He was visiting New York from London so we were delighted to be able to invite him to dinner last night. Until then, while we had only known John through Twitter, we had come to feel of him as a friend.
On occasions like this I usually try to serve something I can prepare almost entirely ahead of time, but last night I relied on the fact that the tuna steaks I’d chosen as the entrée would be so simple and quick that it’d be almost the same thing. There would probably be some particularly good greens (there were so many kinds in the Greenmarket that day, and I saw and tasted some great September broccoli rabe) or some other vegetable that could be cooked in advance, and I had decided I could avoid the complications a first course would present by accompanying the tuna with a second vegetable.
Well, then I spotted the puntarelle, and I couldn’t focus on anything else. While the dish I had in mind, repeating my Puntarelle alla Romana, can mostly be done ahead of time, it needs a number of processes, and a certain amount of space, and it really should be assembled at the last moment. It also seemed to rule out including anything else on the plate, which meant there would now be 2 courses.
I wanted to include in the meal some very sweet tiny cherry tomatoes that had been camping out on the windowsill for a while, because they were now really at their peak, and because they were beautiful. The problem was that there weren’t really that many of them, and they’d be difficult to arrange on the plates in a way they could easily be picked up, so I brought 3 modest size zucchini home from the market, 2 yellow, one green, with the idea of scattering tomato halves among thin slices of summer squash near the end of the time they’d both spend on a large cast iron grill pan, tossing everything with some torn peppermint leaves when they were done, but then I noticed our guest was expected in a short while and there wouldn’t be time.
Now I had to reinvent the appetizer, but I hadn’t really come up with concept until I had already begun assembling it, so there was some stress involved in the process while at the same time I was trying to engage in the conversation; the result may have had something of an improvisational aspect to it, but it was delicious. Thank goodness for the young trailblazers of the new charcuterie [Walnut Hill Farm in this particular case], and the welcome the Union Square Greenmarket/GrowNYC people have been giving them.
It was a great evening on every count, the credit for which goes to the good Barry and John.
We began with a sparkling rosé while we nibbled on breadsticks and taralli.
The first course:
- half of a pint of ‘Super sweet 100’ cherry tomatoes from Keith’s Farm, halved, mixed with a bit of finely sliced tropea (sweet Italian red) onion from Alewife Farm, sea salt, black pepper, a bit of chopped fresh habanada pepper from Campo Rosso Farm, and a bit of Columela Rioja 30 Year Reserva sherry vinegar, arrange on a small mound of red watercress from Dave’s Max Creek Hatchery
- slices from a loaf of ‘Table Bread’, described as half organic bread flour, half fresh milled whole grain (wheat, spelt, rye, malted barley), water, salt, from Philadelphia’s Lost Bread Co.
- rich Vermont Creamery butter from Chelsea Whole Foods [unfortunately they don’t carry the unsalted version – yet, I hope I can add here], for speading on the bead
- most of a 4-ounce package of Saucisson (‘French style salami’) crafted by Jacüterie with pasture raised pork raised by Walnut Hill Farm, sliced
- the wine was an Italian (Tuscany) white, San Felice Vermentino Toscana 2017, from Philippe Wines
The main course.
- three thick 10 or 11-ounce yellowfin tuna steaks from American Seafood Company [much larger than I normally select, but the problem was getting 3 that looked similar, and were close to the same size], rinsed, dried, tops and bottoms seasoned with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, brushed or ‘paved’ with almost 2 tablespoons of a mix of a generous amount of incredibly wonderful dried Semi di Finocchietto Ibleo (wild Sicilian fennel seed harvested in the Iblei Mountains), from Eataly Flatiron and a little dried peperoncino Calabresi secchi from Buon Italia in the Chelsea Market, both first crushed together in a porcelain mortar and pestle, the tuna pan-grilled above a medium-high flame for little more than a minute or so on each side, finished on the plates with a good squeeze of the juice of an organic California lemon from Chelsea Whole Foods Market, a scattering of scissored bronze fennel buds and flowers from Rise & Root Farm, and a drizzle of Whole Foods Portuguese house olive oil
- two ‘heads’ of Puntarelle [cicoria di catalogna], an Italian chicory (about 32 ounces), from Tamarack Hill Farm, the outer straight leaves removed for another time, the remainder cooked pretty much as described on this site; I used ‘Chesnok Red’ garlic from Alewife Farm, local sea salt, 4 or 5 rinsed and filleted salted Sicilian anchovies from Buon Italia, a little chopped fresh habanada pepper, one and a half tablespoons or more of Aceto Cesare Bianco white wine vinegar from Buon Italia (a mix of Langhe white wines), 3 tablespoons or more of Whole Foods Market house Portuguese olive oil, and Whole Foods Market house whole pepper
- the wine was a Portuguese (Vinho Verde) white, Vinho Verde Loureiro, Aphros 2018, from Astor Wines
- instead of cheese, fruit, or a sweet, the dessert was a selection of very good artisanal liquors, 2 clear, ALB, a 100% neutral corn spirits vodka from Albany; St. George Terroir Gin, “a profoundly aromatic gin with a real sense of place”, from Alameda, California; and one Chicago bourbon, with millet instead of rye or wheat as the secondary component of the mash bill, Koval Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey
- raw almonds from Chelsea Whole Foods Market
puntarelle 34 ounces, > 26, the even less