The City Cook's Ten Favorites for 2007
The Year's Top Ingredients and Merchants
This is The City Cook's first year so we're calling these our first annual City Cook New York Favorites. This list is about some of the best ingredients and merchants in the city which together help us make flavorful, healthy and affordable meals in our small kitchens. It was very difficult to narrow down to 10 only because we have so many greats to choose from.
None of these choices is particularly new or trendy. Nor is the list is in any particular order. Most have been already mentioned on The City Cook in the past year. But if you're a home cook in New York City, we didn't think you'd mind being reminded about our local treasures.
1. 6.6 Pound Cans of San Marzano Tomatoes at Buon Italia. $4.95
Whether it's about food, fashion or just about anything else, shopping in New York is about two things: excellence and bargains. You can get both at Buon Italia, a merchant located in Manhattan's Chelsea Market that sells Italian ingredients both rare and familiar. They sell a 6.6 pound can of La Valle San Marzano whole tomatoes for $4.95, each can an abundance of deep red, thick tomato flesh packed in a perfect surround of juice. Skip the gym one day and instead take the subway to Buon Italia and lug a can home and make a winter's worth of tomato sauce (see our recipe). Decant a meal-size portion into each of those leftover plastic deli containers you've been saving and stack them in the freezer. Come a cold February night when you're home late from work with no spirit to make dinner, defrost a pint in the microwave, add a pinch of red pepper flakes and maybe a few black olives or capers, and with a bowl of steaming pasta, the day will end well (and for pennies a bowl).
2. Sullivan Street Bakery's Pizza Patate
This savory hand-formed flatbread topped with thin slices of potato, white onion, extra virgin olive oil, fresh rosemary, and black pepper sets a new standard for New York pizza. It comes in large flat loafs cut into 8 slices per pizza or by the single piece. Add a slice alongside a mound of mesclun salad tossed with an acidic red wine vinaigrette (see our recipe) and you will have a memorable first course for a dinner party. And all you had to do was make the salad. But please share the credit with the remarkable Jim Lahey who single-handedly has raised the standard for bread in New York City -- and thus, the world.
3. Black Peppercorns at Kalustyan's
Kalustyan's is New York's spice market, our local souk of flavorings, teas, sweets, and other foods imported from around the world. They have 180 teas, 50 coffees, 30 varieties of chili, and thousands of spices. As an ice cream is best judged by its vanilla, a tailor by his jacket lining, a soprano for her high C, our admiration for Kalustyan's quality and comprehensiveness starts with its peppercorns: from Tellicherry, Malabar, Lampong, Ecuador, Kerala, Brazil, Sarawak, Vietnam, or other places along today's spice routes. They're sold whole, butcher ground, coarse ground, or fine ground. In 4, 8 or 16 ounce packs. In clear bags or glass jars. And if you need a larger choice of peppercorns, there's also dark red Szechuan, green, white, pink, brined, pickled, and with mustard. If New York is the world's kitchen, it's seasoned by Kalustyan's.
4. Flying Pig Farm Fresh Belly
2007 has been the year of the pig as well as pork fresh belly. Author and chef Michael Ruhlman created "The Chicken Fried Pork Belly Caesar" in protest to what he called the "catastrophe of the chicken caesar salad" and the internet took it from there. Soon pork fresh belly started appearing on restaurant menus, to the upset of cardiologists everywhere since it's the uncured meat-streaked fat from the underside of a pig that ends up as bacon. Flying Pigs Farm, a Battenskill River Valley producer of superb pork products made from rare breed hogs, makes a remarkable fresh belly. In addition to selling to restaurants, farmers Jen and Michael Yezzi sell their products every Saturday at the Union Square and Grand Army Plaza Greenmarkets. Demand is high so fresh belly is not always available (Jen told me I could probably make a profit by reselling the piece I have in my freezer) but you can compensate with anything else Flying Pigs has to offer. It's all superb.
5. Alleva Dairy's Ricotta
From Alleva Dairy in Manhattan's Little Italy, this milky, mild, creamy ricotta is made by this fourth generation Italian food merchant. Loved also for their equally excellent fresh mozzarella, Alleva's ricotta passes an even tougher test because of the refinement needed to achieve its texture and taste. Spread some on a piece of good bread with a drizzle of honey or toss several spoonfuls into a bowl of steaming rotini pasta, along with chopped spinach (frozen is fine) and lots of freshly ground pepper (see our recipe). Alleva's ricotta is an artisanal product made with decades of tradition, the kind of ingredient that can make the difference between good and great. And you can only find it in New York.
Located on Brooklyn's Atlantic Avenue, Sahadi's has been making and selling Middle Eastern foods and ingredients in Brooklyn since 1948 after it moved from its original Manhattan store that was opened in 1898. Today the store is still filled with open barrels and sacks of spices, olives, dried legumes, nuts, and dried fruits, plus tender flat breads and honeyed sweets, and prepared foods like baba ghanoug and possibly the best homous in New York. You can make an entire dinner party with foods from Sahadi's, or just add their ingredients into your pantry to use in your own recipes. I wish they were open on Sundays but it's a small inconvenience knowing they're there the rest of the week.
7. Knife Sharpening at Broadway Panhandler
Nothing's more important to a home cook or a chef than having good knives and sharp ones. Some kitchenware stores that sell electric knife sharpeners will tell you that's it's not a big deal to sharpen a knife. But it is. Worse, it's easy to ruin a good knife with unpracticed do-it-yourself attempts. But New Yorkers are lucky to have the knife department at Broadway Panhandler. Not only do they have a huge selection and knowledgeable staff to help you buy good knives at excellent prices, they can help you keep your knives sharp. They do this by either selling you a stone and teaching you how to use it, or else you can leave your knives for a day or two (a sacrifice worth making) and it costs about $4.00 a knife. With active home cooking, a knife will stay sharp for about six months; between sharpenings you keep its edge by honing with a steel -- the folks at Broadway Panhandler will show you how. A sharp knife is a home cook's most important kitchen tool. This New York shop will make sure you know and have what you need.
8. Jacques Torres Chocolate
Monsieur Torres is a gifted pastry chef and master chocolate maker. I love that he's turned his passion for all things chocolate (his web address is Mr. Chocolate) into a New York chocolate empire. With factories and shops in Dumbo and SoHo, plus a new, cozy storefront on the Upper West Side, Mr. Torres makes seasonal chocolates, small covered pieces he calls bon bons, bars of milk and darks in a range of cocoa content for those chasing anti-oxidants, hot chocolate mixes, baking chocolates and cocoa, and unexpected flavor combinations like chocolate-covered Cheerios. He is a modern chocolatier who never seems to forget the most important thing: taste.
9. The Neighborhood Wine Shop: Prospect Wines
I love large wine and spirit stores for their big selections, new technology, glamorous wine futures auctions, and accessories like glasses and decanters. But when it comes to buying a bottle to replace a familiar weekday favorite, I prefer to buy from a neighborhood wine merchant. Park Slope is lucky to have several small wine shops with smart staffs, but Prospect Wines is a standout. In the summer their weekly tastings move outdoors to a plant-rimmed back deck facing the backyards of brownstones. There are familiar vineyards and small producers among the labels filling the shelves and they manage to make wine something for everyday life -- affordable, unintimidating, interesting, and delicious.
10. Union Square Greenmarket
The greatest greenmarket in New York. Open year-round four days a week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday), this market makes us the envy of home cooks across the country. It is glorious in the summer and early fall, but the rest of the year it continues to bring us winter produce, apples from upstate, local eggs, game, poultry and pork, bakery products, and winter crops like mushrooms which are grown indoors regardless of the time of year.
So if you're visiting New York, these are just some of the best that you shouldn't miss. And if you live here -- lucky you because you can cook, eat and drink from the best.
Happy New Year!