Anchovies in Salsa Verde

Fresh seafood is not abundant in Piemontese cooking. The Piemontese love to make use of fresh and local ingredients. With Piedmont being blocked by Liguria from the sea, seafood does not fall into the fresh and local category. However, the Piemontese make plenty of use of the preserved anchovy.

This dish features canned anchovies packed in olive oil. You can also use anchovies packed in salt. Unfortunately, anchovies packed in salt are much more difficult to find here in Brooklyn, especially in a pinch when the craving for anchovies hits. Don’t be intimidated by anchovies. They are delicious, especially when marinated in this garlicky green sauce (or salsa verde). This is the perfect appetizer, snack, or even a meal. It all depends on what you’re in the mood for. Just make sure you wash these down some nice Barbera. The pairing is excellent!

Ingredients:
1 cup Italian parsley
3 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 hard-boiled egg yolks
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Pinch of crushed red pepper
Pinch of kosher salt
1 can (2 oz.) anchovy filets, packed in olive oil

Combine parsley and garlic in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times until coarsely chopped.  Add olive oil, yolks, vinegar, red pepper and salt. Pulse until well combined. Be careful not to over process. Sauce should be smooth but not too thick. Add more oil if needed.

Drain the anchovies and arrange on a plate or serving platter. Pour sauce over the anchovy fillets, cover and refrigerate for 6 hours to let flavors combine. Bring anchovies to room temperature before serving. Eat the fillets plain, or serve over sliced Italian bread.

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Spuntino on Court Street

Frankies 457 on Court Street in Carroll Gardens is a destination restaurant. Granted, the restaurant is frequented by locals, but mostly it is a parade of town cars and yellow cabs that transport diners to this restaurant. Six years ago, we were some of those transported diners. We jumped out of a yellow cab to try a new Italian restaurant I had read about in a neighborhood I had never heard of. At that time, we had no intention of moving to Brooklyn (we were living in Manhattan and didn’t think there was a reason to live in another borough). Little did we know that this restaurant would change that. We fell in love. Not only did we fall in love with the restaurant, but we also fell in love with Carroll Gardens. Three months later, we were moving from Manhattan and haven’t left Carroll Gardens since.

The menu is Italian; not overly northern or southern, but a comfortable mix. The menu features small plates (or spuntino; an Italian word for snacks) that are meant to be shared. Some of our favorites are crostini (especially the ricotta crostini and the avocado crostini), a roasted vegetable salad, and an arugula salad.

Pastas are also well represented on the menu. My hands down favorite is their home-made cavatelli with Faiccos hot sausage & browned sage butter. My wife, a forever vegetarian, enjoys this pasta with roasted cauliflower in place of the sausage. They don’t advertise this substitution, but its a secret we’ve picked up from the friendly staff over these past six years.

Not only is the food consistently good, the atmosphere is the standard for the “New Brooklyn” restaurant. Think Edison lightbulbs hanging from a tin ceiling. Exposed brick walls surrounding a candle lit room. Food served to a soundtrack of ageless class rock, such as The Band and The Rolling Stones.

In the warmer months, the back yard turns into an al fresco dining space. With a glass of Italian white wine, this is one of our favorite places to be on a warm summer night.

Each time we eat at Frankies, I’m taken back to our fateful first dinner there. The southern end of Court Street was quiet at that time and Frankies was on the fringe of any excitement. Today, Frankies is in the middle of all of the excitement of Court Street. It seems like we weren’t the only people who were drawn to the neighborhood by this not to be missed restaurant.

A No-Fuss Pizza Dough

I’ve always liked the idea of making pizza at home, but I never found a crust recipe that was easy and delicious. The March 2012 issue of Bon Appetit recently showed up in my mailbox and featured an irresistible looking pizza on the cover. I was intrigued. I have heard of Jim Lehey, of Sullivan Street Bakery, and his “no-knead” bread technique, but never thought that this could apply to pizza dough as well. The magazine featured a no-knead pizza dough recipe from his new book, My Pizza. I had to try it. Here it is.

No-Knead Pizza Dough – makes six 10″-12″ pizzas

7 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for shaping dough
4 tsp. fine sea salt
1/2 tsp. active dry yeast

Whisk flour, salt, and yeast in a medium bowl. While stirring with a wooden spoon, gradually add 3 cups water; stir until well incorporated. Mix dough gently with your hands to bring it together and form into a rough ball. Transfer to a large clean bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let dough rise at room temperature in a draft-free are until surface is covered with tiny bubbles and dough has more than doubled in size, about 18 hours (time will vary depending on the temperature of the room).

Transfer the dough to a floured work surface. Gently shape into a rough rectangle. Divide into 6 equal portions. Working with 1 portion at a time, gather 4 corners to center to create 4 folds. Turn seam side down and mold gently into a ball. Dust dough with flour; set aside on work surface or a floured baking sheet. Repeat with remaining portions.

Let dough rest covered with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel, until soft and pliable, about 1 hour.

Arrange a rack in the middle of oven and preheat to its hottest setting, 500-550 degrees. Working with 1 dough ball at a time, dust dough generously with flour and place on a floured work surface. Gently shape dough int a 10″-12″ disk. Top with desired toppings (I used San Marzano tomatoes, dried oregano, fresh mozzarella, carmelized onions and roasted garlic). Bake pizza until bottom of crust is crisp and top is blistered, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a work surface to slice. Repeat with remaining pizzas.

If 6 pizzas seem like a lot, cut this recipe in half. I did and ended up with 3 perfectly sized pizzas.

My Pizza by Jim Lehey

Springtime Happy Hour

With temperatures near 70 degrees here in New York, it seems as if spring is finally here. Although I usually don’t break out the Arneis until after Easter, this week seemed like a perfect time to drink some Piemontese white wine. Chardonnay may not be the first wine that comes to mind when you think of Italian white wine, but some pretty amazing Chardonnay comes from the Langhe, the area of Piedmonte that is home to Barolo and Barbaresco. I picked up a 2005 Langhe Chardonnay from Brooklyn Wine Exchange and headed down Court Street to pick up some snacks to accompany the wine.

My usual choice for Italian snacks was closed by this time of the evening, so I popped into Union Market to check our their Italian cheese selection. Piedmont was well represented at the cheese counter and Toma Piemontese seemed like the perfect pairing to some Langhe Chardonnay.

Along with some bread and some toasted hazelnuts, this happy hour was a perfect way to welcome spring. The wine was dry and full-bodied and you could definitely tell that it was aged in barrique. The Toma was mild and didn’t over power the wine. After months and months of drinking Barbera and Dolcetto, it was nice to relax with some white wine and enjoy the warm weather. I’m glad that spring has arrived!

Rigatoni with Spicy Vodka Sauce

Though definitely not a Piemontese dish, I LOVE Vodka Sauce. I especially love Vodka Sauce with rigatoni. However, many times, whether eating it at a restaurant or buying it in a jar, Vodka Sauce is too mild for my taste. I like it to have a little bit of a kick. I’ve finally mastered making Vodka Sauce at home, and I’m ready to share the recipe. Not only is this pretty easy to prepare, it is a crowd pleaser. Recipe serves 3-4, but can easily be doubled for a crowd.

Ingredients:
1 pound box dried rigatoni
1 28 oz. can San Marzano tomatoes (whole)
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 dried bay leaf
1/2 cup vodka
Kosher salt
Black pepper
1/2 – 3/4 cup heavy cream
Grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Drain the tomatoes in a strainer and set aside. In an oven proof pan over medium high heat, saute the onion in the olive oil until the onion is tender, approximately 5 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes, dried oregano and salt to taste. Stir and saute for a few minutes more. Add the vodka. Let the onions simmer in the vodka for approximately 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes to the onion and vodka while crushing them with your hand. Do this carefully, as they have a tendency to squirt! Add the bay leaf, give the mixture a quick stir and cover the pan. Bake in the oven for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the rigatoni to just about al dente. Strain and set aside.

Remove the pan from the oven, discard the bay leaf and let the onions and tomatoes cool for 10-15 minutes. Once cooled, using an immersion hand blender, blend the onion and tomatoes until smooth. If you do not have an immersion blender, transfer the onions and tomatoes to a blender and process until smooth. Pour the tomato and onion sauce back in to the pan and reheat over medium heat. Add the cream to the tomato sauce and stir.  Salt and pepper to taste and bring to a simmer. Add the rigatoni to the pan and let the pasta cook in the sauce until al dente. Serve in bowls and top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Romance in Park Slope

Though not strictly Italian, Convivium Osteria is one of the most romantic restaurants in Brooklyn. We recently visited this Western Mediterranean restaurant in Park Slope and sought out a Northern Italian meal. We were not disappointed.

The restaurant is warm and cozy and overwhelmingly romantic. The mostly candle lit restaurant features two levels, each with different dining experiences. The street level is very rustic and reminds you of a quaint farm-house. Below, is a dimly lit wine cellar with long tables and walls that are lined with bottles of wine.

The menu features authentic dishes from Italy, Spain and Portugal. Braised short ribs over creamy polenta and spinach gnocchi in fonduta stood out as Northern Italian. These dishes, paired with a bottle of Barbera, transported us to Piemonte.

Overall, this restaurant should not be missed. The service was friendly and the atmosphere can’t be beat. The next time you want to impress a date or a visitor, take them to Convivium Osteria.