Sara Jenkins

Best Med Dish at…Porsena Extra Bar

OK, SO I COULDN’T CHOOSE ONE DISH. LUNCH. LUNCH IS THE BEST Mediterranean dish at Chef Sara Jenkins’s Bar Extra in the East Village. Perch yourself on a stool at the long bar, pick almost anything on the midday menu, and you’ll likely find a Mediterranean-inspired combo: a trio of eggplant purée, spicy red pepper walnut purée and cucumber and labne, with Sardinian flatbread;  a Swiss chard and ricotta tart; salad of farro, tomato, cucumber, olive oil and red wine vinegar. Ribolitta, a warming Tuscan bean and vegetable soup, was tempting, but we were early and it wasn’t quite ready yet. (Oh, kale, where are you?)
 
We decided to start with another special, an arugula, shaved sunchoke and red onion salad, with a yogurt dressing ($6)—It was crisp and fresh and, sipping on hibiscus tea served Brooklyn-style in a Mason jar, I was already content.
 
 
After our salad, my friend Carol ordered the spicy grilled “Kimcheese” sandwich ($8), which she pronounced delicious, and I had the surryano ham sandwich ($10) made with cantaloupe melon butter (very delicate, but, yes, there was the cantaloupe) and cornichons on stecca, a baguette-like bread. Surryano, I learned, is a dry-cured ham made from Berkshire pork in Surry, Virginia. Clever name. Tasty in my sandwich.
 
 
The Extra Bar, which is right next door to Porsena, Jenkins’s pasta dinner restaurant, just opened in September, so being closed because of losing power for days post-Sandy—and refrigerated food—wasn’t exactly what they needed, but it wasn’t too long before they were announcing, “We’re back—boot straps up, knives sharpened, stove tops afire.” Lucky us.
           
In the evening, this friendly lunch counter turns into a wine bar, serving small plates and wines from around the Mediterranean. I walked by one evening and it looked so convivial. I’ll definitely be back—for lunch or a rosé, depending on the time of day and/or my mood! Mondays are always a good choice—$1 oysters all day long.
 
 
Want to learn how to cook like this at home? Jenkins will be teaching a class at De Gustibus Cooking School tonight, November 29, 5:30–8 pm, sharing classic holiday dishes from Tuscany. $95. The school is located on the 8th floor of Macy’s. Get tickets here.
 
Porsena Extra Bar 
21 East 7th Street
New York, NY
212-228-4923 

Browsing the Cookbooks for Monkfish Recipes

I JUST GOT MY WEEKLY E-MAIL FROM MERMAID’S GARDEN, the CSF (Community Supported Fishery) I belong to, telling me what fish had been caught this week for me—and the other 200+ CSF members. Monkfish!   

I will never forget the first time I ate monkfish. We were on the road somewhere in southern France—on the outskirts of Orange, I think, in the Vaucluse—and we stopped at a bistro for dinner. On the menu, under Poisson, was something called lotte.  “What is this lotte?” I inquired. “Une espèce de poisson,” was the reply (“a type of fish”), which was about as helpful as when I had asked—this time in bilingual Montréal—“what is the soupe du jour?” and the answer came back: “the soup of the day.” Really? I’d been hoping for a few more details. For starters, was lotte an ocean fish, from the Mediterranean, a lake, a stream? Was it mackerel cousin or might-as-well-be-Dover-sole? Anyway, I decided to take a leap of faith, and it turned out to be delicious. I’ve eaten it more than a few times since, especially enjoying it in Mediterranean soups and stews.  

This time around, thanks to Bianca and Mark at Mermaid’s Garden, I learn quite a bit more about the fish itself. As they wrote in their e-mail:

“There are a lot of interesting things about Lophius americanus, but perhaps the most curious thing about this fish is what and how it eats. Recently we got an email telling us about a monkfish that was caught with seven ducks in its belly! We passed the news along to a fisherman friend of ours on the Cape, who said, “A monkfish tried to eat my leg once. Did some good damage to my boots.” Turns out that monkfish will eat just about anything they can fit into their gigantic mouths, which may be why another common name for the fish is devilfish. Monkfish are anglers, which means they catch their prey using a lure called an esca that is attached to the top of the fish’s head. Anything that touches the esca triggers an automatic reflex of the monkfish’s jaw. Monkfish like their dinner to come to them, so they mostly spend their time buried into the sea floor or “walking” slowly along it on their sturdy pectoral fins.”     

I also learn from them that in the late 1990s, monkfish populations had become overfished. “This fact, combined with the fact that most monkfish are caught in trawls, which can harm the ocean floor, led to monkfish being an unsustainable choice.” However, today, “monkfish populations exceed target levels, and both trawl and gill net fishermen employ quite a few mechanisms to reduce bycatch.”  

My particular monkfish was gill netted off Montauk on the F/V Sea Devil—pretty funny, considering the fish’s nickname—“by a fisherman who refers to himself as Billy the Kid. Known to others simply as ‘the kid.’ (We are not making this up, Mark and Bianca write, “pinky swear.”)  

Monkfish may be one of the ugliest fish in the sea, but its taste redeems it: fresh, slightly sweet, with a firm texture, it’s been called “poor man’s lobster.” And it’s full of goodness: niacin, vitamins B6 and B12, potassium, as well as being very good source of selenium. It has a gray membrane surrounding the flesh, which your fishmonger can remove, or you can do it yourself (with the help of this video—start at minute 3:10).  

How to Cook It? Knowing that Mediterranean cuisines like to use monkfish, I start browsing my cookbooks and the web, looking for recipes. I find monkfish couscous, roasted monkfish with tomatoes and olives, Andalusian monkfish ragout. Jamie Oliver has what looks like a delicious grilled or roasted monkfish with black olive sauce and lemon mash, just the kind of full-of-Mediterranean-flavors dish I like. Sara Jenkins’s Olives and Oranges, includes a monkfish dish with her wintertime take on Sicilian caponata, made from olives, potatoes and sun-dried tomatoes. I made this the last time we had monkfish, and I’d be happy to eat it again, but I’m in the mood to be adventurous. Mark Usewicz, the chef behind Mermaid’s Garden (Bianca’s a marine biologist) has posted a couple of delicious sounding recipes on Mermaid’s Garden’s Facebook page: Mark’s Monkfish with Clams and Cranberry Beans and Mark’s Fish in Mustard Curry. (I noticed this week that Dave Pasternack’s Il Pesce, Eataly’s fish restaurant, has a monkfish/clam combo on its menu right now, too: Crispy Monkfish Cheeks with Local Clams, Steamers and Meyer Lemon Aioli. The cheeks are quite small and a prized delicacy, I hear.)  

To tell you the truth, these dishes all sound good, making it hard to choose. In the end, though, to take advantage of how super, super fresh I know this fish will be, I decide on Monkfish “Carpaccio,” from Patricia Wells At Home in Provence. The recipe is beyond simple: thinly sliced monkfish, which is then grilled for less than a minute, with only olive oil, lemon juice, chives and sea salt added. I like the idea of the sweet flesh of the fish taking center stage. To accompany it, I’ll make a simple green salad, and I have the perfect bottle of Muscadet Sèvre et Maine, from Domaine de la Pinardière, chilling in the fridge. Crisp, clean tastes all around.

RECIPE: Smoked Trout with Spicy Arugula and Grapefruit

ACCOMPANIED BY CRUSTY BREAD, this salad makes a fresh light supper in summer, with a lovely contrast in flavors between the salty fish, peppery arugula and the grapefruit. Red or pink grapefruit tend to pack a bigger nutritional punch—especially vitamin A and the antioxidant lycopene—and look prettiest in this salad I think, but when I cut this one open, surprise, surprise, it was white. Better luck next time.

 
1 tbs Dijon mustard
1 tbs red wine vinegar
1 tbs lemon juice
1 large shallot, thinly sliced with a mandoline
1 garlic clove, cut into fine julienne
1 pink grapefruit
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper
8 oz smoked trout, flaked into small pieces
5 oz wild arugula (or 2 bunches, washed and torn)
1/2 small red onion, sliced very thinly
 
Whisk together mustard, vinegar, lemon juice, shallot, garlic, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper; let sit for 10 minutes
 
Trim off the top and bottom of the grapefruit. With a sharp knife, starting at the top, cut peel and pith from the grapefruit, following the curve of the fruit. Trim away any pith that’s left and then slice out sections of fruit from the membrane, placing in a medium bowl.
 
Add trout, arugula and onion to grapefruit and toss gently. Add dressing and toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
 
Adapted from Olives & Oranges: Recipes & Flavor Secrets from Italy, Spain, Cyprus & Beyond, by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox.
 

Sometimes a Cookbook Is More Than Just a Cookbook

PANZANELLA DI FARRO, a Tuscan-style tomato salad with farro, from Olives & Oranges, by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox, is the recipe that got me started eating farro. At the time, I didn’t know much about farro, except that it was a grain, so making that dish led to all sorts of research and then expeditions all over the city to find it.
 
 
After that, since I travel regularly to Montreal and Toronto, I had to find farro sources in those cities, too, because the salad had become something of an extended family favorite as well. (Travelers: Dinah’s Cupboard in Toronto; Milano Supermarket in Montreal). 
 
 
A bag of farro even made the trip north with us to Georgian Bay (above) and 45 minutes across the water to my brother’s cottage on an island one summer (we’d found wild rice on its shores, but weren’t holding out any hope for farro).
 
All this adventure, thanks to one recipe.
 
Beyond farro, though, that dish introduced me to a whole wonderful world of cooking with chef Sara Jenkins. I’ve been down to Porchetta, her little shop on East 7th Street where she makes herbed roast pork sandwiches that get raves from anyone who’s tried them. And I’m looking forward to more visits to her pasta restaurant, Porsena, in the same neighborhood.
 
But the East Village is not exactly next door, so back to the cookbook. I usually like to cook and eat at home anyway, so I’ve branched out to try other recipes in this very approachable but sophisticated book. Roasted cauliflower with tahini sauce. Orange and mint leaf salad with roasted beets. (Both great for Meatless Monday!) Baked pork chops with peaches (time for this one again, now that peaches are appearing in the market). Spaghetti with lemon sole, almonds, capers and parsley. Monkfish with olives, potatoes, and sun-dried tomatoes. And recently for dinner, smoked trout with arugula salad, pictured here.
 
 
 
 
Along with the recipes, which are helpfully labeled quick-cook and slow-cook, Jenkins shares her knowledge of the Mediterranean pantry and offers flavor tips that make you an all-round smarter Mediterranean cook. I’m still a little obsessed with that farro salad, though. Planning to make it for another family get-together some time soon. Purslane or arugula? We’ll see. 
 
Porchetta
110 East 7th Street  
New York, NY 10009
212-777-2151
 
Porsena
21 East 7th Street  
New York, NY 10003
212-228-4923
 

Mediterraneanista's Holiday List, Part 3

SIX COOKBOOKS I ESPECIALLY LIKE
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?
 
by Nancy Harmon Jenkins
My navigator and my anchor in all things Mediterranean. I like her common sense, her knowledge and perspective on the Mediterranean diet and her dishes. And she tells it all so beautifully.
 

by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox
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.
 
by Martha Rose Shulman
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.
 
by Clifford A. Wright
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.
 
by Mario Batali and Mark Ladner
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.
 
by Claudia Roden
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 A Book 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?
 
Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table
Paula Wolfert’s Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking 

 
In case you need other gift ideas with a Mediterranean flavor:
Mediterraneanista’s Holiday List, Part 1
Mediterraneanista’s Holiday List, Part 2
 
 
 

Meatless Monday Cure for Thanksgiving Feast Hangover

 
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.
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