Friday, November 23, 2007

Passata di Zucca / Creamy Winter Squash Soup

Below is the recipe from my blast. Now animated.

This recipe will likely take a total of 3-4 hours, so give yourself time and maybe turn off your cell phone ;). If loved ones are in proximity, their noses will guide them to you. The process is paired beautifully with some Jazz (if in NY support 89.3 WBGO). A list of needed utensils and ingredients is below. I decided to write this as if we were chilling. Its not formal and asks that you trust your instincts. Let's dance...

Dice the hard flesh of a selection of Winter Squashes : Pumpkin, Acorn, Butternut etc (remember there are many varieties so have fun). First remove the hard skin, seeds and gooey interior. Give yourself a good hour when no one is looking. It will take time and strength but I promise folks are gonna kiss you for putting in the work.

Saute the squash with Extra Virgin Olive Oil (always) on a medium heat. The idea here is to release all the good stuff. Pay attention and continue to stir. Use your nose to guide you. You should begin to smell the perfume of your central ingredient. This is what will inform your soup, so be patient and let them cook for a while. My guess is 20 minutes, but follow your instincts. Add stock to the pot, 2.5 times the amount of Zucca (likely a gallon). In the past I have used a homeade chicken stock which gives the dish an extra buttery richness. If you see this as a pain in the ass, buy a chicken stock that you trust (I like the ones sold in cartons). If Vegetarian or simply a preference, use Vegetable Stock. Reserve some stock if possible to later balance out your desired consistency. Bring it all to a boil and walk away.

Once the smell fills up your house (35 minutes), take it off the heat. In batches blend your hearty mixture using a traditional or hand blender. Here's where it gets time consuming again. Strain each batch in a cheese cloth, removing any left over flesh from the Squash. You should be left with a silky thin soup base. Once finished return to the pot. You should have less left than you thought possible. This means you have extracted the good sh*t. Good job ;)

Simmer the soup while guests arrive. Salt and (white pepper) to taste. Go easy. 10 minutes before serving add a desired amount of heavy cream. Don't get too happy, the goal is to simply smooth out the flavors not invoke heart attacks.

The fun part. Choose between these two garnishes! The first, a drizzleof Walnut Oil, shaved Sharp White Cheddar and a dust of fresh Nutmeg. The other option a drizzle of a really good Olive Oil (crudo) with a dust of Cinnamon & Sugar! Both are perfection.

Central ingredients :

A selection of Winter Squashes
Chicken or Vegetable Stock
Olive Oil Heavy Cream
White Pepper
Garnish(es) :

Sharp White Cheddar
Fresh Nutmeg
Walnut Oil
Cinnamon & Sugar
A robust Olive Oil (crudo)
Utensils :

Large Stock pot
Sturdy knife
Cheese cloth

If you got this far, send me an email with pics and comments. Would love to post em as a follow up entry!

Pre Thnx

The day before welcoming folks to the big feast, we began to cook the periphery foods. Here I am making a traditional Chicken Liver Pate. As there is a vegetarian (whom I love) among us, I made a Mushroom alternative; an exercise worth noting. The idea was to utilize the same process and ingredients in real time. Feel free to replace the chicken livers for Mushrooms if it suits your palette.

Wash fresh chicken livers with cold water. Pat dry and sauté on a high heat alongside thinly sliced Onions, fresh Sage and Rosemary. The goal is to caramelize the livers and brown the onions. Here you have an option to crack in one egg. The French wouldn’t. This gives it a rustic Tuscan quality.

Keep the heat high and add in Marsala (not the cooking supermarket branded ish, it needs to be D.O.P Marsala, Sicily. Reduce on high heat until the alcohol has evaporated. It should perfume of sweetened earth.

Blend the mixture until desired consistency. In a separate bowk, fold in freshly whipped heavy cream. Think about the wrist action of making a frosting or a chocolate mousse. So fold until the whiteness has disappeared and it resembles “milk chocolate”. Finito!

The shortened week in review

I had a short week of food highlights, pre-thanksgiving, to ease into my new culinary comfort zone. I am at one with my sisters hospitality; embracing her and her husbands routines one dish at a time. The goal is to use mainly what’s here; to re-imagine dishes and not waste ingredients. An important opportunity for me to record my recipes. The shortened week in review follows...

The first meal :

Rosa’s Eggplant Parmesan (Roma). Chicken Milanese with garlic perfumed Pomodoro fresca (Milano). Carciofo bollito (my bro n’ law).

Biscotti and its batter’s versatility, its batter used throughout the week as a pie crust, garnish and on its own.

Above, atop a Sweetened Eggplant Mascarpone dessert and a Tiramisu.

Traditional Bolognese from Bologna. Its natural oils pungently providing the dishes sauce, its tomato content a consolidated paste ready to be transformed by the addition of heat.

A secondi of Grilled Sausage atop Pepperonata (Mixed Peppers, Capers, Olives and Olive Oil)

Monday, November 19, 2007

From BK to S.Salem

From BK north to S. Salem, NY.

A chance for family, recipes and focused efforts towards my goals. The perfect backdrop for my learnings.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Ciao, Bella!

Leaving Brooklyn was a decision brought about by layered indecision. Up until the day I left for Italy I remained inspired by New York’s abundant and localized flavors of food and culture. I had a contagious rhythm here; a circle of likeminded friends and colleagues, mediums of expression, and a carefully constructed professional reputation. But that comfort zone had to be shaken and I needed to feel the power of the world’s libido, less sympathetic than my own. Maybe I was too proud of my Brooklyn upbringing or my still green career highlights. I knew strategically that I needed to substantiate my exponential obsession with food, but that I had to do it on my terms and with the same social skillset that inked my marketing plate for further editions.

The industry I left behind was a smartly constructed assemblage of tastemaker culture: marketing, seeding, customized sneakers, product placement, cross-promotion, mix-tapes, bag inclusions, open bars and guest lists. I was given the professional responsibility of defining, re-defining, pre-empting and constructing culture; an increasingly limiting rather than liberating social responsibility. My Italian reality: the combined weight of unfamiliarity, an evolving in real time trajectory, heavy lifting, professional cooking and no prior knowledge of Italian nuance. My departure engendered the vision of an arrogant boy about to realize the limitations of the industry he left behind.

With vantage I can say my decision was not only rash, but maybe even stupid. Had I been an amateur chef who spoke fluent Italian that would have been one thing? Had I been a professional chef who spoke niente it would have been another?

Palermo, Salerno, Amalfi, Naples, Milano, Lecce, Otranto, Ugento, Gallipoli, Martina Franca, Roma, Bologna, Lucca, Montalcino and Firenze. My rebellious route north through uncharted foodie enclaves positioned me back in the subculture comfort of my Brooklyn upbringing. Shifts in my quality of life and in temperature, dialect and regional food characteristics discoursed “endurance” and grounded me. I’m the same dude, but I now speak Italian and can handle being yelled at by seasoned Chefs, angry Dinner Ladies and Restaurateurs. I can accept wild animals as neighbors, justify afternoon naps, have wine with lunch, piecemeal outfits famously with limited garments and most importantly I can succeed.

Italy was a new beginning…the story continues.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


I have a distinct memory of intrigue for this perfect neighborhood Restaurant. Like many Restaurants not supported by recommendations or proactive inquiry, I made the mental note to return. But while many places dissolve into remembrance, "Sostanza' became a compass for other restaurants. I would peek in to watch the handsome waiter prepare their signature Strawberry dessert or to watch the young chef learn how to cut the perfect Florentine Steak. “Sostanza” emanates local buzz, a characteristic promoted by the communal table template of its front of house and what I specifically look for in a Restaurant.

Only after my third meal, did I realize that my lil “find” was considered by many the best Restaurant in Florence. A google later pulled up extensive chatter about their specialty dishes, the best times to arrive, how to navigate the menu etc. But by this point I already felt like a regular. They knew me and enjoyed my New Yorkese passion. Being a well lit Trattoria, I could speak freely and being alone meant I always made friends. I continued to return because there were dishes I felt compelled to try at least once. Your proximity to other guests encouraged this temptation; whether for Steak or a simple Contorni. Here are the highlights, the first and last Florentine Steak included.

Tortoni di Carciofo, a scandalously scrumptious omelet of Artichoke. The Chefs’ precision was perfectly clear in its preparation. Only a skilled wrist could wistfully create not only visible outer layers of buttery egg, but also an entrenched center for its main ingredient, fresh abundant Artichoke swimming in just cooked gooey yolk.

Their famous Pollo in burra; a bubbling personal portioned scalding pan of Chicken in Butter. The pictures unfortunately don’t do the dish justice and it had to be eaten immediately. With more thought I would have videotaped it to remember its distinct sizzle.

Prosciutto crudo cut thickly to showcase its perfectly creamy and pricey outer lardo.

Bistecca di Florentina / Florentine Steak (the single biggest Tourist trap of Florence). A grandiose Porterhouse of Chianina Beef (white Oxen from Arezzo) sold by its weight. It is served charred with a hot pink center and can be ordered for one or more. It is not only overpriced and showy, but often cooked (and eaten) poorly. I have watched Americans waste their money’s worth of meat. I have studied other diners’ approach and in my sleep had carefully calculated my way to maximize the experience. My waiter knew this was my last culinary adventure in Italy (an important bookend). He invited me into the kitchen to approve the Steak and meet the chefs and from afar I watched them tend to my indulgent Secondi. As I ate, the staff watched me carefully make sense out of my knife’s acrobatics and waste nothing. After, they commented on my precision and passion.

Fragolini con Vino Rosso e Zucchero / Wild Strawberry’s with Red Wine and Sugar ended my meal. Bitter and to the point it was my digestive and my farewell.

Friday, November 9, 2007


1.5 hrs past the clustered Firenze skyline, aboard a graffiti enhanced regional train for the cost of a Panini brought me to Lucca for a single afternoon. Unlike most of my journey’s this was not brought on by a hunger for food. Being in Florence has reminded me about the qualities I appreciated in the smaller Southern Cities I have lived. I was in search of a dose of small city charm, new monuments and fresh faces…and yes a perfect meal.

Here’s the snapshot. The food follows…

My meal in Lucca was simple and cheap, a slow food find but without any destination pretense. "Buatino" encompassed the physical characteristics of a Restaurant in transition; an outward attempt to transcend the stylistic Trattoria confines with cluttered results.

I skipped a primi in favor of tempting main courses. My choice was confidently pungent without the heaviness of most roasted meats. Thick tender slices of Pork, marinated in Orange and Lemon was simply innovative and beautifully executed.

A selection of Pecorino's followed, a cheese plate I exhausted at the Restaurant in Montalcino. The highlight was the accompanying homemade Confettura of Red Apple, Red Grape & Walnut. Buonissimo!

Ciao Lucca*