Mirepoix -- From the French, a mix of aromatics that provide the savory foundation of a recipe. From The City Cook, a periodic report on things that have been collecting on my desk.
A few weeks ago I wrote about pesto, which often includes pine nuts, or as the Italians musically call them, pignolis. A reader wrote to me with a very helpful warning about pine nuts from China. As he wrote, "This is not Sinophobia. But Chinese pine nuts (and only those from China) have been identified as a cause of a mild but persistent bitter taste in the mouth left from eating pine nuts. Fortunately, it's a transitory thing. But it sure will keep us from ever using pine nuts from China again. Google 'bitter mouth' 'pine nuts' and you'll see."
His note prompted my memory and I realized I had heard this once before. All pine nuts are not the same so as we must be discriminating when buying most ingredients, so too must we be when we buy pine nuts. But this can be a challenge because whether you buy pine nuts already packaged or from a bulk source, their origins aren't always known. Apart from labeling, the only visual tip seems to be that European pine nuts are longer and slimmer. Those from China are fatter and rounder.
Two other ways to protect yourself: First, buy from a trustworthy merchant where if there isn't origin labeling, you can at least ask the manager where the pine nuts came from. And finally, let the price tip you off: Chinese pine nuts are notably less expensive than those from Europe. So if it seems like you've found a pine nut bargain, it's probably a case of buyer beware.
New Amsterdam Market Returns
New Amsterdam Market, the non-profit economic development organization that is attempting to establish a permanent public food market in New York City, is once again holding monthly markets with local producers and purveyors. The markets will take place on South Street on the East River waterfront, between Beekman Street and Peck Slip, in Lower Manhattan. Each market will be from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on these dates:
- Sunday, September 13
- Sunday, October 25
- Sunday, November 22
- Sunday, December 20
The kick-off on September 13 will coincide with New York City's celebration of Harbor Day, this year honoring the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson's 1609 voyage. So if you're looking to discover new local food vendors, celebrate the wonder of New York Harbor, and give some support to a heroic organization, New Amsterdam Market will be glad to welcome you.
For more information visit their website (we've added a link below). You can also listen to our podcast interview with Robert LaValva, director of New Amsterdam Market, who talked with us last year about what his organization is trying to achieve.
This summer I've been experimenting with potato salad recipes. I love it warm with bacon, vinegary with slices of little cornichons, with or without mayonnaise, with the potatoes peeled or not and almost any other iteration. I don't think I've ever had a potato salad I didn't love, with the exception of those with pieces of hard-boiled egg. Nothing against a hard-boiled egg, but I just don't like its texture in a potato salad. But this is one of those foods that can carry lots of sentimental association so if you have a favorite recipe and it includes egg, I say eat what you love.
I have cooked potatoes for salad by placing them in cool salted water; bringing them to a boil, lowering the heat to a gentle boil until the potatoes were tender when pierced with a paring knife, then draining and rinsing with cool water. While sometimes the potatoes cooked perfectly, all too often they'd be falling apart. It seemed like unless I caught the exact moment between not-yet-done and overdone, I'd get mush. And this would make for not so pretty potato salads.
Trying to have some predictable results, I tried draining the potatoes before they were done. Then I'd leave them in the sink, covered, so that the drained but still steamy potatoes would cook a few minutes more. This helped.
But I found an even better method for those times when I want the potatoes to remain in big pieces (as opposed to mashing them) and that is to steam them. I use my pasta pot with its insert but a vegetable steamer in a saucepot would work just as well. Fill the bottom of the pot with about an inch of water, bring to a boil, place the steamer on top of the water, add a single layer of raw potatoes that are either already small or cut into 1 1/2 to 2-inch pieces (peeled or not), cover and lower the heat to a gentle boil and steam for about 12 to 15 minutes. The potatoes turn out tender but firm and fully intact.
Of course, if you're trying to make a big quantity, it's not so efficient to cook potatoes this way since they're best steamed in a single layer. But the next time you're cooking potatoes -- Yukon gold, red bliss, or any other creamer potato -- try steaming them instead of boiling and you won't run the risk of getting potato mush.
Local New York City Market News
- A much-loved New York City bakery is Baby Cakes, on Manhattan's Lower East Side. They are known for its allegen-free and vegan baked goods, especially its gluten-free birthday cakes and cupcakes. New to their menu are non-fried vegan doughnuts. It's just another reason to love Baby Cakes because no matter your food politics or policies, these doughnuts are another reason to detour to Broome Street between Orchard and Ludlow.
- Schatzie's, an East Side butcher shop and institution, is coming to the Upper West Side. The new shop is set to open by the end of September and will be located on Amsterdam Avenue and West 87th Street. Despite the bounty of food shops on the Upper West Side, it's had a shortage of good butcher shops (at least above 79th Street) so this is a welcomed addition.
- Local produce is increasingly at city markets and although I'm always hammering about shopping at our Greenmarkets, it is worth a look at some of our established food markets for their year-round commitment to local farmers. A good example is Fairway, which is not a national chain but with stores in Manhattan, Brooklyn and one in Paramus, New Jersey, is big enough -- and small enough -- to have steady relationships with area farmers and also artisanal producers. I've noticed this summer that Fairway will often dedicate a section of its produce department for items from local farms and they keep the prices very competitive. So buying local doesn't have to only be from a farmer's market -- and this is very good news.
While there's something to love about every time of year, I think most of us love autumn best and it's on its way. As the song says, "autumn in New York . . . you'll need no castles in Spain."
But let's not rush things and enjoy this long weekend. This last summer fling. I will spend some of it canning tomatoes and New Jersey peaches as a way to save summer in a glass jar.
Happy Labor Day!