culotte; grilled eggplant, marjoram; tomatoes, micro basil

Late this past Friday we had invited a visitor from far outside New York, who was only going to be here for another week, to join us for dinner the next evening. I calculated that I had enough vegetables, and fruit, for 3, but the next day I would have to go down the street to Chelsea’s Down to Earth Farmers Market, only one block east of us, to pick up a fish entrée. When I arrived there I found that the fishers’ stall wasn’t there.

The storm of the day before may have kept the boats in the harbor on the east end of Long Island, I surmised.

Although there would be 3 fish stalls at the Union Square Greenmarket, and that market was less than a mile away, I didn’t want to hazard it on a Saturday. I rarely do go on that day anymore, even though it’s when there are the largest number of farmer, baker, and fisher stalls. It’s also when there are the largest number of shoppers  – and numbers of dawdling tourists, many holding hands and generally slowing down the serious cooks, as they do in our neighborhood Chelsea Market.

When I do go on a Saturday, it’s often to show my happy place to friends visiting from out of town, or out of country, which means I become a part of the problem I’m complaining about (although I swear I don’t hold any hands).

The little dinner party was rescued by the presence in the 23rd Street market of one of my favorite meat purveyors, Sun Fed Beef, whom I had asked to set aside enough of a certain favorite cut of steak for 2, frozen, which I would use on some day in the future. I was to pick it up that afternoon, and when I got there I asked for an additional piece, to be sure there would be enough for 3. Fortunately Gabe had a small reserve.

I was saved from the happy mobs, and dinner was going to happen.

The sit-down meal began with a simple vegetable first course (it would probably have been some form of charcuterie had the entrée not been switched from seafood to meat).

  • some very small yellow summer squash from Willow Wisp Farm, washed, dried, halved lengthwise, tossed with a little olive oil, sea salt, and freshly-ground black pepper, arranged, uncrowded on a well-seasoned 2-burner cast iron grill above two fairly high flames, cooked until softened and slightly charred, turning once, arranged on the plates, scattered with torn leaves of some Gotham Greens Rooftop packaged basil from Whole Foods Market, drizzled with a little olive oil, served at room temperature
  • slices of a polenta boule from Bread Alone Bakery, in the Union Square Greenmarket
  • the wine was an Oregon (Williamette Valley) white, Scott Kelley Pinot Gris Willamette 2017, from Naked Wines

The light appetizer didn’t even begin to hint at the rich flavors that were to follow with the main course.

  • three culotte steaks (called ‘culotte’ here, ‘coulotte’ in France, ‘picanha’ in Brazil), totaling almost 28 ounces, from Gabe, of Sun Fed Beef (Maple Avenue Farms) in the farm’s stall at Chelsea’s Down to Earth Farmers Market, brought to room temperature, weighing a little over 9 ounces each, seasoned on all sides with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, seared briefly on the top, or thick, fat-covered side inside an oval enameled heavy cast iron pan, the 2 long sides cooked for 3 or 4 minutes each, then the ends and the narrow bottom side seared, each very briefly, the steaks removed from the pan, at the moment they had become perfectly medium-rare, drizzled with some tomato water that remained from an earlier meal and scattered with a bit of the stem of a flowering spring shallot from Keith’s Farm, sliced thinly and heated in a little olive oil until softened, then some chopped summer savory from Alewife Farm, finished with a drizzle of Whole Foods Market house Portuguese olive oil, and allowed to rest for about 4 minutes
  • small Japanese eggplants from Alewife Farm, each cut in half lengthwise and brushed with a mixture of olive oil, finely-chopped maturing Rocambole garlic from Keith’s Farm, chopped fresh spicy oregano from Windfall Farms, plus some very pungent dried Sicilian oregano from Buon Italia, sea, sea salt, and freshly-ground black pepper, the eggplant pan-grilled, turning once, arranged on the plates, sprinkled with roughly chopped marjoram blossoms from Stokes Farm, and drizzled with a little olive oil, served more or less at room temperature

  • a couple handfuls of small mixed-colored tomatoes, each punctured with a trussing needle, and several slightly larger plum-shaped green tomatoes, sliced into 3 sections, all from Alewife Farm, thrown onto the hot grill pan after the eggplant had been removed, rolled about a little until they had softened just a bit and taken on a smoky flavor, removed to a vintage medium size Corning Pyrex Flameware blue-glass pot with a little olive oil, reheated over a gentle flame after the steak had been cooked
  • the wines were two Spanish (Rioja) reds, Pecina, Rioja Crianza, 2013, from Flatiron Wines,
  • and CVNE (Cune), Rioja Crianza “Vina Real”, 2014, both from Flatiron Wines (the second survived well into the next course)

There was a small cheese course, which I neglected to photograph.

  • basically, little more than samples of a water buffalo brie from Riverine Ranch in the Union Square Greenmarket, and a goat milk cheese, ‘Manchester’, from Consider Bardwell Farm, served with tiny mounds of cut marjoram blossoms from Stokes Farm and chopped summer savory from Alewife Farm (plus pinches of crushed golden dried habanada pepper, because our guest wanted to know what it tasted like, and I hadn’t cooked with it that night)
  • a bit of rich unsalted Organic Valley ‘Cultured Pasture Butter’ from Whole Foods Market and thin toasts of days-old She Wolf Bakery ‘Toasted Sesame Wheat Bread’

There would have been a sweet course, with input from a Korean melon, vanilla bean gelato, and fresh local raspberries, but we just ran out of time.