It’s still 1989. Or even once upon a time.
This dish is a classic in Italy [cf. ‘pasta alla gricia‘]. In a way, it was already a classic to me before I had even tasted it: Because it included a recipe, for a pasta preparation called ‘la Gricia’, that looked so genuine and uncomplicated, and the photograph that accompanied it so seductive, I had cut out a newspaper article describing a very simple peasant dish many years before Barry and I sat down to it in a Trastevere trattoria in the Vicolo del Mattonato. “da Lucia” serves, in Roman dialect, la cucina de na vorta (the cooking of once upon a time), and it was the same place featured in that 1989 New York Times article); I began reproducing it as soon as we returned to New York, and the dish is now a classic in our kitchen.
We’ve returned to da Lucia many times. We actually always sat at a table outside (no fancy umbrellas back then, only laundry overhead, and one evening the sound of crockery being thrown in anger, but these are images of the inside, which has its own charms.
- nine ounces of Pastificio Fratelli Setaro Torre Annunziata Napoli Rigatoni [a long pasta can be substituted, but it must always be a very good artisanal pasta] from Buon Italia in the Chelsea Market boiled until (barely) al dente, while reserving some of the liquid, in many quarts of water inside a large vintage stainless steel pot [provenance: the Warren-and-Wetmore-designed-Providence-hotel-gone-out-of-business-1975-liquidation-sale], to which at least 2 tablespoons of sea salt had been added once the water had come to a boil, the pasta drained and tossed into a large enameled cast iron pot in which 5.5 ounces [the amount is variable] of “aged guanciale“, also from Buon Italia, cut in half-inch square pieces, had been heated, stirring with 2 tablespoons of Whole Foods Market Portuguese house olive oil, but for little more than about a minute, most of a cup of reserved pasta water added and everything stirred over high heat until the liquid had emulsified, then several tablespoons [yes, several tablespoons] of very good freshly-ground Whole Foods house black pepper stirred in, the pot removed from the heat and about 3 or 4 tablespoons of roughly-shredded pecorino cheese (Romano Sini Fulvi, again from Buon Italia), tossed in and stirred, the now finished pasta left standing for 30 seconds or more before it was served in shallow bowls, with more cheese and black pepper placed in containers on the table
- the wine was a Portuguese (Vinho Verde) white, Antonio Lopes Ribeiro 2017 (Casa de Mouraz) Vinho Verde ‘Biotite’, from Chambers Street Wines
- the music was the album, ‘Hamburger Ratsmusik, consort music c. 1600’, works by the peripatetic English expatriate violinist, violist, and composer Henry Brade, Jordi Savall conducting the ensemble Hesperion XX (my favorite citation in his Wikipedia entry is this: “All of Brade’s surviving music is for string instruments, and most is for dancing.”)
Winter is icumen in
Winter is icumen in,
Lhude sing Goddamm,
Raineth drop and staineth slop,
And how the wind doth ramm!
Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us,
An ague hath my ham.
Freezeth river, turneth liver,
Damm you; Sing: Goddamm.
Goddamm, Goddamm, ’tis why I am, Goddamm,
So ‘gainst the winter’s balm.
Sing goddamm, damm, sing goddamm,
Sing goddamm, sing goddamm, DAMM.
We city people have our own country ways. Haddock has arrived in our local fishers’ greenmarket stalls, and in New York City that’s almost as good a portent of wintertide‘s approach as any bellwether in the Old Farmer’s Almanac, which I bought religiously, I don’t mind saying, every year of my long sojourn in New England (always nailing the previous year’s edition to the wall inside the [inside] privy).
Also, I wasn’t to make it cleat that I myself am very fond of winter. For all I know Pound may have been as well, and only playing with the traditional English round, ‘Sumer is Icumen in‘.
- two 8-ounce haddock fillets from P.E. & D.D. Seafood served with an accompaniment of local mushrooms, starting with separating or chopping the individual sections of 9 ounces of oyster mushrooms from Blue Oyster Cultivation (a mix of grey and yellow), sautéing them, along with 2 different kinds and colors of finely chopped small sweet seasoning peppers, aji dulce and Granada, both from Eckerton Hill Farm, over medium-high heat in a little over 2 tablespoons of olive oil inside a vintage thick-walled tin-lined copper 14-inch oval sauté pan, stirring, until softened if not browned (I had a lot of mushrooms this time, so they were too crowded, but the taste didn’t suffer), for roughly 5 minutes, all transferred to 2 warm plates (in a warm oven, door ajar), the pan wiped dry and an additional tablespoon of olive oil added, the flame turned up to medium-high and, once the oil was shimmering, two 8-ounce haddock fillets from P.E. & D.D. Seafood that had been seasoned with the fisherman’s own local salt and some freshly ground black pepper, were introduced and cooked, flesh sides down, and without moving until well browned, or for about 3 minutes, when they were carefully flipped over and cooked on the skin side until the fish was just cooked through, or about 2 minutes longer, transferred onto the plates next to the mushrooms, then about three quarters of a cup of a good low-sodium vegetable stock (using Better Than Bullion, from Whole Foods Market) was added to the same pan and cooked over high heat until reduced by at least half, the pan removed from the flame, 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of Chelsea Whole Foods Market organic California lemon stirred in, the sauce seasoned to taste with salt and pepper before being poured over both the fish and the mushrooms, lemon wedges served on the side [I mostly used this Serious Eats recipe, although I substituted the fresh peppers for the author’s “chili flakes”]
- half of a bunch of very sweet green kale (with an awesome texture once heated) from Norwich Meadows farm, washed several times and roughly chopped, including the stems, wilted inside a large antique copper pot in a little olive oil in which several thinly sliced cloves of ‘Chesnok Red’ garlic from Alewife Farm had first been warmed and begun to color, the greens arranged on the plates, seasoned with salt and pepper and drizzled with a little olive oil
- the wine was a California (Sonoma County/Alexander Valley) white, Jac Cole Alexander Valley Oak Fermented Chardonnay 2018, from Naked Wines
- the music was Vivaldi’s ‘Il Teuzzone’, written in Mantua in 1719, and first produced in Venice during Carnival celebrations that year, performed by Jordi Savall and the Concert des Nations; the story is “a seething tale of family rivalries and altered wills at the ancient Chinese court“
Sometimes it all comes together when you weren’t particularly expecting it. This meal was a perfect symphony of its fairly basic elements, none of which were extraordinary on their own except for their freshness and their quality.
- one gorgeous 17-ounce section from a fillet of wild caught sockeye salmon (previously frozen), from Chelsea Whole Foods Market, halved, placed unseasoned, skin sides up, inside a heavy medium size enameled cast iron pan in which a little more than 2 tablespoons of a rich local Organic Valley ‘Cultured Pasture Butter’ had been allowed to melt over a low to medium flame until the foam began to recede, the salmon then placed inside a 425º oven until barely cooked, meaning about 8 minutes, flipped over after 5, removed, arranged on the plates, only now seasoned, with some local Long Island sea salt (P.E. & D.D. Seafood/Phil Karlin’s own) and freshly-ground black pepper, scattered with scissored chives from Phillips Farms, allowed to rest for a couple minutes before serving, arranged on the plates and garnished on the edges with micro purple radish from Windfall Farms
- thirteen ounces of ruby crescent fingerling potatoes (which are always really delicious roasted) from Mountain Sweet Berry Farm, halved lengthwise, tossed with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, the leaves from some rosemary stems, also from Phillips Farms, and a small amount of crushed golden home-dried habanada pepper, arranged cut side down on a large Pampered Chef unglazed ceramic pan, roasted at 425º for about 20 minutes
- one bunch of beautiful fresh, almost glowing, dandelion greens from Norwich Meadows Farm, washed in several changes of water, drained, the last of the drained water set aside, cut into 2 or 3-inch pieces, barely wilted in a little olive oil, along with 3 small cloves of ‘Chesnok Red’ garlic from Alewife Farm which had been heated in the oil until fragrant, a bit of the reserved water then added to loosen the greens, seasoned with a little crushed dried dried Itria-Sirissi chili, pepperoncino di Sardegna intero from Buon Italia, salt and pepper, and drizzled with a little olive oil
- the wine was a super, medium bodied Austrian (Mittelburgenland) red, Hochäcker Blaufränkisch 2015 (ours was not a magnum), from Flatiron Wines, from a district that shares its longer history with Hungary; but the story involving a more recent event, just thirty years ago, involving the Austria-Hungary border of which it is a part, is described here
- the music was a gorgeous opera composed by Vivaldi for the 1724 carnival season in Rome, ‘Il Giustino’, Ottavio Dantone conducting the Accademia Bizantina
I had put them together in this meal for other reasons, but the smoked scallops and the roasted veal seemed to somehow share a real affinity, something that was barely apparent to me until I was sitting down to the second of those courses last night.
- six smoked scallops (a total of 8 ounces) from Pura Vida Seafood Company arranged on a shallow bed of greens (mesclun from Windfall Farms, along with red dandelion from Wilow Wisp Farm, and Radicchio Variegato di Castelfranco from Campo Rosso Farm) dressed with a good olive oil, a bit of Columela Rioja 30 Year Reserva sherry vinegar, local P.E. & D.D. Seafood sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper
- slices of an enkir (aka einkorn, or farro piccolo) baguette from Eataly Flatiron (it’s an ancient grain that first appeared in the Middle East 12,000 years ago, here using Mulino Marino Organic Artisan Enkir Farro Flour)
- the wine was a California (Clarksburg) white, Miriam Alexandra California Chenin Blanc 2018, from Naked Wines
I wanted to keep the main course more abbreviated, but, mostly for aesthetic reasons, I couldn’t resist including the 2 remaining red potatoes potatoes I had in the larder
- two veal rib chops (12 ounces each) from Consider Bardwell Farm, seasoned with sea salt and black pepper, placed inside a ceramic oven pan to marinate for about a half hour in a mixture of one tablespoon of olive oil, the zest from more than one organic Whole Foods Market California lemon, one small chopped fresh habanada pepper from Alewife Farm, and one tablespoon of thyme leaves, removed from the oven pan then seared in a combination of 2 or 3 tablespoons of melted butter and one tablespoon of olive oil inside an oval enameled cast iron pan over a high flame until darkened, the chops removed, the fat discarded and the pan wiped with paper towels, the veal returned to the pan, another tablespoon, or a little more, of butter over them, seasoned well, the pan placed inside a400º oven for 15 minutes or possibly a little more, until done, served with a salsa verde (whose assembly is described in the same volume, but I used parsley, winter savory, oregano, olive oil, garlic, capers, anchovy, Dijon mustard, and red wine vinegar)
- two medium red potatoes from Willow Wisp Farm scrubbed, boiled unpeeled in generously-salted water until barely cooked through, drained, halved, dried in the still-warm small vintage Corning Pyrex Flameware blue-glass pot in which they had cooked, halved, mixed with a little Trader Joe’s house Portuguese olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper, and tossed with scissored fresh chives from Phillips Farms
- some greens from an unidentified variety of turnip (they had been torn off and left on the farmers’ table by a customer) from Norwich Meadows Farm, washed in several changes of water, wilted in olive oil along with 4 small ‘Chesnok Red’ garlic from Alewife Farm which had been lightly-browned in the oil just before, seasoned, and drizzled with olive oil
- the wine was an Italian (Campania) red, Mastro Aglianico Campania IGT Mastroberardino 2017, from Philippe Wines
Tautog is good.
It’s not Provençal.
And yet, except for the origin story of the fish (and the green vegetable too), this dinner could almost be Provençal, which is always good.
- two blackfish/Tautog fillets (one pound) from Pura Vida Seafood Company prepared following a recipe by Melissa Clark published in the New York Times 5 years ago, seasoned with salt, freshly-ground black pepper, and a few pinches of Aleppo pepper (Morton & Bassett dried, from Westside Market), placed in a large heavy antique oval copper skillet over a medium-low flame, a quarter cup of Niçoise olives from Chelsea’s Fairway Market (pitted with great difficulty, over more than half an hour, because of their extremely small size), scattered around the fish, cooked for about 4 minutes, flipped and cooked for another 4 minutes, and near the end of that time, roughly 10 ounces of tiny ‘wild Mexican tomatoes’ (since they were cultivated, the ‘wild tomatoes’ were not, technically wild anymore) from Eckerton Hill Farm were tossed into the pan, moved around a bit and allowed to almost break down, the fish and the olives transferred to 2 plates when done, the tomatoes spooned around the fillets and everything sprinkled with chopped fresh oregano from Rise & Root Farm, topped with a drizzle of good olive oil
- a few handfuls of broccolini (a modern hybrid, a cross between broccoli and Gai Lan, aka Chinese broccoli) from Willow Wisp Organic Farm in the Union Square Greenmarket, washed and drained in fresh cold water, chopped very roughly, sautéed/wilted over a low flame by being gradually added to a large antique copper pot in which 3 halved cloves of ‘Chesnok Red’ garlic from Alewife Farm had been heated in a little olive oil until softened and fragrant
- the wine was an Italian (Piedmont) white, Ferrando, Cariola’ Erbaluce di Caluso 2016, from Flatiron Wines
- the music was Monteverdi’s 1607 opera, ‘L’Orfeo’, performed by Jordi Savall directing Le Concert des Nations, La Capella Reial de Catalunya, and soloists