Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Domenica Marchetti at Le Virtù

Sometimes there is a confluence of all things good and right in the universe and one of those things happened last week, when Le Virtù, my favorite Philadelphia restaurant organized a special evening featuring foods from Domenica Marchetti's latest cookbook, "The Glorious Vegetables of Italy." 

Each course was accompanied by wines that complemented the food perfectly - mostly from Abruzzo, but also from the regions of Le Marche and Puglia. The bread service included a cherry tomato and red onion focaccia; pizza bianca with roasted fennel and assorted grilled flatbreads (sorry, I forgot to take a photo.) The breads were terrific alongside this chicory salad, made more savory with the addition of anchovies in the dressing - similar to the flavor in a Caesar salad.

On a cold winter's night, Domenica's ribollita satisfies both body and soul.

The winter risotto was a perfect blend of sweet butternut squash and bitter Tuscan kale, held together with a swirl of Parmesan cheese.

Chef Joe Cicala deviated from Domenica's recipes for the main course - whole roasted suckling pig. The crackling outer skin was irresistible, along with the tender meat flavored with garlic and rosemary.

Vegetables followed, including my favorite, broccoli romano -  hard to find in my neck of the woods. It  too, was prepared with anchovy sauce, but as with many recipes that include anchovies, you'd never know it. The anchovies just heighten the flavors without overpowering the vegetable.

 Served at room temperature, a winter salad of cauliflower had a fiery kick to it.

 Fennel with sultana raisins and chili pepper offered a balance of sweet and spicy.

And speaking of sweet, the evening ended on a high note with a pumpkin semifreddo and sweet potato fritelle resting atop a mocha sauce, with toasted pumpkin seeds, prepared by pastry chef Angela Ranalli Cicala.

If you missed the evening with Domenica, there are still plenty of reasons to come down to this gem of a Philly restaurant.  The restaurant, owned by Francis Cratil and Cathy Lee, offers one of the most authentic and delicious menus featuring the food of Abruzzo. Their new fall menu is now available here.

Winter Risotto with butternut squash and Tuscan kale

from "The Glorious Vegetables of Italy" by Domenica Marchetti

printable recipe here


  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1/2 cup diced yellow onion

  • 1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice

  • 8 ounces Tuscan kale, coarsely shredded

  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

  • 2 cups Arborio rice

  • 1 cup dry white wine

  • 5 to 6 cups vegetable or chicken broth, heated

  • 1 tablespoon butter

  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving

  • Freshly ground black pepper


Warm the olive oil and the onion in a large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring often, for 7 to 8 minutes, or until the onion is softened and translucent. Add the squash and kale and toss to coat them with the oil. Sprinkle in the salt. Cover the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the kale is completely wilted and the cubes of squash are just tender.

Pour in the rice and cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes, until the grains are shiny and glassy-looking. Raise the heat to medium-high and pour in the wine. Let it bubble for a minute or so, until it is almost absorbed. Reduce the heat to medium-low and begin to add the broth, a ladleful at a time, stirring frequently, until the liquid is almost absorbed. You do not need to stir the risotto constantly, but be sure that you do stir it often, and take care that the rice grains do not stick to the bottom of the pot.

Continue to cook the risotto and add broth, 1 or 2 ladlefuls at a time, for 20 to 25 minutes, until the rice is almost but not completely cooked. It should be al dente--still rather firm and chalky at the center. Check by tasting a few grains. Stir in the butter and cheese. Then stir in a final ladleful of broth to achieve a creamy texture. The risotto should not be stiff or runny; it should mound softly on a spoon. Taste and season with salt and pepper, if you like.

Spoon the risotto into shallow rimmed bowls and serve immediately, with additional Parmigiano cheese on the side.

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Friday, October 25, 2013

Slow Cooker "Asian" Pot Roast

For all you folks out there who say you don't have time to cook, this one's for you. All you need to do is to dump things in a slow cooker, turn on the heat and go away for the day - or even just half a day, if your slow cooker has a high setting. You'll walk in the door to a great aroma and meat that's fork tender and flavorful. My dad and his wife prepared this for me recently and even though it strays from my Italian-centric posts, it was so delicious I had to share.

Serve with noodles, or potatoes or rice.

Slow Cooker Asian Pot Roast

recipe from College Inn Chicken Broth

serves 4

2 cups beef broth

2 T. oyster sauce or soy sauce

2 T. minced garlic

2 T. minced fresh ginger

1/2 to 1 t. dried red pepper flakes, to taste

3 to 4 lb. boneless chuck roast, fat trimmed (my dad used a round roast)

3 T. cornstarch

3 green onions, cut into 1-inch pieces

1.  Combine broth, oyster sauce, garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes in slow cooker. Add beef. Cut meat into two pieces, if needed, to fit into slow cooker.

2. Cover and cook on high for four hours or low for eight hours.

3. Remove meat from slow cooker, leaving cooking liquid in slow cooker. Keep meat warm while making sauce

4. Mix 3 T. cooking liquid with cornstarch in a small bowl; pour into slow cooker, whisking to blend evenly. Add green onions. Cook on high 5 to 10 minutes until slightly thickened. stir.

5. Serve sliced beef with sauce and either noodles, rice or mashed potatoes.

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Marea and Lincoln Center Restaurants

It's that time of year in New York when restaurants around Lincoln Center fill with people patronizing the arts - from opera to ballet and other cultural events. The "hip" restaurants may be below 14th street,  (according to some) but that doesn't mean the Upper West Side around Lincoln Center is barren of good restaurants either. Marea is a perfect example. The name means "tide" in Italian, and that's a clue that it's a seafood restaurant - a very good seafood restaurant - and one of my favorites in Manhattan, along with Esca and Le Bernardin. The menu does post an offering or two for meat lovers, but the star is the seafood, guided by Chef Michael White.

White is executive chef and co-owner of the Altamarea Group, a collection of restaurants that includes Osteria Morini in New York's Soho neighborhood and another one of the same name in Bernardsville, New Jersey. White's reach extends further into New Jersey with Due Mari in New Brunswick and as far away as Hong Kong with his restaurant Al Molo.

Marea, which is located on Central Park South, is at the former site of San Domenico. White, in fact, cut his culinary teeth at the original San Domenico in Imola, Italy, in the Emilia Romagna region.

Dinner at Marea does not come cheap, but it's worth a splurge every once in a while when the food is this good.

We sat down and were immediately presented with an amuse bouche to take the edge off our appetites:

bits of smoked salmon atop herbed rice crackers smeared with crème fraiche and a radish slice.

Crudo (raw seafood), served in a variety of ways, features prominently as a starter, as do a selection of oysters and caviar. But we skipped ahead to the antipasti, including these:

grilled octopus with smoked potatoes, pickled red onions, radish and chilies.

warm mediterranean red prawn, porcini, sunchoke, prawn sugo:

slow poached egg, cuttlefish, pine nuts, with a smoky swath of olive paste swished across the plate.

We moved on to the pasta, which is a specialty here - all homemade,  of course. They were all toothsome to the bite - and delicious. Here are a couple of examples, and I'm sorry to say I forgot some of the ingredients in this dish, but it was packed with flavor - linguini with lobster and cabbage (yes, cabbage - who'd have thunk?) and a crunchy topping:

Tagliolini with manila clams, calamari and peperoncini: 

Main courses were equally well prepared and inventive: scallops with potato puree, fried chickpea, brussel sprouts, golden raisins and pickled mustard

a moist and thick piece of halibut in a broth with clams, peppers and celery.

The first time I ate here we ordered dessert. I can't tell you the specifics but there was chocolate and coffee and ice cream too and it was divine. See for yourself. The presentation also was beautiful.

But even if you skip dessert, they'll bring some mignardises to the table to satiate your sweet tooth. In this case, it was biscotti and small cream puffs flecked with gold leaf.

On another occasion, it was these little bites:

 There are plenty of other restaurants besides Marea in the Lincoln Center area, too. Here are a few where I've eaten over the years.

Cafe Fiorello - On Broadway, right across the street from Lincoln Center and my old standby. I love everything on the menu, except the pizzas, which are huge flatbreads that could serve two people. They seem very popular, but I'm partial to Neapolitan style pizza. If you find a spot at the bar, you can make your dinner from the vast antipasti on display and can scoot in and out in a half hour. Warning: very noisy when full. 

La Boite En Bois - charming French restaurant on 68th St. near Columbus Ave. Always delicious, with pre-theatre pre-fixe at very reasonable prices and not usually noisy either.

Boulud Sud - Also across the street from Lincoln Center on Broadway - near Fiorello. Pricey, but delicious and elegant food. Right in front of the restaurant is Bar Boulud, a less expensive bistro and wine bar.

Lincoln - Fine dining with contemporary Italian food - and quiet - in a location that couldn't be more convenient - right on the Lincoln Center campus. pricey.

Picholine - The food is delicious, the decor is lovely but the service was a little too "precious" the night we were there, with waiters hovering over us so closely we felt conspicuous. Not the feeling you want when you're paying a lot of money for dinner.

The Leopard - At the former site of "Cafe Des Artistes" - 1 West 67th St.) and even better than the old restaurant. Wonderful Italian food in a beautiful setting (they kept the old murals thankfully). Also pricey.

  • P.J.Clarke's - Low cost alternative with great burgers. West 63rd - just a hop and skip from L.C.

So tell me, what are some of your favorite spots that I missed here in the Lincoln Center area? Let us know in the comment section of the blog.

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Fig Port-Wine Pistachio Ice Cream

OK, enough with the figs, you might be saying. The season is over. Well, that's mostly true, but the way my brain is working these days, if I say to myself I'll save this fig post for next year, I'm likely to forget, or to find it impossible to locate these photos among the thousands that are buried in my computer never, neverland. So here you have it - another fig recipe. Tuck it away for next season if figs have disappeared from your markets or if your tree is finished producing for the year.

If you've got purple figs, the ice cream will take on a beautiful dark pink hue. But I used up the last of my purple figs in a lemony- fig olive oil cake (click here for recipe). When some friends invited me to pick some figs from their tree, which happens to produce green figs, I wasn't about to complain. Especially not when they were as juicy and flavorful as these. 

 The recipe is adapted from one in David Lebovitz' book, "The Perfect Scoop." I changed it to add port wine instead of water, and threw in some pistachios too. The wine adds flavor and helps to keep it from hardening to a rock solid mass. Feel free to use another type of alcohol if you prefer - rum, grand marnier or whatever you fancy. Place the mixture in an ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer's instructions.

 Sprinkle with a few more pistachios on top and dig in. 

Fig-Port Wine-Pistachio Ice Cream

adapted from David Lebovitz' "The Perfect Scoop"

printable recipe here

2 lbs. fresh figs (about 20)

1/2 cup port wine, plus 3 Tablespoons

1 lemon, preferably unsprayed

3/4 cup sugar

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/4 cup chopped pistachios

Remove the hard stem ends from the figs, then cut each fig into 8 pieces. Put the figs in a medium, non-reactive saucepan with 1/2 cup port wine, and zest the lemon directly into the saucepan. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 8-10 minutes until the figs are tender. Remove the lid, add the sugar and continue to cook until it reaches a jam-like consistency. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.  Blend together with cream, lemon juice, and pistachios, and 3 more T. of port wine. Chill in the fridge and then put in your ice cream maker per the manufacturer's instructions.

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Friday, October 4, 2013

Fig-Orange-Almond Scones

My fig tree is finally starting to produce. I was starting to give up hope and considered cutting it down. It's been in the ground for five years and until now it's been a dud - beautiful, healthy leaves, but no ripe figs - nada, niente, nichts. Then last fall, my son pruned it back so hard it looked more like a giant slingshot than a tree. The tree must have realized it was close to becoming firewood, so it convinced me to spare it another year by producing three ripe figs so far. And there are still a couple dozen hanging on the branches waiting to ripen (if I'm lucky). I'm hopeful, but thankfully, I have "FWF" (that's "friends with figs") who are generous. So I made these scones -- and fig-port wine-pistachio ice cream too (for another post).

These scones were really good, but truthfully, the fig flavor isn't that pronounced. My friend and fellow food blogger Stacey Snacks recently made fig scones using dried figs and if you're looking for a more intense fig flavor, you should try her recipe here.

I'm an equal opportunity fig lover and will gladly take green or purple figs off your hands. But these purple figs are my favorite because of the beautiful color they impart to foods. Look how vibrant they look within this dough:

 Once you've patted the dough into a circle, sprinkle with more almonds and sugar (in this case, demarara or turbinado sugar - a light brown, partially refined sugar that has a natural caramel-like flavor). 

Using a knife, cut the circle of dough into eight wedges.

 Separate them for more even baking. 

 They're delicious as is, but you can gild the lily with a glaze if you're so inclined.

 And I was.

Fig-Orange-Almond Scones

printable recipe here

from the blog Passports and Pancakes

adapted from Chobani; makes 8 scones

 For the scones:

1 cup whole wheat flour (I used two cups all-purpose flour and left out the whole wheat flour)

1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for sprinkling your work surface

1/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

4 tablespoons salted butter (1/2 stick) , cut into small cubes

1 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt

1 teaspoon almond extract

9 figs, stems removed, roughly chopped (a little over 1 cup)

1/2 cup sliced almonds, plus extra for sprinkling on top

Zest of 1 orange

Turbinado sugar (optional, for sprinkling on top)

oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl whisk together the flours, baking
powder, and baking soda. Using a fork or pastry cutter, cut butter into
flour mixture until it pea-sized clumps form throughout.

In a
small bowl stir the almond extract into the yogurt. Add the yogurt
mixture, figs, 1/2 cup almonds, and orange zest to the dough and stir
until just combined (do not over mix).

Form dough into a disk,
and turn out onto a generously floured work surface. Knead 3 to 4 times,
form into a circle. Top with the extra almond slices and turbinado
sugar, and then cut into 8 wedges.

Arrange wedges on a non-stick
baking sheet (or a parchment-lined regular baking sheet) and bake until
golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. (Mine took longer to bake.)  Let cool slightly on a cooling rack and
top with orange glaze before serving (recipe below). Will keep, covered,
in the fridge for a few days.

For the glaze: 

2/3 cup powdered sugar

Juice and zest of 1 orange

Whisk together the ingredients until combined. Serve with fig-orange-almond scones. Enjoy! 

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