recipe: a variation on vignarola

The last few months have brought many changes, not least among them my return to Brooklyn. Setting up shop in my old apartment means many things: a gas stove (thank god), extra space to entertain and proximity to my beloved Park Slope Food Coop. While I managed to maintain my membership throughout my two year residency in Manhattan, it was less than pleasurable to be so far removed from what has become one of my favorite parts of living in NYC.

The timing could not be more perfect, because spring at the Coop is a spectacular parade of delights. From fava beans to fiddleheads, gourmet chicories to garlic scapes, all of my favorite green ingredients literally burst forth from the shelves. There is also the chance to discover new friends, including the ugly-but-intriguing celtuce.

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For those who are unfamiliar, celtuce is most often spotted on asian menus, perhaps in some form of stir fry. Even in New York, I had only crossed it once, but given my affection for celeriac, I couldn't resist grabbing a couple of these knobby-roots-having-a-bad-hair-day. 

Trim off the rough exterior, and the texture is akin to a crisp, tender broccoli stem. The flavor is subtle, a mix of lettuce, celery and a touch of hazelnut. Sauteed or braised, it holds its crispness nicely, gaining a translucence that actually looks rather elegant.

Of course, as is the case with most odd veg, there aren't many celtuce recipes on the internet. But the few article that do exist suggest either raw or stir-fry preparations, and I thought I would attempt something akin to pan-fried. As it so happened, I had also spent the previous evening shelling fava beans, and the limited recipe searches on that end yielded an intriguing option: vignarola.

Traditionally, a braise of artichokes, peas and fava beans with crispy bits of pancetta, vignarola is quintessential Roman spring at its finest. The problem being, of course, that the mise en place for both fresh artichokes and favas is a massive labor of love, and all the moreso when a recipe requires both. Since I'm less patient than the average nonna, I decided celtuce would make a solid understudy for finicky artichokes.

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Flavor wise, it was certainly a gamble, but the structural integrity of the celtuce held up beautifully against the favas and peas. With no pancetta at hand, I started the recipe with a frozen puck of schmaltz (or improvised schmaltz really - just the drippings from a recently roasted chicken). After sauteeing down the celtuce therein, I deglazed the pan with white wine, added in the favas, peas and some white pepper, and braised them, slowly, over low heat for about an hour. The wine I chose was not particularly acidic, so I added a bit of sherry vinegar to round things out. Then I added some umami by grating in a block of mystery cheese somewhere on the manchego-to-parmesan spectrum, because why not. And what do you know...it was really fantastic. It was beautifully green—pale olive, in fact—and captured all the things I love about Italian home cooking. With a little salt, a little fat and some intuition, whatever mishmash is in your pantry can truly turn into a masterpiece.

celtuce, fava and pea vignarola

Note: As with all my cooking, this recipe was largely improvised. I truly believe that's the best way to cook, so my instructions will rely more on sensory guidelines than on definitive measurements.

Ingredients:

  • two heads of celtuce
  • 3 tbsp of schmaltz / chicken drippings
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic
  • 1.5 cups of whatever white wine you have on hand
  • two cups of shelled fresh favas
  • one cup of frozen peas
  • 2 inches, square, of a salty / umami-forward cheese
  • sherry vinegar, to taste
  • salt, to taste
  • white pepper, to taste

Instructions:

  1. Trim the rough outer skin of the celtuce stem, much as you would for celeriac or broccoli. The interior is rather tender, so be careful not to remove too much of the flesh. Slice the remaining stem into thin, 1-inch long rectangles.
  2. Heat up the chicken drippings in a pan and add the celtuce slices. Season with salt and sauté for 5-7 minutes on medium heat, until the slices become more translucent. About halfway through, add thinly sliced garlic.
  3. Reduce the heat and add white wine to the pan. Add your shelled favas and peas as well, with a bit more salt and freshly cracked white pepper. Add just enough water to make the mixture the consistency of a rustic stew (rather than a soup). Cover and stir periodically, simmering over low heat for at least 40 minutes.
  4. As the flavors start to come together, taste and adjust the seasoning with sherry vinegar. Once the acidity is to your liking, grate in your cheese and stir. Continue to simmer the dish for another ten minutes, then taste again to assess the adjustment of flavors. 
  5. At this point, if you're satisfied with the dish, toast some crusty bread. Ladle the vignarola into bowls and enjoy, possibly with a glass of the remaining white wine leftover from your cooking.

 

recipe: kettle eggs

When I lived in Paris, the first meal that I ordered in a restaurant was oeufs à la coque. The description of ingredients sounded like an omelet, but that it was not. Instead, I received a salad and two piping hot, seemingly uncooked eggs. Uncooked to the point that I wasn't even sure they were edible. But, out of embarrassment, I ate every last bite. (The added irony? The French word for omelet is omelette. Whoops.)

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I never quite got used to eating runny egg whites, but later in my time abroad discovered oeufs mollet—essentially a creamier version of American soft-boiled eggs. The whites are cooked, but still moist, and the yoke is just touched by heat, so that you still have to crack it open to release the golden liquid I like to think of as "egg butter."

Of course, I experimented with all different ways to achieve the same effect at home, and found that the best results came from water that was heated to a piping hot boil, then removed from the heat. Out of laziness or sheer genius, I decided my electric kettle (a staple in French kitchens) was the perfect place to achieve this effect, as it did an even better job than a stove-top pot of retaining heat after having stopped boiling.

Hence, my invention of "kettle eggs." To this day, it's still my favorite breakfast.

Kettle Eggs

Ingredients

  • two eggs
  • toasted bread
  • water (enough to fill a large kettle 3/4 of the way)

Instructions

  1. Fill a large electric or stove top kettle 3/4 of the way.
  2. Bring to a full, piping-hot boil.
  3. Turn off the heat.
  4. Gently place two eggs into the kettle and close the top.
  5. Time six minutes, swiftly remove eggs and promptly rinse with cold water until cool enough to handle.
  6. Crack eggs open (carefully) and scoop the insides out onto the toasted bread of your choice.
  7. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

 

behind the knives: anthony ricco of spice market

Photos by Lauren DeFilippo

It’s said that those who can’t, teach. But when it comes to cooking, Spice Market’s Executive Chef Anthony Ricco is a master at both.

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Before enrolling in a Culinary Arts program at the Institute of Culinary Education, Ricco was working as a prep cook at the China Grill. He says, “My brother forced me to go to ICE because I was holding on to the brochure for almost a year, and he knew I had talent in the kitchen, but I was wasting it. ICE helped me find my culinary voice by giving me access to quality product and excellent teachers who are very talented chefs.”

After graduation, Ricco worked at a restaurant in Long Island City, then found a position at Jean Georges, where he spent three years working every station in the kitchen. Then, he received an offer to work at one of Jean-George Vongerichten’s other New York restaurants, Spice Market.

 Chili tapioca

Chili tapioca

When considering whether or not to take the position, Ricco recalls being motivated by one detail—or rather, one dish: tuna ribbons with chili tapioca, asian pear and lime in a chilled lime-coconut broth. Last month, fifteen lucky students had the chance to relive Ricco’s sense of culinary discovery, in a “Light Asian Flavors” class at his alma mater.

 Plating tuna ribbons with chili tapioca and asian pear

Plating tuna ribbons with chili tapioca and asian pear

It wasn’t Chef Anthony’s first time teaching at ICE. This past winter, I was one of a handful of students who he taught to prepare the “Signature Dishes of Spice Market.” Despite the complexity of the restaurant’s recipes, it was clear that there were intensely flavorful components that I could recreate at home. From the restaurant’s signature chili oil to a spicy, tangy ginger vinaigrette or a crunchy garnish of garlic chips, each element was a clear and accessible entry into the processes by which professionals layer flavor to create a winning dish.

 Seasoning chicken with an Indonesian spice rub

Seasoning chicken with an Indonesian spice rub

Needless to say, when I showed up for my second class with Chef Anthony, it was no surprise to see that I wasn’t his only repeat student. This time, I was charged with making white pepper ice cream and a spiced passion fruit simple syrup. Being more of a savory cook, it was a challenge outside my comfort zone, but involved techniques that I was eager to learn.

In fact, that’s where Chef Anthony’s strength lies. He understands that the flavors and culinary style he works with every day are foreign to most American home cooks, and makes sure that every student, no matter what recipe they are personally assigned, has the chance to learn the techniques behind the various elements of each dish. That’s how I ended up not only making ice cream and simple syrup, but also breaking down a chicken and a red snapper (both for the first time).

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And of course, given that he manages a staff of more than sixty at Spice Market, it was no surprise that Chef Anthony was able to supervise and motivate our motley crew of amateur cooks to churn out such advanced dishes. After four hours of cooking, that was the ultimate reward: to be transported by pungent, spicy, sweet flavors to the far reaches of Asia—or at least, Spice Market, which is a destination in itself.

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Tuna and Chili Tapioca with Asian Pear
*Adapted for home cooks by Chef Ricco

Tapioca (about 20 servings)

  • 7 oz. large pearl tapioca
  • 5 shallots peeled and sliced thin
  • 2 ancho chilies toasted and chopped
  • 9 chipotle peppers toasted & chopped
  • 6 dried thai chilies
  • 4 tbs. Annatto seeds
  • ¼ c. Grape seed oil
  • 1 tsp. Cloves toasted
  • 4 cinnamon sticks toasted and smashed
  • 1 tbs. Sichuan peppercorns crushed
  • 4 tbs. Salt
  • 3 tbs. Sugar
  • 7 c. Water
  • Chili oil
  • 1 tsp. Salt to finish

Sweat all but tapioca, sugar, salt and water in oil until golden. Add water, salt and sugar and bring to boil, simmer for 30 minutes then strain thru a chinois. Bring back to a boil then add tapioca and cook, stirring until clear. Drain under cold running water until cool. Put in a container and just cover with chili oil, then season with salt and reserve.

Lime-Coconut Broth

  • 5 stalks lemongrass
  • 40 kaffir leaves washed & chopped
  • 1 green finger chili washed & chopped
  • 3 c. coconut juice
  • ¾ c. coconut milk
  • ¾ c. lime juice + 3 oz to finish
  • ¾ c. sugar
  • 1½ tsp. Salt

Clean, crush and finely chop lemongrass. Combine coconut juice, milk, chili, lime juice, sugar and salt and bring to boil. Add lemongrass and kaffir, mix well and let cool, uncovered. Strain through chinois and finish with lime juice.

To Serve

  • Tuna
  • Tapioca
  • Asian pear, peeled, cut into ¼” diamonds
  • Jicama, peeled and cut into ¼” diamonds
  • Red bell pepper char grilled, peel, cut in ¼” diamonds
  • Scallion greens cut on bias
  • Lime coconut broth

Slice tuna into 1” long, ½” wide and ⅛” thick pieces. Serve 10 pieces per plate. Arrange in a chilled shallow medium size bowl and fold each piece in half. Season tuna with salt then scatter with chili tapioca, then with jicama and pear. Sprinkle with scallions and then scatter with red pepper. Cover halfway with coconut-lime infusion and serve.