Fish for Dinner—Mermaid’s Garden Makes It Happen

FRIDAY WAS FISH DAY IN MY FAMILY, for as long as I can remember growing up. Initially a religious observance, it eventually just became the custom and what we all enjoyed eating. It helped that we lived in a town on the shores of Lake Huron. Depending on where we were or what was convenient, dinner might be English-style fish and chips wrapped in newspaper, bass or perch caught in Georgian Bay (and the occasional pike!), shrimp fried rice or pickerel from the fishing boat at the dock down by the bridge.
In my own household, I’ve always cooked fish, although I drifted from the Friday fish idea—and it didn’t always happen weekly. Ever since I became smitten with all things Mediterranean, though, I’ve been enjoying fish and seafood more again—and exploring new ways to serve it.
This Catalan white bean soup with shrimp, from Nancy Harmon Jenkins’s The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook, makes a meal “handsome enough for a dinner party,” as she puts it. She’s right.
These ocean perch are baked with lemon slices, a little wine, capers and olive oil in the pan. Talk about fast food.
Oven-baked fish fillets with cherry tomatoes, lemon zest, garlic, capers and olive oil are always a hit. These are red snapper.
And here’s red snapper again, a couple of big ones from a Portuguese fish store in Toronto, ready to pop in the oven. (It was Christmas Eve and we were cooking for a crowd.) This is another Spanish recipe from Jenkins—the fish is roasted on a bed of sautéed onions and small potatoes, and then topped off with red pepper slices and tomatoes. A one-dish dinner—lazy Mediterraneanista loves it.
This summer, I’ve found a new and wonderful way to get a regular fish fix—I’ve joined Mermaid’s Garden Community Supported Fishery. It was started by Bianca Piccillo, a marine biologist who left academia to work in the food business, and Mark Usewicz, the French-trained executive chef at Palo Santo in Brooklyn. As consultants, Bianca and Mark work with restaurant professionals helping them “knowledgeably and confidently chose delicious, sustainable fish.” Now, as a CSF member, I get that benefit too. Which is nice because shopping for fish that’s good for you and the ocean can be confusing.

The CSF works like a CSA does—you buy a 4-week share (fish for two in my case) and pay $66 up front. On Thursday morning we get an e-mail from Bianca, telling us what fish we’ll be getting, how it’s caught, even who caught it—and ideas from Mark for cooking it. Later that afternoon, I head to Brooklyn to pick up my share of fish. So far, we’ve eaten tuna, hake, black bass, striped bass (probably my favorite), pollock. The fish has been fresher than fresh, and although I don’t collect if off the boat myself, there’s something nice about knowing something about where it came from. I’ve been enjoying learning a bit more about fishing practices—and different types of ocean fish. And there’s something very comfortable—and comforting—for me about reviving that weekly rhythm of fish for dinner that was implanted at a young age. Thank you Bianca and Mark!

RECIPE: Spring Market Dinner

LATE IN THE AFTERNOON on the last day of winter, there were definite signs that the season was changing. The 70º temperature was an obvious hint.
And the blossoms everywhere. Down at Union Square Greenmarket, bunches of pussy willows and forsythia were for sale.
And even at 4 o’clock, I found enough fresh greens for a spring market supper—or two.
Kale of all sorts…
And collard…
ONE VENDOR WAS GIVING OUT tastings of baby bok choy sautéed in garlic butter. I knew I had asparagus at home already. That inspired the idea of a simple pasta and sautéed greens for a Meatless Monday dinner. Perfect for a lazy Mediterraneanista.
After removing the tough bottoms of the asparagus, I chopped the stems in three-inch pieces. I blanched the stems first for 3 minutes, then added the tips for another 2, for a total of 5 minutes. I chopped the bok choy stems in thirds, pretty little yellow flowers and all.
RECIPE: Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add 2 minced garlic cloves for about a minute (don’t brown). Add asparagus and bok choy, a good pinch of salt, black pepper, and sauté until bok choy is tender. Serve over pasta—I used pennette— with another drizzle of oil. Top with coarse fresh bread crumbs that have been toasted golden brown in a skillet with a little olive oil. Add grated parmesan to the plate if you like. (I do.)
A half pound of pasta, a pound of asparagus and a bunch of bok choy made enough for dinner for two with leftovers for a couple of lunches. All for about $7 or $8. Farm to table rocks! 
Next up: something with swiss chard. Any favorite recipes you’d like to share? The bunches I brought home are pretty enough to be a bouquet.

Best Med Diet Dish at…Pasha Restaurant

MEETING UP WITH FRIENDS for Turkish meze at Pasha, near Lincoln Center, is always a great way to end a work day. We usually sit up front in the bar area, pulling up the kilim-upholstered armchairs in a circle around the low mosaic-tiled table. Something about the deep crimson walls and friendly service makes the place cozy and chic at the same time.

Before long, our little table is filled with appetizer plates that we share—shepherd’s salad with tomatoes and cucumbers, manti (small lamb dumplings in mint yogurt sauce), octopus salad, grilled feta with tomatoes, imam bayildi (stuffed eggplant), calamari with garlic and walnut dipping sauce. (Most plates are $7-9, with a few $10-12.) I often order a glass of Cankaya Kavaklidere, a blended white wine from Anatolian grapes, or one of the other Turkish wines on the list, which gets you completely in the spirit of being transported to Turkey for a few hours.

[caption id="attachment_1254" align="alignnone"]Imam bayildi, Turkish for "the imam fainted"—as in fainted with pleasure when presented this dish by his wife. Well, that’s one of the stories (perhaps apocryphal?) to explain this memorably named dish. You may well swoon with pleasure at its flavors.[/caption]


Pasha New York
70 West 71st Street
New York, NY


Ready for Winter Stews? Not Me

I KNOW IT’S OFFICIALLY AUTUMN, but I’m not at all ready to say, ‘goodbye summer’ yet. Despite tropical storm Irene—and the date on the calendar—tomatoes are still showing up in New York City’s farmers’ market in a stunning mix of shapes and flavors. There are peppers of every shade—and peaches, too. And this weekend on a visit to the Hudson Valley, I ate the most delicious just-picked corn. Now what could be more summery than tomatoes and corn on the cob?

Repeat after me: Winter will never come, winter will never come….






RECIPE: Asparagus Wrapped in Pancetta with Citronette

WHEN ASPARAGUS SEASON COMES AROUND, I particularly like this antipasto from Mario Batali’s Italian Grill. (It makes a delicious lunch, too.) No grill? No problem. Just place the wrapped asparagus spears on a baking sheet and broil in your oven about 3 inches from the heat for 5 to 10 minutes, turning a few times.
Serves 4
2 pounds asparagus (12 to 18 stalks per pound)

4 ounces thinly sliced pancetta
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1½ tbs finely chopped fresh thyme
1. Snap the tough bottom stalks off the asparagus. Unroll the slices of pancetta and lay them out on a work surface. Lay an asparagus spear on a slight diagonal across the bottom of one slice and roll it up, covering as much of the stalk as possible but leaving the tip visible. Place on a tray or small baking sheet and repeat with the remaining asparagus. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour (this helps the pancetta adhere to the asparagus).
2. Preheat a gas grill (or your oven) or prepare a fire in a charcoal grill.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the orange zest, juice and mustard. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking until emulsified and smooth. Season the citronette with salt and pepper and set aside.
4. Place the asparagus on the grill and cook, turning occasionally, until it is just tender and the pancetta is crisped, about 4 to 6 minutes. (If the pancetta browns too much before the asparagus is cooked, move the spears to a cooler part of the grill.)
5. Whisk the citronette again, and pour half of it onto a serving platter. Sprinkle with half of the chopped thyme and pile the asparagus on top. Drizzle with the remaining citronette and sprinkle with the rest of the thyme. Serve warm or at room temperature with a small bowl of coarse sea salt for dipping. 

At the Market This Week

Welcome signs of spring…after a long, long winter. 

[caption id="attachment_1240" align="alignnone"]Ramps, or wild leeks, pop up the earliest. If you’re not lucky enough to gather them in the woods, you’ll find them at the market right now.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1241" align="alignnone"]Pristine and fresh, so elegantly arranged—I swear that bunch on the right is dancing.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1242" align="alignnone"]The first of the radishes.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1243" align="alignnone"]Leeks galore—perfectly delicious just braised.[/caption]

Best Med Diet Dish at…Lupa

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—a puréed 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.)

Mediterranean Sparklers

FUNNILY ENOUGH, IT WAS MY Polish father who introduced me to the Italian sparkling wine Prosecco. His lifelong love of all things Italian began in his 20s when he spent several of his army years in Italy during World War II and then stayed on for a year afterward as well. But I have to credit Commissario Guido Brunetti—the police inspector of Venice in Donna Leon’s novels—with opening my eyes to a more day-to-day appreciation of it: The detective can often be found drinking un ombra with cicchetti (Venetian snacks) at a bar midday, or sipping it as an aperitif or with his professor wife Paola’s fabulous home-cooked meals.
Prosecco is just one of the sparkling wines of the Mediterranean that are perfect for toasting the holidays. Ask your local wine seller for their favorite producers and bottles. Here are a few I’ve liked, from Gotham Wines, my neighborhood wine store, and Astor Wines downtown. When the wines are available from the stores’ online sites, I include a link.
ITALY/ Prosecco
Mionetto IL Prosecco D.o.c. di Treviso, $10
Prosecco is a dry sparkling wine made from Glera grapes. While Champagne undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle, Prosecco is made by the Charmat method, with the second fermentation taking place in stainless steel tanks. Mionetto has been making Prosecco since 1887 in Valdobbiadene, just north of Venice, the area where most Prosecco comes from. This bottle often shows up chez nous to celebrate, well, just life. The producer suggests it’s “perfect with brunch, lunch, dinner or potato chips.” You get the idea.
Mionetto Valdobbiadene Superiore D.o.c.g., $18
Made from 100% prosecco grapes from a single vineyard, this dry gentle sparkler has a floral bouquet with apple and peach flavors. (At Gotham Wines store.)

FRANCE/ Blanquette de Limoux
Saint-Hilaire Brut – 2007, $11
From Languedoc Roussillon in southern France. I was interested to learn that Benedictine monks started making sparkling wine here in 1531, a century before the first Champagne was produced. Estate-bottled, this wine today is considered “qualitatively close to a high quality non-vintage Champagne.” Apparently, Thomas Jefferson liked it back in the day, too.
Marques de Gelida Cava – 2006, $14
A vintage estate-bottled cava, served to me just the other night with mezze by my friend, Brenda. That is true friendship.
Amalia Brut, Tselepos – NV, $22
Made following the Champenoise method by Tselepos, a small respected family winery in the Peloponesse, from Moschofilero grapes.
And on my list to try soon, a few staff picks from my friends at Gotham Wines:
Penisola Sorrentina “Gragnano,” $16
A dry red frizzante (slightly bubbly) blend of Aglianico, Piedirosso and Sciasinasso grapes, made on the Sorrento peninsula in southern Italy. It’s favored as a good match for pizza, working well with the tomato and the cheese. Or any light meal, for that matter.
Rosa Regale, Banfi, $18
A sweet red sparkling wine from Piemonte, with a wonderful burst of raspberry on the palate. Pairs beautifully with chocolate.
Castello di Luzzano “Magot,” $22
A white frizzante made from Pinot Nero grapes in Lombardia. Light straw yellow, fragrant on the nose, crisp and well-balanced. “For the sophisticated palate,” according to my Gotham guru.
Gotham Wines & Liquors
2517 Broadway (at 94th St)
New York, NY
Astor Wines & Spirits
399 Lafayette Street (at East 4th St)
New York, NY
Twitter: @astorwines

Dolci: A Few Mediterranean Sweets for the Holidays

DON’T YOU LOVE A CUISINE that insists on 13 desserts for a proper celebration? That’s the Provençal tradition for the gros souper on Christmas Eve, which I imagine must leave leftovers for days after that. Here are a few sweets our household is particularly fond of at this time of year.
[caption id="attachment_1227" align="alignnone"]Feast your eyes at Villabate Alba Pasticceria. The cannoli are at upper left.[/caption]
This summer I stumbled upon Villabate Alba Pasticceria in Bensonhurst (what planet have I been on that I hadn’t even heard of it?). The cannoli at this Sicilian pastry shop, made with ricotta straight from Palermo and with the lightest, crispiest shells, were heaven—the BEST I’ve ever tasted. (Ask my family; I’m really picky when it comes to this popular dessert.) Even though Sicilians originally ate cannoli only during Carnevale, to heck with tradition; I’m going to make a point of treating my house guests to some this Christmas. Because it’s all about them, of course.
Villabate Alba Pasticceria & Bakery 
7001 18th Avenue (and 70th Street)
Brooklyn, NY
Closer to home, I’ll pick up some panettone, the Milanese bread-cake studded with raisins and candied citrus peel that is eaten at Christmastime. There are wonderful (certa apocryphal) stories about its origin.

I usually get the boxed version that’s flown in to New York stores from Italy during this season. But Grandaisy Bakery’s fresh-baked panettone, made “true to tradition with rum soaked raisins, citron and a touch of honey,” is quite a treat, I’ve discovered. It comes in 2lb ($16) and 4lb ($26) sizes and will be sold through Three Kings Day. (You can also order online for $26 and $36, including shipping.)

Grandaisy Bakery (3 locations)
250 West Broadway
73 Sullivan Street
176 West 72 Street (and Amsterdam)
New York, NY
What’s your go-to source for panettone in NYC? And how do you like to eat it? Toasted for breakfast? As an after-dinner sweet with prosecco? Let me know in the comments box below. 
We’re going to start a new tradition in our household today. Thirteen desserts. Merry Christmas to all!

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

[caption id="attachment_1223" align="alignnone"]The selection of Le Tamerici artisanal preserves at Eataly.[/caption]
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. 

[caption id="attachment_1225" align="alignnone"]Various dry cured hams ready to be sliced at Despaña.[/caption]
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:
          1. Olive oil, lavender, classes, and more
          2. Cool kitchen tools and herb gardens
          3. Cookbooks for a Mediterranean diet
          4. Kitchen organizers and culinary apps