MEDITERRANEANISTA SEEMS TO HAVE SLUMBERED her way through January. Snow, snow, snow. Merry house guests gone. Memories of communal cooking and countless feasts fading.
But lunch at Mario Batali’s Lupa Osteria Romana seems to have roused me from my Rip Van Winkle sleep. It was an official Snow Day when our reservation date came up, and we happily padded our way down to the Village—our old neighborhood.
Through Washington Square Park.
Down Thompson Street past the chess store. (They get the prize for cleanest pavement.)
Past the building that housed a live poultry and rabbit market when we lived across the street above our landlord’s Italian restaurant.
Past buried cars.
And stranded bicycles.
To the doorstep of Lupa, where a warm welcome—and lovely Mediterranean smells—awaited.
Lupa is an informal and friendly trattoria, Batali-style—we sat at one of the simple wooden tables in the front (a back room has tablecloths). Down one side is a long bar that I hear gets very crowded on a usual day (i.e. when most of the city’s residents aren’t stuck in snowdrifts). Roman dishes are simple and tasty; we particularly liked the sound of the vegetable antipasti —brussels sprouts with apples, for one, or beets with pistachio.
Our Restaurant Week menu started with Lupa’s pasta e fagioli—apuréed white bean soup with escarole and sage, perfect for the snowy day—and a delicious capon & pork terrine with celery mostarda and bitter greens.
Next came butternut squash farrotto (like a risotto, but made with farro)—a real treat for this farro-loving girl—and branzino with cardoon and potato purée. Finally, fresh ricotta and honey for dessert—a sublime creamy finish to the meal. We drank a lovely dry Frascati —Rome’s signature white wine—and a Chianti-like Morellino di Scansano from Tuscany. The wine list represents all parts of Italy, with half the bottles under $50. (The Frascati Superiore Cantine Conte Zandotti 2009 is $29, for example, the Morellino di Scansano “I Perazzi” La Mozza 2008, $35.)
$21 Lunch Prix Fixe: Restaurant Week is over at Lupa, but it is now offering a three-course “Roman Style Lunch” for $21. Burrata (fresh mozzarrella with a creamy center) with butternut squash and mint, and Paccheri alla Gricia, pasta with guanciale (Roman bacon made from pig’s jowls), caught my eye. I better hurry back—specific dishes change regularly “inspired by ingredients, seasonality or a regional favorite.” Served Monday through Friday, noon to 3:30 pm. I can also imagine just pulling up to the bar and ordering a glass of wine and a salumi plate or some of those wonderful vegetable antipasti.
Lupa Osteria Romana
170 Thompson Street
New York, NY 10001
(Lunch reservations are much easier to get than dinner, which books up a month out. Some walk-ins, with a wait of course.)
These are the books I find myself turning to again and again, despite all the temptations on bookstore shelves. Chefs and scholars, cooks and storytellers, the authors are the perfect guides for anyone setting out to explore the Mediterranean diet. Perhaps someone you know?
OK, so I try not to cook out of this book every night, but it’s hard to resist because the dishes are exciting—and doable—and Jenkins, chef-owner of Porchetta and the just-opened Porsena, writes intelligently so you’re always learning—about cooking, ingredients, culinary traditions—as you go along.
This Martha’s recipes were my early inspiration for a new (for me) Mediterranean way of eating. Thank god they’re now in a book so I can throw out my stained computer printouts from her online column—and keep wowing my guests with the cooking.
An 800-page intellectual and culinary feast, indeed. If you like the stories of history—and good recipes to boot, this is the book for you. Wright was inspired to do his culinary study, in part, by Fernand Braudel’s landmark history of the Mediterranean. Now Wright inspires us.
Despite the famous photo of Batali with a string of sausages around his neck, in this book he shares lots of easy-to-make dishes starring vegetables and grains. I’ve especially enjoyed the salads and vegetable antipasti. Not a vegetarian cookbook, by any means, but we hear that’s coming next.
Born and raised in Cairo, Roden shares recipes for tagines, eggplant dishes, mezze—all informed by her deep background in Middle Eastern cooking (her 1972 ABook of Middle Eastern Food was a groundbreaker) and the stories she has to tell.
So many cookbooks, so little time—I know I have so much more to explore. Do you have a favorite cookbook full of recipes for a Mediterranean diet? (With inspired ideas for vegetables and fruits, grains and legumes, and, of course, a great love of olive oil.) Let us know in the comments box below. Here’s what I plan to dig into next. Maybe you already have?
FENNEL MAKES ITS FALL APPEARANCE at the farmers’ market along with apples—a great tart/sweet flavor combo, especially when set off by a citrus dressing.
Variations: For the fresh herb, you can always substitute 2 tsp of chopped tarragon or mint for the parsley—experiment with your own favorite flavors. Asian pear (I learned this from my mom) works well in place of the apple. Or you can skip the apple, and instead, add segments of 1 red grapefruit and ¼ cup of pitted Niçoise olives. (I tried the olives with the apple combo but decided I preferred it without.)
This salad also makes a wonderful salsa to serve over simple grilled or roasted fish.
Serves 41 crisp, tart apple (Granny Smith, Cox’s Orange Pippin), peeled, quartered, cored, then sliced into matchsticks
1 fennel bulb, shaved on a mandoline or sliced thinly lengthwise (so the pieces form semi-circles)
¼ cup lemon juice2 tbs olive oil¼ tsp sea salt¼ tsp piment d’Espelette (a delicate crushed dried pepper from the Basque region of France)
¼ cup flat-leaf parsley leaves or 2 tbs chopped fresh mint or 2 tbs chopped fresh tarragon
Whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, salt and piment d'Espelette in a small bowl. Combine the fennel and apple with the parsley or other fresh herb in a large bowl. Add dressing. Toss gently to combine.
Tip:Once you’ve cut the apple, you’ll want to go ahead and make and dress the salad right away, since the apple will turn brown if left too long.
AFTER THE CORNUCOPIA OF COMFORT FOODS shared at the Thanksgiving table (and in the days that followed), I was in the mood today for something clean and crisp and refreshing. This Shaved Fennel and Apple Salad was the perfect answer. The tart apple and the fennel were fabulously crunchy, and the lemony dressing gave it a nice zing. You can substitute your favorite flavors into the salad. I used parsley today; next time I’ll try a couple of tablespoons of fresh tarragon or mint. And instead of apple, my mother uses Asian pear in her fennel salad—delicious indeed.
Fennel is popular in the traditional Mediterranean diet—particularly in Italy, but also in France and Greece. It’s full of nutrients—vitamin C, fiber, potassium, as well as various antioxidants and phytonutrients. The Florence fennel is what you’ll see in markets here, with a big white bulb, topped by long stalks and fronds, all of which can be eaten.
I think the first time I ate fennel was when my mother served her fennel and pear salad to us on one of my visits home. It’s not a dish she made when we were growing up; she’d learned it later on, from a friend during a long stay in Italy—making it her own by adding the Asian pears. Fennel is very versatile—eat it raw, as called for in the salad here, or steam, braise, grill or roast it (it caramelizes beautifully). Add it to soups and stews, serve over pasta or bake it with fish. This salad, in fact, works wonderfully served over grilled fish.
Wild fennel, a different plant, grows all around the Mediterranean; apparently it’s found on this continent in California, British Columbia and in other locales, too—perhaps where homesick Italians have planted the seeds. Once established, wild fennel is prolific. Wild fennel pollen, once known only in Tuscany, is prized by chefs like Mario Batali and Sara Jenkins (who uses it in her porchetta) for the flavor and aroma it brings to a dish.
INTERESTING ARTICLE IN YESTERDAY’S New York Times on chefs using unusual wild ingredients in their dishes. Nova Kim of Wild Gourmet Food (included in the article) was selling some beautiful mushrooms at New Amsterdam Market when I went last Sunday.
Kim and her partner Les Hook are long-time gatherers of wild edibles from the fields and woods of northern Vermont—and spirited educators, whether at the Smithsonian or from behind their stand. “I’m so glad you used the word gather,” Kim exclaimed as we chatted about the mushrooms. “Foraging is about ravaging the woods. Gathering and wildcrafting is what we do.” (Whew, lucked out on that one.)
The pair have a wild food CSA (Judith Jones, Julia Child’s longtime editor, is a customer), and they supply chefs at the New England Culinary Institute (NECI) and high-end restaurants. If you like to gather wild edibles yourself or to cook with them or just think they’re a good thing to keep around, you might want to check out the nonprofit Wild Food Gatherers Guild, which Kim and Hook founded with NECI executive chef Tom Bivins—to “sustain the collection of wild foods as a craft and a livelihood.”
Wild Gourmet Food will be back at New Amsterdam Market December 19, the last day of this year’s schedule for the market. Maybe you’d like to visit them and make this Wild Mushroom Ragù.
THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET has been added to UNESCO’s representative list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, four years after Spain, Italy, Greece and Morocco first petitioned for its inclusion. Here are excerpts from the UNESCO citation (emphasis added):
The Mediterranean diet constitutes a set of skills, knowledge, practices and traditions ranging from the landscape to the table, including the crops, harvesting, fishing, conservation, processing, preparation and, particularly, consumption of food. [It] is characterized by a nutritional model that has remained constant over time and space, consisting mainly of olive oil, cereals, fresh or dried fruits and vegetables, a moderate amount of fish, dairy and meat, many condiments and spices, all accompanied by wine or infusions.
However, the Mediterranean diet (from the Greek diaita, or way of life) encompasses more than just food. It promotes social interaction, since communal meals are the cornerstone of social customs and festive events.
The system is rooted in respect for the territory and biodiversity, and ensures the conservation and development of traditional activities and crafts linked to fishing and farming in the Mediterranean.
Women play a particularly vital role in the transmission of expertise, as well as knowledge of rituals, traditional celebrations and the safeguarding of techniques.
UNESCO started the list in 2003 because “cultural heritage does not end at monuments and collections of objects, but also includes traditions or living expressions” passed from generation to generation. Culinary arts were included as an element of cultural expression for the first time this year. (The gastronomic meal of the French and traditional Mexican cuisine have also been added.)
I browsed through the list of 166 practices and traditions—songs, dance, crafts, festivals, healing arts—and before I knew it I’d whiled away more than half an hour watching videos on Sardinian pastoral polyphonic singing, Azerbaijani carpet-weaving, falconry and Catalonian human towers. It gave me a little of the same feeling I get whenever I look up at the biodiversity wall at the American Museum of Natural History: awe at how many different weird and wonderful expressions life—and human culture—can take. And a reminder that they are worth safeguarding.
Here’s the promotional video for the Mediterranean diet entry (French only, but the visuals are the best part anyway).
Of course there’s been grumbling about criteria for the UNESCO list, how the choices are made, or even whether they should be made at all. Is honoring culinary heritage in this way a good idea? asks historian Rachel Laudan in her Soapbox piece over at Zester Daily, suggesting it may just be part of a “pervasive culinary nostalgia.” Provocative and interesting reading. Don’t miss the comments section; cookbook author Marcella Hazan has a few views of her own.
WHOLE GRAINS, FLOURS, BREAD—it’s Greenmarket Grains Week—cauliflower, winter greens, squash and…Peter Hoffman, chef/owner of the restaurants Savoy and Back Forty, doing a cooking demo Friday at Union Square.
On my way out the north end of Union Square Market this afternoon, I saw a cooking demo and stopped to see what was up. Lucky I did: Peter Hoffman, chef/owner of Savoy and Back Forty, was demonstrating how to make Spelt and Mushroom Soup with Sage and Sheep Cheese Crostini, especially for Grains Week.
By some miracle, it wasn’t super-crowded so we got to stand around and ask questions. Did you cook the spelt beforehand?—Yes, because it takes quite a while. What kind of mushrooms are they?—Today I’m using oyster mushrooms, from right over there at Madura Farms, he explains, pointing to a stand down the way.
Then there was the tasting, of course, and the soup was just right for outdoor eating on this brisk sunny day—warm broth full of flavor, chewy grain. Yum. In fact, everyone seemed to like it, even those for whom spelt was something new. A few reaaaaallly liked it. Or maybe they were just hungry. (One serving, please. No, sorry, we can’t give you a third helping.)
Most of the ingredients came from farmers’ stands just steps away—the spelt, celery root, greens, sage—which was the point, after all: For two decades, Hoffman has crafted Savoy’s menus around produce of the season from local farmers whom he’s gotten to know over the years. “Savoy is as close as you’ll get to Chez Panisse in New York City,” one reviewer wrote. Hoffman has been shopping at, cooking from and supporting the Greenmarket for 30 years—including 15 years on its advisory board. Nice to run into him there.
The soup recipe is part of the Greenmarket Recipe Series; you should be able to find it at the market. Peter Hoffman is reportedly working on a book that will recount a year of shopping at the farmers’ market, with recipes and reflections. Can’t wait to read it. Meanwhile, here’s a summer tour of the market with him, from WNYC:
Look for more cooking demos with various chefs on Saturday, November 20 at Union Square Greenmarket.
And to close out Grains Week, don’t miss the Flapjack Breakfastat New Amsterdam Market this Sunday, November 21, 11-1, tickets $20. Sausage and maple syrup are part of the deal!
MUCH AS I LIKE ROAST TURKEY at Thanksgiving, I’ve always liked the side dishes even more, especially when combined in a crazy spill-off-the-plate sort of way. Now Tara Parker-Pope has a great series going, over at her Well blogat NYTimes.com: A Vegetarian Thanksgiving. Vegetables (and fruit) are the stars in dozens of fabulous recipes, some homey, some knock-your-socks-off chef’s masterpieces. She’ll add new dishes daily until Thanksgiving. Lots for Mediterraneanista to like here. How about Martha Rose Shulman’s Orange-Scented Sweet Potato and Fruit Gratin or Tom Colicchio’s Caramelized Tomato Tarts? The recipes are all so tempting, I think Thanksgiving will have to be a month-long celebration this year. That’s OK— I do have quite a lot to be thankful for. What about you?
I DON’T KNOW HOW Mr. Mediterraneanista (or BC, as he prefers to be called) got to Food52. Maybe he saw it mentioned on politico/foodie Ezra Klein’s blog, but that’s beside the point. One day last week I was tapping away at my computer, vaguely aware of kitchen rustle in the distance. An hour or so later, voilà—I’m being invited for a beautiful bowl of sweet potato soup for lunch. Olive oil, infused with zaatar—an eastern Mediterranean spice blend of sesame seeds, thyme and sumac—is drizzled on top. When I dip my spoon in I find crumbled feta is in the mix, too. What a wonderful combination of sweet and aromatic flavors. And what style (must be that two-careers-ago design training).
I don’t mean to imply that having BC cook a meal is something like the 8th wonder of the world. It’s not. He went through a long bread-baking phase in the 90s when our boys were little, and then there was the madeleine making period (we all really liked that) and the ceviche-as-school-project-with-kids experiments. Plus he’s certainly done his share of better-get-dinner-on-the-table-the kids-are-cranky. For the last while, he’s been the go-to pizza maker in our house. Mediterraneanista especially likes that. And if I can ever take a photo of one that does it any justice, I’ll definitely share. In the meantime, I’m just loving this surprise soup lunch development.
HERE’S SOME FAST FOOD WITH MED CRED, available at five locations around the city—including high-traffic areas like Times Square and Union Square. Maybe one is near your office? A couple more branches are opening in the next few months, including one in Hoboken.
My pick from the Maoz menu is the falafel whole-wheat pita sandwich ($5.25), with veggie toppings from the salad bar—roasted cauliflower, diced beets, tabouli salad, Moroccan-style marinated carrots, and so on, plus various sauces, including cilantro, garlic, tahini, chili. If you dine in, you can refill your pita as many times as you want from the salad bar, piling up those veggie servings with the greatest of ease.
Last time I was at Maoz, I bought an extra side order of falafel ($3.50, made from chickpeas) to take home, where I combined it with my own salad and tahini later. Yum. Maoz’s falafel made SeriousEats.com’s top 7 falafel sandwiches in New York City earlier this summer. The white pita lost it some points. I found the whole-wheat pita pretty tasty.
The first Maoz restaurant opened in Amsterdam in 1991 and soon attracted local customers and travelers alike. The menu emphasizes fresh produce and, although it doesn’t use olive oil, the Med diet favorite, it does use zero trans fat vegetable oil. For only $1 extra, you can get freshly squeezed carrot, apple or orange juice instead of soda with the sandwich meal deal. If you’re interested in more nutrition details, check out the Maoz website.
Meatless Monday Deal:At Maoz Vegetarian, every day is meatless but on Mondays you get 10% off the Salad Meal Deal ($9.95)—a box of greens with falafel plus two add-ons (hummus, eggplant, etc.), salad-bar toppings and freshly squeezed juice.
558 7th Ave (corner of 40 St)
New York, NY 10018
59 East 8 St (between Broadway and University Pl)
New York, NY 10003
38 Union Square East (between 16 and 17 St)
New York, NY 10003
2047 Broadway (between 70 and 71 St)
New York, NY 10023
2857 Broadway (between 110 and 111 St)
New York, NY 10025
Order onlineOpening Soon:
683 8th Ave (between 43 and 44 St)
New York, NY 10036
315 Washington Street
Hoboken, NJ 07030