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.
Two weeks ago I couldn't make it to my Greenmarket and by the time I got back last weekend the season had changed: already there were fewer tomatoes but in their place were the first apples. If you watch the changing seasons through the lens of cooking, it's easy to see autumn as the start of the year. I am glad to say goodbye to this summer's exhausting heat, but not yet its bountiful produce and so seeing the dwindling tomatoes, I spent part of the Labor Day weekend canning six pints of them. These were added to the five quarts of tomatoes and four pints of sour cherries I'd already put on my shelves to be mid-winter rewards.
If canning is not something you want to do, or if you don't have the space to store the canning gear or the filled jars that result from a few hours in a steam-filled kitchen, then consider this: if your freezer is big enough to store a few pint-sized containers, make your favorite tomato sauce using end-of-summer local tomatoes and freeze it in meal-sized portions.
Here's how to make 4 pints of a simple and versatile tomato sauce:
Ingredients: Easy Tomato Sauce
6 to 8 pounds of local tomatoes -- choose ripe, unblemished ones
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced very thin
Pinch of salt
Pinch of red pepper flakes
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Have ready a large bowl of iced water (ice cubes and water). Drop the tomatoes into the boiling water and count to five slowly. With a slotted spoon, remove the tomatoes to the iced water to stop any cooking. Use a paring knife to slit the skin, which should then peel right off. Using the tip of the same knife, cut out the tomatoes' cores and with your clean hands and working over a bowl to catch all the juices, crush the tomatoes into small-ish pieces.
- In a large sauté pan or saucepan, add the olive oil and place over medium high heat. Cook the garlic until it softens but not browns, about two minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juice, a generous pinch of salt, and a less generous pinch of red pepper flakes. Lower the heat to medium low and simmer for about 15 minutes, breaking up the tomato pieces with a wooden spoon and letting everything meld and reduce a bit. If you want a smoother sauce, use an immersion blender or transfer the sauce to a blender or food processor and pulse until smooth.
- Let the sauce cool to room temperature and transfer the sauce to either plastic containers or freezer bags.
The sauce can be frozen for up to six months which means you can have a taste of late summer in mid-January!
New York Market News
Besides canning tomatoes, my other Labor Day weekend mission was to visit the new Batali/Bastianich Italian market, Eataly. I discovered that several hundred others had the same idea: on Saturday afternoon the line to get into the new 50,000 square foot market/food hall stretched half of the store's West 23rd Street block and continued around the corner up Fifth Avenue. I'm not great at waiting on line so I decided to instead spend the afternoon walking The High Line (highly recommended if you haven't yet made a visit: TheHighLine.org). When I manage to get inside Eataly, I'll let you know what I find.
Other major market openings that are pending include:
- Trader Joe's fourth New York location (others are in Brooklyn, Union Square and Chelsea) will open on Manhattan's Upper West Side on September 20th. Located on the corner of West 72nd Street and Broadway on the ground floor of a new apartment house, this latest Trader Joe's should please Manhattan's uptown residents and add a convenient third stop to shoppers visiting the nearby Fairway (Broadway and 74th Street) and Citarella's (Broadway and 75th Street).
- Speaking of Fairway, this iconic New York supermarket has been in active expansion mode with six stores now open. A seventh is in the works for Manhattan's Upper East Side on East 86th Street near Second Avenue, in a location previously occupied by Barnes & Noble, which is heartening news for East Siders. It's estimated that the store will open in early 2011.
- Further down the road, Whole Foods has announced it will open a store at 250 East 57th Street at Second Avenue, in a new mixed-use development that will also house a new space for the High School of Art and Design. The store opening is planned for late 2012 and will be welcomed by this area of midtown that is absent any major markets.
After so many years of New York being desperate for good supermarket shopping, gaining all these new markets is wonderful news for the city's home cooks. These stores will add convenience, choice and great prices to the rich tapestry of our small purveyors and specialty merchants. Lucky us.
- At the other extreme is Urbani, a major importer of truffles, truffle-infused products, and porcini mushrooms, which has opened a New York shop and showroom at 10 West End Avenue (at W. 60th Street). The shop sells fresh truffles when in season, products like truffle oil and paste, plus dried porcini mushrooms. A luxury product line may seem out of tune with the economy, but truffles are for many an eternal culinary seduction. Something worth making sacrifices for. If that's you, you now have a new way to indulge your vice.
Gourmet On The Newsstand
This week Condé Nast is bringing back Gourmet Magazine. Sort of. They're producing a newsstand-only special edition called Gourmet Quick Kitchen. The price: $10.99. And no advertising. With 81 recipes, a look and feel that will make you miss the once great Gourmet, and edited by a real food publishing pro, Kemp Minifie, it's the first of what is said to be three special issues that will be sold at select newsstands as well as the Condé Nast Store. I've added a link below.
What I've Been Cooking
This summer's heat has been a disincentive to cook for even the most motivated of us. I've alternated between being a minimalist (just how briefly can I have the stove turned on) and defeated ("what the hell, how much worse can it get if I roast some duck?").
As the weather cools, my cooking will again change as I become more enthusiastic about spending time in the kitchen. But summer temperatures aren't entirely gone so I thought I'd share some of the recent meals I've cooked. These include dinners just for my husband and me, but also ones for company:
- Fregola is a Sardinian specialty of little grains of toasted pasta. While it has wonderful flavor served warm with grated cheese and chopped herbs, I turned it into a hot weather salad by combining it with chopped Greenmarket vegetables; see our recipe. I served it with pork tenderloin that I browned on the top of the stove and then roasted for 8 minutes at 400° F until an instant thermometer reached 140° F.
- I bought chicken cutlets at Whole Foods that were already perfectly cut into the right thickness for easy stovetop cooking. I dipped each cutlet first into egg and then a coating of panko and grated Parmesan (a cup of each stirred together) and then sautéed them in olive oil for about 2 minutes a side. The first side down always looks better than the second, so I just serve it with its more attractive side up (no one turns the cutlet over to compare the finish!) on a bed of fresh arugula that I dressed with a drizzle of fresh lemon juice and olive oil. Alongside I added a few baby beets I bought at my Greenmarket and boiled for about 25 minutes until tender and dressed in a splash of olive oil and red wine vinegar and lots of black pepper.
- One of my absolutely favorite fish dishes is tuna belly sautéed in a little butter. Tuna belly is rare to find in most of our fish stores; I think that's because it's sold to restaurants and sushi bars. But it's often available at The Lobster Place in Chelsea Market, probably because this retailer is also a wholesaler supplying many NYC restaurants. A fishmonger there told me how to cook it -- just dry the fish with a paper towel, add a little salt and pepper, melt a tablespoon or so of butter in a skillet and quickly sauté the fish over medium high heat -- hot enough to give the fish a light surface browning but not so hot so to burn or darken the butter. Don't overcook it or you'll lose the fish's delicate flavor; aim at about a minute a side. I served with this a salad of chopped Belgian endive, sliced button mushrooms, mustard vinaigrette, and a crumble of blue cheese.
- Company dishes in recent weeks included sliced flank steak cooked medium rare with farro salad and sautéed bitter greens, a huge salade Niçoise with fresh pan grilled tuna and tiny new potatoes; ziti sauced with raw tomatoes and diced mozzarella; and peach desserts -- cobbler, crisp, pie and kuchen. Just not all at all the same dinner!
- Also bought at The Lobster Place were fresh wild shrimp from Georgia. These I pan seared (3 minutes total time in a hot olive oil-slicked skillet) and added to pasta tossed in a spicy roasted tomato sauce, a recipe from Fish Without A Doubt by Chef Rich Moonen and Roy Finamore which has been my go-to cookbook all summer.
Back To School
The fall is a wonderful time to head back to the kitchen and also try something new once you get there. If you need some inspiration or a few tips or an introduction to an entirely new cuisine, think about taking a course.
Many of New York's best culinary and wine educators are kicking off their fall schedules, as are some of our specialty merchants like Murray's Cheese that also regularly give classes.
So if you need a bit of a push to get cooking again, think about taking a course. It's always fun and you get to eat your homework. In the Kitchen Sink section of The City Cook we have a list of excellent cooking schools in New York but if you live somewhere else, do a little research and I'm sure you'll find choices where you live, too.
The City Cook -- The Book
My book is on track for mid-November publication and a few early reviews have come in and are posted on Amazon. The cover will be unveiled soon -- I hope you like it half as much as I do -- and more details will be available in the coming weeks. I promise to keep you posted and will also be keeping a diary of my experience as a first-time author at Facebook.