"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Category: Food Memories

Simple Doesn’t Mean Easy

The Marcella tributes are pouring in. Here are a few  good ones: from Matt Fort in the Guardian, Janet K. Keeler in the Tampa Bay Times and David Sipress at the New Yorker.

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Closer to home, enjoy this remembrance of Marcella from my aunt, Bis:

I first met Marcella Hazan at Coliseum Books, a store on west 57th street. It was 1978 and I had just returned from a trip to Italy with my husband, Fred. Of course I didn’t actually meet her in person, though I sometimes feel as if I did, but I did meet her through her first cookbook, Classic Italian Cookbook. I fell in love with it when I read her recipe for Amatriciana, which was the exactly the one given me by my friend Vicki, who had lived in Italy for several years. And then I saw a recipe for the Fettuccine al Gorgonzola that Fred and I had loved so much when we’d eaten it at Vini da Arturo in Venice a few weeks before.

It’s so long ago now that I can’t trust my memory as to exactly how my cooking evolved, but what I do trust is that is that Marcella’s books opened up a new way of thinking about food and cooking. I loved her very strong, opinionated voice (I’m pretty opinionated myself), and I loved the absence of unnecessary complexity in her recipes. I loved the idea that I could change the taste of a tomato sauce by choosing to make it with only one other ingredient, and then by changing that other ingredient from onion to shallot to ramp, I could make a different tasting tomato sauce each night.

In the early books she made menu suggestions for what to serve with a dish and it was from those suggestions I learned to think for myself, to make my own choices and create my own menus. She helped me to learn to trust my instincts to “use my head but [to] cook from the heart.” So cooking for friends and family became, and remains, my avenue of expression and creativity and I thank you Marcella for giving me that.

I bought her books and used them and loved what I cooked so I gave them to my family and friends. Today I don’t consult recipes as often as I used to but my books are there on the shelf, broken backed and stained, waiting to be consulted when I need them.

Amatriciana_con_bucatini

Marcella’s Amatriciana – Tomato Sauce with Pancetta
and Chili Pepper

The Roman town of Amatrice, with which this sauce is identified, offers a public feast in August whose principal attraction is undoubtedly the celebrated Bucatini – thick, hollow spaghetti – all’Amatriciana. No visitor should pass up, however, the pear-shaped salamis called mortadelle, the pecorino – ewe’s milk cheese – or the ricotta, also made from ewe’s milk. They are among the best products of their kind in Italy. When making Amatriciana sauce, some cooks add white wine before putting in the tomatoes; I find the result too acidic, but you may want to try it.

For 4 servings

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium onion, chopped fine
A 1/4-inch-thick slice of pancetta, cut into
strips 1/2 inch wide and 1 inch long
1 1/2 cups imported Italian plum
tomatoes, drained and cut up
Chopped hot red chili pepper, to taste
Salt
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-
Reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons freshly grated Romano cheese
1 pound pasta

Recommended pasta: “It’s impossible to say all’amatriciana” without thinking “bucatini”. The two are as indivisible as Romeo and Juliet. But other couplings of the sauce, such as with penne or rigatoni con conchiglie, can be nearly as successful.

1. Put the oil, butter, and onion in a saucepan and turn on the heat to medium. Sauté the onion until it becomes colored a pale gold, then add
the pancetta. Cook for about 1 minute, stirring once or twice. Add the tomatoes, the chili pepper, and salt, and cook in the uncovered pan at
a steady, gentle simmer for 25 minutes. Taste and correct for salt and hot pepper.

2. Toss the pasta with the sauce, then add both cheeses, and toss thoroughly again.

[Photo Via: Tampa Bay Times]

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Marcella, our hero. 

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Dig Heather Smith’s 2012 history of bagels and lox.

[Photo Credit: Michael Shindler]

New York Minute

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Over at the New York Review of Books, Charles Simic gives us Spaghetti Lessons:

Italian restaurants produce not only epicures but also aspiring cooks. I bought cold cuts, cheeses, and olives for years in Italian groceries on Bleecker Street until one day I started cooking pasta, grilling sausages, and inviting friends over to my place on East 13th Street. In the 1950s and 1960s almost no one in literary circles knew how to cook, so these modest efforts of mine received extravagant praise. From then on, each time I tasted something in a restaurant, I’d wonder how it was made, what spices were used, and recollected other occasions when the same dish had come out differently. Now that I live in a village in New Hampshire, cooking Italian is a way of carrying on that comparative study. This may be a tautology, but a meal that does not cause an outpouring of memories is not a memorable meal. I don’t know how other poets imagine their muses, but mine is an Italian cookbook.

It is their unhurried air that makes most Italian restaurants congenial to everything from flirting to a rambling philosophical discussion. You linger over a glass of red wine and a plate of cheese at the meal’s end, alone or in the company of friends, while the place empties. Outside, there may be the lights of Manhattan or the tugboats in Portsmouth harbor. The waiter or the owner may bring a grappa eventually to remind you of the lateness of the hour, but he does not rush you. When you finally get up and leave, it’s out of consideration for him, but also out of genuine panic that you might be crazy enough to ask for another bowl of pasta or some of that grilled squid on a bed of white beans you enjoyed so much.

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Good ol’ grandma. 

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How much is too much to spend on a pie? Is $35 bucks too much?

Yes, schmuck, it is. At least, the wife sure thinks so and she ragged on me all weekend for forking over that much for a salted caramel apple pie at Four and Twenty Blackbirds. We were out in Brooklyn on Saturday visiting cousins and I’ve always wanted to try this place so on our way back home I bought a whole pie.

Was it worth it? As a treat, yes. The pie is damn good. Dumb expensive but good. Not the best pie I’ve ever had but I’d rate it 8 out of 10 for sure. I got a slice of chocolate pecan pie for the wife who stopped busting my chops momentarily as she ate.

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I made a pork chop in a cast iron skillet last night. That skillet is one of my favorite kitchen items because I’ve had it for so long. It’s got a good coating by now. My most treasured item is a salt box that came from my grandmother in Belgium but I also have a couple of wooden spoons that I use all the time that I’m fond of as well. They aren’t special or fancy, just durable and reliable. Those spoons, man, they are easy to overlook but those are the things that count for something.

[Painting by: Peter Evans]

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During the storm The Wife and I tried to make an apple pie. Well, we made one, all right, but our dumb asses–and I’m not assigning blame, here–forgot one whole cup of flower and the result was apple gloop. Over the weekend I tried again and yup, this time it worked, even though I undercooked it slightly so that the granny smith apples were still al dente.

Now, the only trouble with making a pie for two is that, well, you’ve got a ton of pie leftover. We were both too lazy to bring it to work so I packed some of it in a plastic container and have been nibbling away ever since, diet be damned.

We didn’t get much sleep last night but we were happy this morning. And you know what I had for breakfast as I watched the election results?

Yo got that right: All-American Apple Pie.

Recipe from Smitten Kitchen.

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House to Haus on artichokes and aging.

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David Lebovitz’s french weekend.

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I preferred James and the Giant Peach to Roald Dahl’s Willie Wonka books when I was a kid. There is a scene when James climbs through a tunnel in the peach and grabs a handful of the fruit off the walls. That always sounded like such wonderful thing.

While we’re at it, here’s a Food & Wine recipe for peach pie.

[Illustration by Nancy Ekholm Burkett]

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Dig this! A series of fictitious dishes designed by my cousin Dinah.

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David Lebovitz on eating well:

-I “maximize” my calories, meaning that if I eat something, it should be good. Bad chocolate cake has the same number of calories as good chocolate cake, and is more satisfying as well so you’re not craving more. (It’s been said that M&M’s are specifically formulated to have just the right amount of chocolate in them to keep you craving more, which is why it’s hard to stop at half a bag.) Food writer Peter Kaminsky wrote about FPC, or “Flavors per calorie”, which is the same principle.

-I try to only eat “good stuff.” If I’m going to eat chocolate, I buy good chocolate. If I’m in the mood for ice cream, I’ll get a quality brand (or make it myself.) Save for York Peppermint Patties and M&M’s (and, of course, Planter’s Peanut Bars) – I don’t generally eat commercial candy bars. As for butter, aside from the stuff I buy for baking, I use it prudently and buy very good butter – and enjoy it immensely. Each and every smear.

-I eat everything and don’t demonize any food (except squid) – but there is nothing off-limits; I’ll eat potatoes cooked in duck fat, lardo, bacon, pizza, salted butter caramel, white chocolate, caramels, and potato chips. But I don’t eat them all day, everyday. If I have a copious lunch, dinner will be something lighter. And if I know I have a big dinner planned, I’ll make sure that lunch is on the lighter side.

Sense and sensibility from our man in Paris.

[Photo Credit: Chocoblog]

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When I was a kid my mother would make a homemade mayonnaise whenever she made french fries. Cause that’s how they roll in Belgium. That never made any sense to me because as an American kid I never imagined dipping a fry in anything but ketchup. I still prefer ketchup but also dig mayonnaise, or just salt, or salt and vinegar. Or any number of things.

What’s your favorite condiment for fries?

[Photo Credit: Nicole Franzen]

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My cousin Juliette, in town from Belgium for a few months, and the Wife made marshmallow cloud cookies yesterday.

My, is sure am sweet.

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Check out this great gallery of photographs titled How New York City Ate in 1938 over at Gothamist.

[Photo Credit: Sol Libsohn]

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Saw me mudda last weekend in Vermont. She came over to the in-law’s and brought two apple pies. Dag, were they ever good.

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You want great Sichuan in Manhattan? Peep Legend on 7th Ave between 15th and 16th Street.

I’ve been four times in the past two weeks and can recommend almost everything that I tried. I especially liked:

Sichuan Cucumber

The Green Beans with Ground Pork

Sichuan Spicy Ma Pa Tofu

Dry Spicy, Tasty Diced Chicken with Ginger and Peanut.

Photo Credit: Serious Eats, from their fine slideshow of the place.

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Three days ago I received a package from Pat Jordan. Twenty pounds of pecans from the pecan trees in his backyard. Unshelled. The son of a bitch didn’t have the decency to include a nutcracker although he had a few suggestive hints how the wife and I could get them open. He did attach a note, however:

“To Whom it May Concern:  Send pralines and pecan-bourbon pie to Susan and Pat Jordan, Abbeville, S.C. ASAP.”

My pal.

[Photo Credit: Simply Recipes]

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In 1974, when I was three years old, my grandparents returned from a trip to Florida with a gift for my mother and my aunt. They carried it in a box, a few small branches of an orange tree. My aunt planted hers and it died immediately but mom, who has a way with plants and flowers, potted the branch and it  grew into a small bush. For years, it didn’t produce any fruit. Then, a few, small yellowish oranges appeared, too sour to eat.

Still, mom brought the orange tree with us when we left Manhattan and it survived a divorce, a new marriage, and five homes.

In a recent e-mail, she explained:

I had close-to-death encounters with this one: once going on vacation and finding it all dried up, I put a plastic tent over it and misted it to bring it back to life. Another time one of the cats peed in the dirt and nearly killed it. I had to wash the roots and repot the tree. I kept my fingers crossed on that one, I can tell you. Before we left Croton, a bug infestation, the tree got covered with scales. I hand picked the bugs and spay each leave on the top and on the bottom…

The tree survived and then flourished once mom moved up to Vermont two years ago.

I never knew you could eat the fruits. Then in a catalog recently, I read that a calamondin is a cross between a clementine and a kumquat.

This fall, as by conspiracy, the tree was covered with the biggest fruits ever. (The Vermont air and the Vermont compost…) So I decided to try to make marmalade. I added an orange to brake down the tartness of the calamondin, and bingo. Delicious, tart but nor sour, clementine-parfumed marmalade. The natural pectin in the fruit worked like a charm. All I needed was sugar and cute little pots.

She needed more than that. Patience, devotion, love. Mom’s got it. Got it in spades. It took close to forty years but she never gave up on her little plant, and I can’t wait to taste the marmalade.

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