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Mediterraneanista's Holiday List, Part 5

THE MEDITERRANEAN SHOPS THAT DOT NEW YORK are a great source of treats and gifts for you and your foodie friends. Shopping in them is part of the pleasure—a step into another world for a time. I like to take a minute to pause, if I can, ordering a coffee and a snack at an Eataly counter or a few tapas—and more coffee—in the back café at Despaña. There are always the samples and tastings, too. Yum.
Villa Manadori Artisanal Aceto Balsamico di Modena
This dark, rich balsamic vinegar is far removed from the everyday balsamic you’ll find in most supermarkets. (I first tasted it drizzled on a roasted vegetable dish at Le Verdure in Eataly; later I learned it’s the balsamic of choice at Babbo as well.) I’d heard that Di Palo Fine Foods, a 4th-generation store in Little Italy, was a good source for high-quality balsamic vinegars at very reasonable prices, and, sure enough, I found this one in the store on Grand Street, an excellent buy at $32.99. (It usually runs about $45.) In a tall elegant bottle, packed in a white box, it makes a lovely gift.
Of course, for $200, you could go for the real nectar of the gods, Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena, which has D.O.P. status and must be aged for at least 15 years. In the case of this particular bottle of balsamico tradizionale, the cooked grape must is aged for 30 to 40 years in successively smaller fruitwood barrels. (Standards are strict; even the bottle has to be a particular shape.)
Di Palo Fine Foods
200 Grand Street
New York, NY

Sour Cherry Compote with Balsamic Vinegar, from Le Tamerici 
I met Paola Calciolari, the founder of this small artisanal producer, at Eataly last month when she was doing a tasting of her compotes, wine jellies and mostardas. Each one was so tasty, it was hard to choose among them. I love sour cherries, though, so I went with this one ($13; selections from the product line available at Eataly, above). It’s delicious with soft cheeses like Taleggio and Brie, or on your yogurt in the morning. Learn more about Paola’s company here.

Eataly NYC
200 Fifth Avenue (enter on Fifth or 23rd)
New York, NY
Lunardo Black Truffle Honey
Truffles, without the truffle budget: For $19.50, experience how the “sweetness melts into a gorgeous, deep, earthy truffle flavor.” (Many truffled products have little more than truffle aroma; Market Hall Foods is careful that actual truffle appears in this honey.) Delicious served with chunks of parmigiano reggiano. 

Jamón Ibérico Bellota
This is truly the king of Spanish dry cured hams, the most prized pata negra, and it has only been available in the United States for the last couple of years. It’s handcrafted according to the exacting standards of a Denomination of Origin label from indigenous black Iberian pigs that roam freely in oak groves and meadows. In the last few months before slaughter, the pigs eat only acorns (hence, bellota) which, we’re told, accounts for the particular rich complex taste of this ham. It’s then dry cured for up to 36 months. Need further persuasion? Much of the ham’s beautiful marbled fat is oleic acid, a healthier monounsaturated type of fat.
You’ll find Jamón Ibérico Bellota at Despaña, a shop in SoHo that transports you to Spain the moment you step inside. It sells for $159/lb machine-cut, $169/lb hand-sliced. Nope, that’s no typo. But the folks at the store will happily sell you a few paper-thin slices of this delicacy, so no one need miss out on the flavor sensation. Hostess gift? Foodie potluck? We spent $10 for our slices one day this fall and ate them as soon as we hit the sidewalk, the best bicycling refueling snack I’ve ever had. (Despaña also stocks a full range of Spanish charcuterie at more everyday prices.)
408 Broome Street
New York, NY
Previous Holiday Gift Guides:

Mediterraneanista's Holiday List, Part 1

Gifts and Treats for You and Yours
We’ve made some wonderful discoveries this year during our travels around New York City’s five boroughs and beyond, on the trail of one Mediterranean essential or another. So if you want to add a little Mediterranean flavor to your holiday, I have a few suggestions.
You can get many of these items online, but for some, alas, you’ll have to jump on the subway (or your bicycle) and head over to one of the amazing Mediterranean shops that dot New York. For me that time will be part of the pleasure: When I stop in at Eataly or Despaña, say, with my Christmas list, I plan to sit down and drink a coffee, order a few pintxos or a pizza or pasta and rest awhile until I’m ready for another whirl of Christmas preparations.
This summer I visited Hester Street Market quite a few times, motivated to take the 7-mile bike ride from home because I knew Guerrilla Ice Cream would be waiting as a reward. One day, Mediterraneanista had an extra treat: I discovered SOM Extra-Virgin Olive OilAsena Basak was at the market giving tastes and selling the cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil her family produces on their farm in Milas, Turkey near the Aegean coast. It’s a delicious estate-bottled extra-virgin oil, made from Memecik olives grown by the family. The 2010 harvest will be available in April or May. (Follow SOM on Facebook.)
~Buy the SOM 2009-10 harvest at Garden of Eden stores or online
Back on the Upper West Side, I recently ran into the Franks (Castronovo and Falcinelli) at our local Whole Foods. The chef/owners of the Greenmarket-driven Frankies Spuntino restaurants are very friendly guys; they were there showing off their new cookbook, The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual, and giving us tastes of their amazing olive oil cake, pretzels and other goodies. As if cookbook writing and running Frankies 457 in Brooklyn and Frankies 17 on the Lower East Side isn’t enough to keep them busy, the pair go to Sicily every year to oversee the production of Frankies Extra-Virgin Olive Oil— cold-pressed from organically grown Sicilian olives in the Nocellara del Belice DOP (Protected Denomination of Origin). They were expecting a shipment from the new harvest any day.
~Buy Frankies olive oil online or at these stores.
Mediterraneanista likes her olives any way she can get them. This Jardin de l’Olivier olive oil soap ($8.50) is nourishing for the skin—and what a beautiful objet, with its olive leaf shape, don’t you think? And the “Olive Tree” and “Mediterranean” tea towels ($21), made in France by Tissage Moutet, are almost too pretty to use. They’re woven in cotton by a fourth-generation business located in Orthez, a town in the foothills of the French Pyrénées.
~Buy tea towels and olive oil soap at
Go to Union Square Greenmarket any Monday or Friday this month, and you’ll find sachets and dried bunches of lavender from Lavender by the Bay to make you think of summer and Provence. Or White Flower Farm has a lavender plant in a gray glazed pot ($42) that is hard to resist. 
On Christmas Eve, Bistro de la Gare will celebrate with a traditional Italian “Night of the Seven Fishes” dinner as a prix fixe menu for $65 (tax, tip and wine not included). As of 12/10, tables are still open for some times between 5:30 and 10:30 that night.
~Make reservations at 212-242-4420.
I love the seasonal Mediterranean menus at this Greenwich Village restaurant. Here’s what chef/owners Maryann Terillo (formerly of Jarnac) and Elisa Sarno (formerly of Babbo) have in store for Christmas Eve:
La Notte dei Sette Pesci
Amuse: Baked Cherrystone Clams and PEI Mussel “Oreganata”
Antipasto: Baccala Three Ways—Fritelle di Baccala, Insalata di Baccala, Baccala Venizia
Salad: Shaved Fennel and Roasted Peppers with Bagna Cauda 
Pasta: Seppia Ink Fettucine with Jumbo Lump Crabmeat
garnished with Grilled Octopus
Secondi: Fritto Misto—Eel, Fresh Shrimp, Oysters, Calamari and Skate with 3 sauces: salsa verde, salsa rossa, maionese limone
Dessert: Bowls of Fresh Fruit and Nuts, Struffoli
Bistro de la Gare
626 Hudson Street (near Jane)
New York, NY
Make life with holiday crowds easy: Cobble Hill restaurant Brucie has a lasagna drop-off service, we learn over at Tasting Table. Bring your pan in one day; pick up your meal-for-a-crowd the next evening on your way home. Great combos made with top-quality ingredients: eggplant, tomato and Swiss chard, goat cheese and mushrooms, roast pork and butternut squash.
234 Court St.
Brooklyn, NY

The giant Italian food hall that opened this summer at 23rd and Fifth offers classes at La Scuola di Eataly, which is headed up by Lidia Bastianich. Eat-Ineraries ($35) are one-hour small-group guided tours led by a senior staff member, with behind-the-scenes peeks at all the departments and tastings along the way. Chef’s Kitchen ($110–275) lets you join chefs like Esca’s Dave Pasternack, Manzo’s Michael Tosano, Del Posto’s Brooks Headley and Dean of La Scuola Lidia Bastianich for a demonstration and tasting (with wine pairings) as they prepare a signature dish. And there are classes with artisanal food purveyors like Pat LaFrieda and Eataly wine director Dan Amatuzzi. (See the Jan–Mar schedule here.)  

To give a particular class as a gift, register the recipient online for that class. Once the registration is complete with credit card approval, that space is reserved. If you like, you can then contact to obtain a certificate stating the class for which the gift recipient is registered.
Or you can buy an Eataly gift certificate, available only in the store, not yet online, but this doesn’t reserve a place in a class, and some sell out quickly (the classroom seats 22 for tastings, 20 for Chef’s Kitchen).
Eataly NYC
200 Fifth Avenue (enter on Fifth or 23rd)
New York, NY
Mediterraneanista’s Holiday Gift Guide:

Celebrating World Pasta Day

NOT THAT I NEED AN EXCUSE to enjoy pasta, but next Monday, October 25, is World Pasta Day (did you know?), and I thought I’d get a head start with tonight’s dinner. Which, of course, was an excuse for another visit to Eataly, the Batali/Bastianich Italian food hall that opened this summer at 5th and 23rd. There, I found everything I needed to make a wonderful wild mushroom ragù with bucatini. (More on that in a minute.)
Pasta took some knocks when low-carb diets were popular. But eaten in reasonable portions (1 to 1½ cups cooked, say), pasta is part of a healthy Mediterranean diet—and a much beloved food. The complex carbs provide energy, of course, as any cyclist will tell you. Whole-wheat pasta is the most nutrient-rich, with at least three times the fiber of refined pasta. It’s also pretty tasty, which wasn’t always the case. Pasta made from refined durum wheat flour or durum semolina often gets a nutritional boost from being enriched with iron, folic acid and other B-vitamins. We eat some of both in our household.
Then there’s the sauce: Pasta is often referred to as an “efficient delivery system” for other healthy foods. I hate to think of any food on my plate being merely a delivery system—sounds so clinical. If you buy high-quality pasta (dried or fresh) it’s delicious in and of itself. But I know what they mean. Sauces full of vegetables and legumes are an easy and delicious way to incorporate those hard-to-get daily recommended servings of vegetables into your meals. But drown your pasta in sauce?! How gauche. Well, here’s cookbook author Mark Bittman’s take on the sauce-to-pasta ratio question. 
One of my favorite companions to pasta is fresh tomato sauce with cannellini beans and herbs. But today, I’m going for something different. With mushrooms popping up in the woods and in markets everywhere, it’s the perfect season to make this dish.





Eataly Coming to New York: First Look

I WAS WALKING ALONG 24th Street last week and peeked in the window at Eataly, the 50,000-square-foot food hall Mario Batali is opening with partners Joe Bastianich, Lidia Bastianich and others.
Batali has described it as a “temple” to Italian food. It will have all sorts of food departments—butcher, fishmonger, greengrocer, bakery, cheese, dried goods, salumi—as well as restaurants and snack counters. A sign outside quotes Fellini: “Life is a combination of magic and pasta.” Sounds good to me.
The original Eataly, a Slow Food heaven in Turin, opened in 2007, followed by branches in other Italian cities and in Japan. We’ll all get to experience New York’s Eataly for ourselves on Tuesday, August 31 at 4 pm. To whet your appetite, here’s a preview from Eater.
See you there!
Fifth Avenue and 24th Street 
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