Ciao Londra!

Two weeks ago today, we were boarding a flight headed to London. Vacations really go by too quickly. But wow, what a trip! Unfortunately, most of it is just a memory. The rest was brought back in wine bottles, but stay tuned, for that’s another post.

London was our first stop, and it didn’t disappoint. Plenty of pints, the perfect hotel on Charlotte Street, dinner with friends from London, and numerous meat pies. I want to go back.

Not to be missed is Borough Market. This open air market just over the London Bridge is a food lover’s paradise. So many interesting bites to be had. I immediately wanted to lease an apartment in East London just to throw a dinner party with items bought from Borough Market. Unfortunately that wasn’t possible, so I took plenty of photos. It’s only open a few days a week, so check the schedule. It is a must do if you’re in London on the right day.

Mmmm….pasty (a Cornish meat pie)

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Focaccia

I love homemade bread, but I really am not patient enough to make it myself. Believe me, I’ve tried. No luck. However, I was recently gifted a copy of My Bread by Jim Lahey, a cookbook full of no-work, no-knead bread recipes. I knew I had to try the focaccia recipe. Boy, am I glad I did!

Focaccia has to be my favorite Italian bread because it is so versatile. You can top it with just about anything. I have tried to make focaccia before, but it turned out dense and bland. Nothing like the light and flavorful focaccia I had seaside in Liguria. Jim Lahey’s recipe was just what I was looking for. It produces an excellent focaccia time after time. Making this takes a bit of planning, but is virtually no-work and there is no-kneading involved. Try it for yourself and see!

Taken from My Bread by Jim Lahey
Ingredients:
1 large Yukon Gold potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
2 1/2 cups cool water
4 1/2 cups bread flour
2 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
1 tsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Place potato pieces and water in a small sauce pan, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook potato until chunks fall apart when pierced with a fork or knife tip.

Use an immersion blender or a blender to puree potatoes with the cooking water until smooth. Let the mixture cool to 120 degrees F; it will feel very warm to the touch but not scalding.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, yeast, sugar and half the salt. Add the potato puree and, using a wooden spoon or your hands, mix until you have a wet sticky dough, about 30 seconds. Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature until the dough is tripled in size, 2 to 3 hours.

Lightly oil a 13-by-18 inch rimmed baking sheet (I line the baking sheet with parchment paper to make for an easier clean up). Use a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape the dough onto the baking sheet; it will be quite loose and sticky. Gently pull the dough and stretch it across the surface of the pan, then oil your hands and press the dough evenly out to the edges. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons of the oil and sprinkle with the remaining salt. Use your fingertips to create dimples all over the surface of the dough. Let the dough rise in a warm draft-free spot until it has risen just over the edges of the pan, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F, with a rack in the center.

Top the foccacia with your desired toppings, such as onions, tomatoes, fresh herbs, etc. (I used fresh rosemary and thyme). Gently place the focaccia in the oven on the center rack (the risen dough is delicate; a bump going into the oven could collapse it) and bake for 30 to 45 minutes, until the top is evenly golden brown. Transfer the pan to a rack to cool, and give it at least a few minutes before slicing and serving warm or at room temperature.

A New Favorite in Boerum Hill

Rucola, a rustic Northern Italian restaurant in Boerum Hill, has only been open for about a year, but has quickly became one of my favorite restaurants. Our first visit came immediately after our trip to Piedmont and I was thrilled to see a menu with Piemontese touches so close to home.

Heirloom carrot salad

The menu isn’t huge, but it features a nicely edited selection of appetizers, a couple of homemade pastas, a few entrees, and sides. All make use of fresh seasonal ingredients: VERY Piemontese. I always go for the homemade rigatoni in a meat sauce that has a touch of nutmeg. The mini cast iron pan of baked polenta is not to be missed either. All of these dishes are paired with an impressive wine list featuring all of your favorite Piemontese wines.

Homemade rigatoni with meat sauce

Lastly, you can’t beat the atmosphere at this cozy joint. Quiet street? Check. Soft lighting? Check. Stylish rustic decor? Check. Cool crowd? Check. Rucola only takes reservations for parties of 5 or more and can get crowded, so there could be a wait. Grab a spot at the bar and have an Italian aperitif. It’s worth the wait.

Torta Verde

Torta verde (green pie) is a traditional Piemontese dish to have at Easter. We first experienced a torta verde at a Pasquetta celebration (the day after Easter) when we were in Piedmont. I’ve combined a couple of recipes and received a little help from a culinary tour guide and cookbook author in Piedmont, Paolo Ferrero. Torta verde uses fresh greens and herbs and is perfect for any springtime celebration. The resulting dish is pretty close to what we enjoyed on a vineyard in the hills of the Monferrato.

Ingredients:
1 cup short-grained rice, such as arborio
1 1/2 pounds fresh greens, chopped (I used spinach, chard, kale and celery leaves)
2 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup olive oil
3 eggs
1 bunch scallions, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup grated parmesan
1 cup grated fontina
Fresh herbs for seasoning, chopped (basil, thyme, rosemary, mint, etc.)
Nutmeg
Salt and pepper

Heat oil in a large pot and saute the greens and rice for a few minutes. Pour in the broth, season with salt and mix well. There will seem to be too many greens and not enough rice. Don’t worry, the greens will reduce and the rice will become more prominent. Cover and let the greens reduce. Check the pot every couple of minutes and give it a few more stirs. Once the greens are reduced and the rice is almost done, remove from heat and let the mixture cool.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Once the mixture has cooled, add the scallions, garlic, cheese, herbs of your preference, a dash of nutmeg, salt and pepper. Taste the mixture for seasoning. Add the eggs. Pour the mixture into a 8×8 baking dish or a pie plate that has been buttered and coated with bread crumbs. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the torta is set. Let cool and eat warm or at room temperature. Buona Pasqua!

Crazy for Moscato d’Asti

In my opinion, if there is a white grape that can rival the most popular black grapes of Piemonte (Nebbiolo and Barbera), it is Moscato. Most people will know this grape in the form of Asti, the sparkling white wine formerly known as Asti Spumante. Although Asti is an excellent wine, I prefer Moscato d’Asti. Also made from the Moscato grape, Moscato d’Asti is sweeter and has a lower alcohol content (usually between 5.5% and 8%).

I have introduced many people to Moscato d’Asti over the last few years. The reaction is always the same. “What is this and where can I buy it?” The production of Moscato d’Asti is much smaller than its cousin, Asti. Unfortunately this means it may be a little harder to find, and could be a tad more expensive, though you can usually find a bottle of good quality Moscato d’Asti for less than $20. Look for Moscato d’Asti near the other sparkling wines in your local wine store.

Usually sold with effervescence, this sparkling bottle of gold is sweet with usual flavors of Elderflower and fruit. It is the perfect accompaniment to any dessert. A bottle of Moscato d’Asti DOCG from La Morandina paired perfectly with cupcakes to celebrate my recent birthday!

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.

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.