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.

celtuce.jpg

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.

vignarola with celtuce fava and pea.jpg

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: spiralized zucchini pasta

If you know me as a cook, then you know that I don't often cook pasta. Leafy greens, always. Spice-centric meat or fish dishes, occasionally. Rice or alternative grains, all the time. But pasta? It's a rare, maybe monthly indulgence. So let me start by saying that I find it very amusing that I'm posting two back-to-back pasta recipes on the blog.

That said, this second recipe isn't actually pasta as you know and love it. I'm jumping on the already well documented spiralizer trend with a recipe that you can eat like pasta, but, you know, sans the grains.

Being that I'm a pretty healthy cook, you're probably thinking, "Oh, she avoids gluten." Well, that was more or less true once upon a time, but these days the only thing I avoid is processed, industrial foods. Find me a crusty loaf fermented with old-school starter and I will always dig in.

Then why the spiralizing? It's simple: I despise using more pots and pans than absolutely necessary. Regular pasta involves boiling water, cooking the pasta, simultaneously making a sauce, etc. Doing it well isn't actually as instantaneous as mainstream food culture makes it out to be.

Which is why spiralized zucchini pasta is genius, because you can literally just throw it right in the pan on top of some oil, slivered garlic and spices. No boiling water, no need for two burners. Not to mention that the "noodle" texture didn't turn to mush the way I expected.

I'll stop rambling now and share the recipe—but seriously, just imagine what else you can do with a spiralizer. And if you proud omnivores need to assure yourself that you're not following the trends set by "those crazy paleo people," well, you can just sop up the remaining juices with some good ol' crusty bread.

Spiralized Zucchini Pasta

Ingredients (serves two as an appetizer, one as a entree)

  • 1-2 tbsp grapeseed oil or butter (I used a mix of both)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • tsp rosemary
  • tsp herbes de provence
  • 1/2 tsp red flake pepper
  • 2 large zucchini (or other oblong summer squash), spiralized 
  • 2 tbsp yogurt
  • 2 tbsp grated parmesan (or grana padano, nutritional yeast, etc.)
  • salt, to taste

Instructions

Heat large sauté pan (I prefer cast iron or other non-stick for this recipe) and add your oil or butter. Slice garlic thinly and add to pan along with spices. As garlic just starts to brown, add spiralized zucchini noodles. Add a pinch of salt and occasionally toss noodles in pan, using a pair of cooking tongs. Once they're heated through, add your yogurt and parmesan and toss to create a sauce. Once noodles and sauce are heated through, remove from heat and serve immediately. (The sauce is delicious, so I advise toasting yourself some sopping up bread.)

Up Your Apple I.Q. with Northern Spy

When it comes to locavore restaurants in New York City, there are few that make a better argument for sustainable, seasonal eating than Northern Spy Food Co. For those of us less knowledgeable about the bounty of our surroundings, apple season is just another few months of the year. But for Northern Spy—incidentally named for a local apple variety—fall is a time for celebrating the delicious biodiversity of our North Eastern apple harvest.

Photo Credit: Suzanne Long

Photo Credit: Suzanne Long

 

How did you come up with the name Northern Spy?

As is often the case with names, we were (legally) denied our first choice, and while scrambling to find a name just a month before opening, we were scouring the Oxford Companion to Food and came upon a list of apple varieties; when the name "Northern Spy" was read aloud we knew. The name naturally connects to regional agriculture. For those who know what it is, its a great recognition and for those who don't know right away what it means, we think it has a good ring to it. — Chris Ronis, Owner

 

Northern Spy apples with sunchokes, kohlrabi, fennel, brussel sprouts, mâche and brown butter vinaigrette

Northern Spy apples with sunchokes, kohlrabi, fennel, brussel sprouts, mâche and brown butter vinaigrette

The flavor of apples, at least in the Northeast, tends to be linked to childhood nostalgia. Do you have any specific memories that influence how you cook with apples?

I grew up in Western New York, so my memories are of apple picking and warm cider in the fall. My mother always baked pies and crisps from September through Thanksgiving, and my family is of German decent so caraway was always a prominent flavor. She would top apple pies with caraway seed or include apples and caraway in the crockpot when making pork shoulder and sauerkraut. — Amy Hess, Pastry Chef

Cider poached apples with spice cake and caraway

Cider poached apples with spice cake and caraway

 

To what extent does your sustainable mission influence the farmers you work with and how do you usually discover new varieties?

Since apple trees take time to cultivate, we haven't really asked about growing extra Northern Spy appless or anything like that. Our new variety research really comes from  having our market forager grab a bunch of different varieties each year from  all different stands; we eat them and see which ones fit best with what new dishes we're working on. — Hadley Schmitt, Chef

Are there any new techniques or flavor pairings in your apple cookery that you are particularly excited about?

An old school technique of my aunt's that I'd love to fool around with is coring the apple, slicing into thick, half-inch rings and hanging them from a string for a few days until they shrivel a bit and turn into a chewy snack. But a flavor I've liked and used the past few years are malted grains, or simply 'malt', and apples.  — Hadley Schmitt, Chef

Union Square Greenmarket. Photo Credit: P Romaine

Union Square Greenmarket. Photo Credit: P Romaine

 

Northern Spy's Favorite Local Varieties

Granny Smith, Rhode Island Greenies

Use: ideal for baking
Why: low sugar content, don't break down as easily as other varieties
Recipe idea: apple fennel sorbet

Gala, Pink Lady
Use: compotes and sauces
Why: perfectly sweet, easy to puree

Northern Spy
Use: nearly everything
Why: good texture, perfect balance of sweet and tart

Winesap
Use: snacking
Why: they're on the sweet side

Crab apples
Use: apple sauce
Why: always nice and tart
Pairs well with: pork dishes

Mutsu/Crispin
Use: cooking
Why: they hold up very well
Recipe idea: braise in cider and pair with buckwheat waffles or pancakes

Golden Russet
Use: baking
Why: old fashioned apple flavor, almost maple undertones
Pairs well with: bacon