can confess that these Pumpkin Breads - popular in the United States all year round, but definitely inflated between October and Christmas - are made with canned pumpkin puree, which is commonly sold in every supermarket. Nobody here will ever even think of starting from a fresh pumpkin, going through all the trouble of peeling and cooking it, when all you need is a can opener and you get the same result. (Note of the author: this may be obvious to US readers - how many are they by the way? One? Two? - Regardless, I know for sure that canned pumpkin will sound like a heresy to my Italian friends. Therefore the need to apologize and explain. Gosh! These Italians...).
OK, I know, I ruined all the romantic fantasy. May I offer you a slice and make peace with you?

Pumpkin Walnut Bread
for one medium-size loaf pan

sugar 170 gr.
vegetable oil 55 gr.
eggs 2
all-purpose flour 200 gr.
baking soda 1 teaspoon
baking powder 1/4 teaspoon
salt a pinch
fresh grated ginger 1 or 2 teaspoons
ground cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice to taste
pumpkin puree 260 gr.
grated zest of one orange
water 70 gr.
walnut 110 gr.

Lightly toast the walnuts in the oven, cut them in pieces and keep on the side.
Beat sugar and oil until creamy, add the eggs and mix well. Sift flour with salt, baking soda, baking powder and ground spices. Grdually add it to the egg mixture, alternating with the water. As when making muffins, batter should not be overworked, that way the loaf can have a light texture. Add pumpkin puree (canned, if you have it, otherwise be patient and make the puree from scratch, cook pumkin in the oven until tender, mash it throughly and then, if necessary, cook it in a pan until all moisture is evaporated) and the grated orange zest. At the end, fold in the walnuts.
Pour batter in a buttered and floured loaf pan, bake at 350 for about one hour or more, until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.
You can keep it in the fridge, wrapped in plastic, for 4 or 5 days.

Six-Spice Steak

Monday, October 12, 2009
Six-Spice Steak

Yesterday I ran for 20 miles, and today my leg muscles are raising a chorus of protest. However, this is not the only reason why I decided to make myself a steak. It's also because I had a score to settle with meat since the previous post; plus, again because of the above tagine, I find myself with a pantry full of spices, and any excuse for using them is welcome.

I found the recipe - definitely of Asian influences - browsing through an old issue of Gourmet Magazine. Don't ask me what kind of cut I've used, because I wouldn't be able to tell you (the recipe calls for hanger steak, but who can find that?). To each place its own steak cuts. All you need is to be friend with Mr Butcher, and the problem is solved.

Six_Spice Steak
for 2 or 3 people

For the meat
beef steak, about 1,5" thick, cut lengthwise about 3/4 lb.
Sichuan peppercorns 1 tablespoon
whole black peppercorns 5 or 6
fennel seeds 1/2 teaspoon
anise seeds 1/2 teaspoon
cinnamon stick 1 piece, about 3/4" long
cloves 3
dark brown sugar 1 teaspoon
salt a pinch

For the sauce
soy sauce 3-4 tablespoons
rice vinegar 1/2 tablespoon
water 1 tablespoon
freshly grated ginger 1/2 tablespoon
dark brown sugar 1 teaspoon
minced shallot 1/2
minced garlic 1 small clove
fresh cilantro, chopped to taste

Preheat broiler. Lightly grease the pan where you'll cook the meat. Grind all spices in a food processor with sugar and salt until they're almost pulverized. Rub the meat with the spice mix and spread it evenly over it. Arrange meat on the pan and broil close to the heat, about 4 or 5 minutes per side (it must be on the rare side).
Remove meat from the oven and let it rest for about 10 minutes. Collect the juice that's been released, add it to the rest of the ingredients for the sauce (except cilantro) and let it thicken on the stove for a minute.
Brush the steak with the sauce and sprinkle it with the chopped cilantro. Cut it into thin slices and serve over a bed of salad.

Lamb Tagine with Cinnamon and Dried Prunes

Thursday, October 8, 2009
Lamb Tagine with Cinnamon and Dried Prunes

I'm sorry, the lamb ran away. The rest of the ingredients (more or less) are all assembled here. True, we're missing the main character, but he didn't feel like showing up in front of everybody, looking such a mess. And he put it off to the next tagine.

The reason may be known, or at least may be understood by budding foodbloggers like myself. Photographing meat is so damned difficult; no matter how nice is your serving bowl or how well the dish turned out to be. It's already hard to take a decent portrait of photogenic subjects such as cookies, tarts or croissants (not that I've ever tried to make croissants, but let's not split hairs here....). So, it's already difficult take a decent photo of subject that are beautiful per se, let alone meat! Even worse if it's something with undefined outlines, like goulash or stews. What you've prepared with so much care (for this recipe, it took me one hour only to make the list of the spices I needed...) turns into an undefined brownish patch that would make anybody loose their appetite.

Yet, I really wanted to share this tagine, because it's delicious. Therefore, picture or non picture, I decided to palm you off with this post. I put together this patchwork-recipe looking around in the web and in all those books that I haven't put on sale yet. Cooking for so long with the spices, the lamb acquires a very distinctive taste, and most of all it becomes so tender that I still can't believe I made it myself (...I've never had a great relationship with meat). The most exciting thing is that while the meat is cooking, such an incredible scent will spread around your house (or your 20 square meters) that you'll feel like The Mistress of Spices. And I wouldn't be surprised if your neighbors, following the scented trail with their nose, will knock at your door with some kind of excuse, hoping in your famous generosity.

To avoid any misunderstanding, tagine is literally the name of the pot with a conic lid - usually a clay pot - that is widely used in Moroccan cuisine - and North African cuisine in general - for this type of recipes. The tagine is ideal for slow cooking, because thanks to its structure, aroma and steam are retained in the inside, and the meat turns out very tender and tasty. And with all the gadgets that I already own, how could I do without a tagine?
But let's come to the point, here is the recipe. Trust me, it's not your usual piece of meat.

Lamb Tagine
with Cinnamon and Dried Prunes

for two

lamb meat, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes about 1 lb.
paprika, salt, pepper, fresh ginger, turmeric, ground cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, coriander, cloves, cayenne pepper to taste
whole cinnamon sticks 2
red onion 1/2
garlic 1 clove
saffron to taste
white vine 2 or 3 tablespoons
honey 1 or 2 tablespoons
pitted prunes about 10
olive oil

The night before, toss the lamb with one tablespoon olive oil and ground spices (paprika, fresh grated ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, cloves, cayenne pepper, and cumin). Cover and keep it in the fridge.
The next day, heat one tablespoon olive oil in the tagine, add meat with all its spices and let it brown on all sides. Take it out of the pan using a slotted spoon, add another tablespoon olive oil and cook garlic and onion, thinly sliced, for 5 minutes, adding some water if needed. Put the meat back in the pan; add salt, pepper, whole cinnamon sticks and the saffron previously dissolved in the white wine. Add water to almost cover the meat, put the lid to the tagine and let simmer for about one and a half hour, stirring occasionally. If needed, add more water, and adjust the taste with salt and spices.
Now, add honey and prunes. Let cook for another 15/20 minutes until meat is tender and the sauce thickens.
Serve with couscous.

Lychee, Raspberry and Rose Water Jam

Sunday, October 4, 2009
Lychee Jam with Raspberries and Rose Water

Ok, ok, I know, I am a little late with the post. This one is a slightly disconnected post... Because in reality I made this jam few weeks ago, after buying the last available lychees from a produce store in Chinatown. And instead of fixing myself a martini, I decided to throw them in the pan.

Needless to say, I freely adapted this recipe from Christine Ferber's book again. How boring.

Lychee Jam
with Raspberries & Rose Water

lychee, peeled and pitted 2 and 1/4 lb.
raspberries 1 lb.
sugar 1 lb.
lemon 2
rose water 1 and 1/2 ounces
green apple 2

Peel and pit the lychees. Cut them in pieces and put them in a bowl with raspberries, juice from the lemons and sugar. Cover with plastic and let it rest in the fridge overnight.
The next day, place the fruit mixture in a large pot, add the peel from the apples and bring it to boil, skimming when needed. Few minutes before the jam reaches the desired thickness, add rose water and stir well.
Discard the apple peel, pour the jam in cleaned and sterilized glass jars, cover with lid and let them boil in a large pot full of water for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the jars cool in the same water to create vacuum.