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

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

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

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

supper club: november

This weekend, I hosted an edible ode to my favorite chef, Yotam Ottolenghi. I have long loved his London-based, Jerusalem-born, spice-driven cooking. In his world, it's all fresh ingredients and innovative flavor combinations. It's the most exciting food I know, and his recipes are among the only that I will (mostly) follow to a T. In specific, this meal was inspired by recipes from his latest cookbook, Jerusalem. As always, I tried to keep the menu seasonal and sustainable. With a number of vegetarians in the mix, the meal was conceived as a rustic, mostly plant-based "friendsgiving" - and I couldn't be more thankful for the opportunity to cook for such an amazing group of friends.



Whiskey Moscow Mules

Roasted almond stuffed dates

Homemade pickles - cauliflower, carrot, radish

Roasted cauliflower, hazelnut, celery, pomegranate and parsley salad*

Mejadra - Green lentils, spiced basmati rice, fried onions*

Hoisin, chili and garlic roasted brussel sprouts (recipe)

Roasted butternut and winter squash with cilantro garlic and spiced yogurt sauce (recipe)

White wine, cardamom and saffron poached pears*

Spice, chocolate and citrus zest cookies with lemon glaze*

*Recipe taken from Yotam Ottolenghi's Jerusalem

recipe revisited: cranberry sauce

There are certain foods you grow up with that will forever evoke nostalgia and comfort.  And while we've all got our favorite from-scratch food memories, there's usually a few boxed, canned or processed guilty pleasures that delight us, despite our now "knowing better". For many Americans - my mother included - this includes jellied cranberry sauce.  Straight from the can, with the ridges of course, and perhaps best enjoyed smashed into a leftover-turkey sandwich.  Needless to say, it took some fighting on my part to impose the glory that is homemade cranberry sauce on our family Thanksgiving feast.

Last year's batch was a resounding success (I really do not like super-sweet anything, so I used about 1/3 the sugar suggested in the recipe I found, and just upped the OJ quotient).  However, being the ever-curious and instinctual cook that I am, I didn't write down the recipe.  So much the better! - because that means more experimenting this year.

Note : I don't usually measure when I cook - so I provide estimated measurements, which you should play around with!

Homemade Tart & Spiced Cranberry Sauce

Ingredients: 1 bag of cranberries, maple syrup, OJ, 1 pomegranate, 1 cinnamon stick, 1 tsp  allspice (optional : turmeric, orange zest, lemon juice)

1. Put a centimeter of water in the bottle of a medium-sized pot.  Start to heat the water, and add your bag of cranberries. 2. Add your OJ (about a cup) - almost enough to cover the cranberries, but not quite. 3. Swirl in some maple syrup (I used about 1/4-1/3 cup, but you can add more if you like it sweeter). 4. Stir the mixture and let it come to a simmer. 5. Meanwhile, wash your pomegranate and slice it in half.  Grab a large bowl and hold the cut pomegranate, seed-side-down, in your non-dominant hand (fingers spread, but gripping the pomegranate).  Use a large spoon to whack the seeds out of the pomegranate into the bowl.  Hint : Don't wear white. 6. Add your pomegranate seeds, cinnamon stick and allspice to the pot. 7. Once a good number of the berries have popped, taste the sauce.  Add fresh lemon juice for acidity, orange zest for savory "zing", and turmeric for a more robust spice palate (turmeric is strong, so start with a 1/4 tsp and taste before adding more) . 8. Let your sauce boil down a bit (the whole process should take no more than 20-30 minutes) to thicken. 9. Fish out and throw away the cinnamon stick.  Pour the sauce into mason jars or serving bowls to cool (it will thicken as it cools) 10. Impress your family and friends at holiday gatherings!

A second opinion: - Like your flavors more traditional?  Here's a great step-by-step cranberry sauce recipe by The Pioneer Woman.