Sunday, May 29, 2011

Del Posto


Don't expect baked ziti, eggplant parm or spaghetti and meatballs at Del Posto. There are plenty of other restaurants in New York offering those stereotypical red sauce dishes. Del Posto is different - a theatrical, elegant bastion of Italian cuisine that commands your attention the moment you walk in the door and are transported to another place, another time.

image The curvaceous balconies make you feel like it's intermission at the opera. Close your eyes and the the cabaret style tinkling of the ivories will have you thinking you're at The Carlyle. The multicolored tile floors wouldn't be out of place in Siena's cathedral.

And the food - which is after all, the reason to be here -- well, the food is refined without being precious, and every bit as delicious as you'd expect when the owners are Mario Batali, Lidia Bastianich and her son Joe.

Starting with the best bellini I've had this side of Venice, the evening continued on an upward climb, with little flourishes throughout that showed just how serious Del Posto aims to please. Even the bar snacks were noteworthy, especially the crispy fried ziti dusted with cheese.

 image And where else does every female get a cushioned stool for her handbag so it doesn't have to be sullied on the floor? Need to take a trip to the powder room mid-meal? No worry, your food will be warm when you return thanks to a silver dome that a waiter will quickly don atop your plate.

image But I digress. It's the food we're here for - the food. And the parade of dishes began with complimentary bocconi (little bites) from the kitchen: tramezzini (little triangular sandwiches) filled with lobster salad; prosciutto coiled around sauerkraut (a nod to Lidia’s region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia) and small china cups rimmed with toasted breadcrumbs and filled with a tomato and olive oil broth. An auspicious – and delicious start to the evening.   image Just when you thought the real meal would begin, out came another round of goodies courtesy of the house: from left are fried olives, chickpea fritters and arancini – small rice balls oozing with cheese, crisply fried and topped with a speckling of gold leaf.  It was hard to say which was best, because they were all great teases for the main event (well, maybe the gold leaf gives the arancini the edge). In any event, I could happily have continued with just more of these small bites and a few more bellini for the rest of the night.


But who am I kidding? Everything on the menu sounded tempting and the wine list was lengthy. We were ready to forge ahead and indulge - no arm twisting necessary. We didn’t have have a favorite wine in mind, or a degree in oenology, considering the 64 page wine list, but the waiter was helpful in narrowing our choice to a red that was rich in complexity, but not too heavy – a 2008 Graci Etna Rossa from the eponymous Sicilian slope.


A waiter set down a basket filled with a variety of warm breads – really good and crusty warm breads, along with plates heaped with an unsalted butter from Emilia Romagna and some whipped lard perfumed with the fragrance of prosciutto.


We all opted for the five-course menu, and that included two pasta courses. For the antipasto, I ordered a lobster salad alla Catalana with tomato & celery, which was the closest anyone ever got to a red sauce that night. This was decidedly a nod to Spain though, rather than a truly Italian dish - light, a bit piquant, flavorful, crunchy and silky all at the same time.  If this is fusion cooking, I’m definitely in favor of mixed marriages. 

image All four of us at the table sampled each other’s plates and judging from the other appetizers I tasted - abalone carpaccio with grilled asparagus and young  ramps, and fried calamari with spicy capers – they were equally delicious.

Next it was on to the pasta. Everyone at the table had to agree on which two to choose.  It wasn’t easy,  given the variety of choices. Our first selection -- pumpkin-stuffed cappellacci in brown butter, really hit the mark and demonstrated that someone really knows his way around a mattarello (ok, so maybe it’s a pasta machine but these were so toothsome and delicious, who would know?) The nutty, sage-infused sauce was a perfect accompaniment to the plump pasta pillows.


From here on in,  the light was beginning to fade as nighttime descended. If you can’t tell from the photo, take my word for it that the dish of handmade orecchiette with lamb sausage, crispy morels and minted edamame beans was a flavor explosion in the mouth. I am going to learn how to duplicate that minty sauce if it’s the last thing I do. Any tips from Chef Mark Ladner or others in the kitchen greatly appreciated. Lidia, Mario, Joe – are you listening?


Judging from the fuzziness of this next picture, you may think I was a little tipsy, but I assure you it was strictly the deficiencies of shooting in low light with a point-and-shoot camera.  Excuse me, could you pour more wine? Oh, sorry.

What you’re looking at was another lagniappe from the kitchen. (For those of you who’ve never been to New Orleans or ignored those Readers’ Digest “It Pays To Increase Your Word Power,” columns, let it be known that a lagniappe  - pronounced lan-yap - is an unexpected gift.)

And what a gift it was – creamy, unctuous, perfectly cooked lobster risotto made with radicchio and Valpolicella wine. It’s a safe bet this was never on the menu at Mamma Leone’s.


With such a winning streak of great dishes, the main course was almost an anti-climax. But not really. I ate every morsel of this lamb dish, cooked for so many hours it nearly fell off the bone,  just the way I remember eating abbacchio many times in Rome.  But in the Eternal city, it was never served with garlic yogurt, a tangy and most welcome complement to the meat.


We each ordered a different main dish, and as good as my lamb was, the consensus at the table was that the duck breast, served with beer-braised endives, almond & laurelled melons was the hands-down favorite. Unfortunately, my sub-par photo of the dish makes it look like twisted snake tongues (note to self – take photo classes), so I’ll spare you the photographic evidence. Otherwise, I’d have posted it. But trust me (well trust all four of us actually), that duck just melted in your mouth. 

The portions thankfully, were not gargantuan. Which to me is a good thing. Otherwise, we’d never have had room for dessert. Again, I hate to keep apologizing for the bad photos, but this really doesn’t do justice to this dish. Please know however, that I practically licked the plate clean of my butterscotch semifreddo with preserved melon agrumata,  crumbled sbrisolona and caramel sauce.

image Another dessert that may sound a bit unusual but worked on every level, included a celery sorbet topped with strands of  marinated celery, served with balls of goat cheese rolled in crunchy bread crumbs and segments of figs that are at once both sweet and sour. Strange, I know. But very refreshing, and very good.

For a better photo of the celery dessert and a New York Times article about it and Del Posto’s pastry chef Brooks Headley, click here. image

Just when we thought the meal was over, a waiter delivered a wooden box cheese grater. Arranged on top and tucked inside the drawer were small little sweet treats. My stomach was saying no, but my eyes said yes, so what I can tell you - we polished off all of them – from the doughnut-hole-like filled bomboloni, to the crunchy-covered chocolate lollipops to the caramel-ly nibbles that arrived with their own edible wrapper.

There was also espresso, vin santo and lots of joy at the table that night.  And on the way out – four hours later - a gift box containing two of the most decadently delicious dark chocolate truffles I’ve ever eaten. I don’t usually like chocolate truffles but after eating the ones from Del Posto, I might be tempted to commit a few venial sins in exchange for the recipe. (Just kidding, Monsignor Nolan.)


Dear Lidia, Joe, Mario, Mark, Brooks, wait staff, bar people and everyone else responsible for making this Italian dining experience truly memorable - “I’ll be back.”

And a special grazie mille and abbraccione to my dear friends Lynn and Richard who treated me to a much-welcome spot of brightness at Del Posto last week, amid some very dark days in recent months.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Artichoke Lemon Pesto

April 2011 012 So there we were, sitting amid the vineyards at Rusack Winery outside Santa Barbara, savoring the day with an ample picnic lunch that included a jar of artichoke lemon pesto. 

March 2011 425

The soppressata, salami and cheese were perfect with the wine and we all loved the artichoke pesto too. Who can complain when you’re surrounded with good friends, good food, good wine and a landscape as beautiful as this?

March 2011 428 I wasn’t complaining, but whenever I see upscale (read high-priced) delicious products like the artichoke pesto, my mind starts thinking about how to replicate the recipe in my kitchen,  so I set to work trying soon after returning home.

It didn’t take much – just a bit of tasting here, a pinch of herbs there, a few pulses in the food processor, and voila – I had a quick and delicious snack to serve with crackers, or a wonderful sauce to toss with pasta. 

April 2011 016

My recipe calls for 3 T. olive oil, but you can use more if you prefer it looser. Speaking of olive oil, I got a box in the mail the other day with six containers of olive oil from Tre Olive, an operation in Calabria owned by Joe of and his family.

May 2011 002 Joe’s family has been in the business since 1934 and they’ve come up with a unique way to market their product – adopting an olive tree.

grove4 When you adopt a tree for a year, you’ll get a certificate of adoption, a photo of “your” tree, plus three liters of olive oil from the family groves in Calabria. I love this idea for gift-giving, especially since Father’s Day isn’t too far off, and my father’s family hails from Calabria.  It’s another way of bringing a bit of the homeland here to the states. Bravo Joe.

Artichoke Lemon Spread

printable recipe here

  • 1  14-ounce can of artichoke hearts  in water (unseasoned)
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1/8 c. finely chopped parsley
  • a few small sprigs of thyme, minced
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 t. lemon peel, finely minced
  • 2 t. lemon juice
  • 3 T. olive oil
  • salt, pepper

Mince the parsley and thyme roughly with the garlic and lemon peel. Place the artichoke hearts, the parsley and thyme and all the remaining ingredients into a food processor. Pulse or whir until everything is chopped finely and blended. Taste and adjust seasonings accordingly.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Orange Ricotta Cheesecake

I love rich, dense cheesecakes as much as the next person, but after devouring an entire large chocolate covered coconut cream egg myself  (my once a year entitlement) I thought I'd lighten up things when preparing something for a committee meeting at my house recently. Well, ok, it's not exactly angel food cake, but I did use ricotta rather than heavier cream cheese that's so typical in cheesecakes.

Truth is, I wouldn't have even thought of cheesecake had it not been for the large jar of orange conserve  I was sent recently. I was trying to conjure up some way of showcasing the high-end (read expensive), imported Italian conserve. But after sampling just one spoonful of the product and its bitter orange flavor, I knew I couldn't use it for this cheesecake. In order to save the day, I rushed to the supermarket to buy a sweet orange marmalade instead, and it made all the difference.

The marmalade serves not only as the topping, but is swirled into the mixture, adding more flavor inside. The recipe comes together in a jif, and you don't even need a mixer. A bowl and wooden spoon will do.

It would be a good idea to drain the ricotta first, since the crust might get soggy if the cheesecake sits around more than one day.

Then again, I think the chances of having any left after the first day are slim.

Totally apropos of nothing to do with this cheesecake (well, it is tangential to this blog actually and I’m not above asking readers for help), I wondered if any of you has used Windows Live Writer (WLW) and later switched from a pc to a MAC.  WLW is a great platform for writing the blog, plus it allows for these large photos without running into the sidebars. But WLW doesn’t run on MAC and now I find myself using WLW on my old computer for blogging – at least until the six-year-old pc doesn’t konk out on me.  Any help would be much appreciated on how to migrate Windows Live Writer to a MAC so I don’t have to flip-flop between the old and new computers. You can contact me at if you have any brainstorms.  grazie.

Orange Ricotta Cheesecake

Printable Recipe Here

For graham cracker crust:

  • 1 3/4 cup graham crackers (about 15 whole)
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 T. flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 T. water, or more if needed

In a food processor, blend the graham crackers, brown sugar, flour and salt until fine crumbs. Add melted butter and water and mix until evenly moistened.

Grease an 8 inch springform pan and cover the bottom and sides with aluminum foil. Bake the crust in 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, then let it cool completely.

For the cheesecake:

  • 2 pounds ricotta cheese (drained overnight preferably)
  • 3/4 cup sweet orange marmalade
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 tsp. almond extract
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • more orange marmalade for topping (about 1/3 to 3/4 cup
  1. Combine the 3/4 marmalade, ricotta cheese, and eggs, one at a time, in a large mixing bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients (except the marmalade for the topping.)
  2. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and place the pan in a hot water bath in the oven, which has been preheated to 300 degrees. Bake for 90 minutes to two hours or until the cake is not liquidy when you jiggle it. Remove from the oven and let it cool to room temperature. Warm the marmalade slightly to make it easier to spread, either in the microwave or the stove. Spread over the top and refrigerate for a few hours, or overnight before serving.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Santa Barbara Salad

March 2011 489

I can’t say I’m California dreamin’  because the weather here in New Jersey has been every bit as spectacularly beautiful this week as anything I encountered on my recent trip to Santa Barbara.

But I did have a yen for a cold seafood salad similar to the one I ate there – spicy yet cool at the same time, and packed with not just seafood, but pineapple, papaya and mango too. Here in Princeton, I don’t have the ocean view as surfers prepare to catch the next wave.March 2011 480 I don’t have the hillsides adorned in brightly colored ice plant flowers.

March 2011 488

I can’t meditate amid a pebble-guided labyrinth overlooking the ocean:

March 2011 485

But I can have my version of that summery, flavorful salad. 

And now so can you.

April 2011 034

Santa Barbara Seafood Salad

printable recipe here

Two generous portions

  • four ounces rock shrimp (or any other kind)
  • four ounces bay scallops (or larger scallops, cut into quarters)
  • four ounces squid
  • (or any combination of seafood you like)

In a covered skillet, bring the following to a boil:

  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • whole black peppers (about 10)
  • 1 T. coriander seeds
  • 1 large slice onion
  • 1 bay leaf

Add the seafood to the boiling water, put the cover back on and let the seafood simmer for only three or four minutes maximum. Drain the water. Pick out the seeds, onion and bay leaf and set the cleaned-off seafood aside in a bowl to cool in the refrigerator. Meanwhile, mix the below ingredients together (except the avocado, which you could add to the fruit if you like, or you could save it to decorate the side of the salad.)

  • 1/2 mango, diced
  • 1/4 cup diced pineapple
  • 1/4 cup diced papaya
  • one red chili pepper, minced (or jalapeno)
  • a few sprigs of cilantro, minced
  • 1 stalk of celery, minced
  • 1/2 avocado

For the dressing:

  • juice from 1/2 lime
  • 4 T. olive oil
  • 1 t. Cajun seasoning
  • salt to taste

Mix the fruit and the seafood in a bowl. Toss with the dressing and place on a lettuce-covered plate. Surround with slices of avocado and garnish with cilantro leaves and a stalk of celery.

Technorati Tags: ,