Happy 240th Birthday!
Hope you have a delicious celebration!
Happy 240th Birthday!
Hope you have a delicious celebration!
Summer days can be hot and humid and one bit of relief is a refreshing cocktail at the end of the day. I think the best summer drinks are light on alcohol but with just enough to help us forget the blazing heat and not enough to knock you silly. I am actually such a lightweight that I enjoy a cocktail in one hand and a glass of water in the other. I know many people love a margarita but since I haven’t been able to smell, much less drink, tequila since high school, you won’t find me recommending it. Bartenders and cocktail aficionados everywhere are coming up with new and inventive drinks all the time but some of my favorites are still the traditional ones. With the holiday weekend approaching, here is a reminder of some easy and reliable cocktail standards.
A classic summer highball is the gin and tonic. I go light on the gin (but make sure it is a flavorful one like Hendricks) and heavy on the tonic. Q is an especially delicious tonic, with no strange or chemical ingredients (just agave, bitters, quinine and citric acid in carbonated water) and not sugary sweet. Another good brand is FeverTree but Q would be my first choice. Just pour a shot of gin over ice and fill your glass with tonic. Add lots of lime slices and sip away.
One of the tastiest summer drinks on a hot afternoon is a Campari or an Aperol Spritz, the former redder and more bitter and the latter more orange and a bit sweeter but both herbaceous. Sipping either one, you could almost imagine yourself under an umbrella on an Italian piazza. Both are made with a 3-2-1 recipe – 3 parts Prosecco or another sparkling wine (I think Cava works well here if you don’t have Prosecco), 2 parts liqueur and 1 part soda water or seltzer over ice. You could garnish with an orange wedge or not.
Use St. Germain Elderflower liqueur, (only around since 2007 although the old fashioned bottle would have you think otherwise), to make a St. Germain cocktail, one we often serve to guests during the summer. The proportions are just a little different from the Spritz – 3 parts sparkling wine, 2 parts bubbly water, 1 part elderflower liqueur – which makes for an even lighter drink. Citrus slices and halved strawberries make a complementary garnish.
Similarly tasty but quite a different flavor is the Pimm’s cup. Pimm’s is an herby, gin-based liquor (I can’t tell you exactly what is in it since the recipe is a secret) traditionally mixed with carbonated lemonade or ginger ale and garnished with a cucumber spear, mint leaves and any combination of apple, orange, lemon, cherries or strawberries. I think it is delicious with ginger beer, which is a bit spicier than your ordinary ginger ale, or Q ginger, made by the same company that produces the good tasting tonic water.
Another thirst quenching summer beverage is a shandy. Ok – you are probably thinking, why ruin a perfectly good beer with lemonade or ginger ale? When it’s hot, you want a little less alcohol and a little more refreshment hence the half and half mixture of any lager or ale you enjoy with lemonade, ginger ale, ginger beer, a lemon-lime soda or even fruit juice. A sprig of mint is a fitting garnish, if you feel it needs one.
Whenever we have a party, I always like to make a pitcher of a mixed drink to make bar tending easier for us and for our guests. In winter, I might mix whiskey sours or bourbon and ginger but in summer I prefer something lighter, like the St. Germain cocktail, which is easy to mix in a big batch. A pitcher of white sangria made with white wine, a little cognac, lemon juice and sugar or agave with peach slices or red sangria with lots of cut up fruit is festive and easy to drink. Traditional red sangria can pack quite a punch because it is fortified with brandy and sometimes also Cointreau or another liquor. In summer, I simply mix red wine with some orange juice and bubbly water with just a dash of liqueur and load up on fruit for a less potent version.
Lastly, one of my favorite drinks, no matter the season, is a sweet red vermouth on the rocks with a twist or slice of lemon or orange. (For comments on different brands, see my post on a Continental Drift). My old Mr. Boston Bartender’s Guide mistakenly calls this an Americano (which also contains Campari) but I just call it refreshing.
Despite widespread gentrification and demolition, New York still has many old, unique food shops specializing in everything from cake-decorating supplies to Spanish imports. One of my favorites is Raffetto’s, a more than 100-year old Italian market on Houston Street near 6th Avenue. A charming, old-world type store with wood cabinetry and shelves stocked with all kinds of locally produced and imported Italian foods and ingredients. It is a place you need to visit for a taste of non-sarcastic “artisanal” food. Their pasta is simply delicious.
I first stumbled upon Raffetto’s in the mid-80s, when I was an art advisor and used to spend a lot of time combing the galleries of Soho (before they morphed into expensive boutiques and chain stores). Walking north across Houston Street, I would pass Raffetto’s on the way to get a coffee or hear music in the Village. When I finally stopped in, I was amazed at the other world behind its front door – a wall of different colors and shapes of dried pasta on one side and shelves full of grains, beans, soup mixes, oils, vinegars, a refrigerated case with fresh sauces, cheeses and more on the other. In the back, several women in white lab coats were packaging sauces and filled pasta in an open kitchen and were cutting fresh pasta to order, something I hadn’t seen before.
According to their website, and from the looks of it, Raffetto’s is still using the same pasta-rolling machine that their patriarch/founder bought when he opened the store in 1906. And the pasta “guillotine”, on which you have your fresh pasta cut to your choice of widths, dates from 1916. Don’t you wish more equipment was still made and maintained that well now? Three generations of the Raffetto family are working in and running the business, making the pasta and sauces and staffing the shop. But I’m getting lost in history: the real story is the food they produce.
Raffetto’s offers cut-to-order fresh pasta in traditional and non-traditional flavors Including tomato, parley-basil, whole wheat, lemon red pepper, rosemary, black squid-ink and, my favorite, black pepper. Sometimes you can get lucky and arrive when chestnut, lemon, saffron or even chocolate are available. Ravioli fillings range from the usual cheese or cheese and spinach to pesto, goat cheese, seafood and chicken with smoked mozzarella and the occasional special like arugula and ricotta, pumpkin or Gorgonzola and walnut. (My son says he doesn’t like mushrooms but he loves Raffetto’s mushroom ravioli. Go figure!) Tortellini and potato gnocchi are made and sold here in a range of fillings and flavors. Happily for all of us, many varieties of the ravioli are available at stores like Fairway and Citarella and the jumbo ravioli are available at Zabar’s. Both the fresh and filled pastas freeze well, although I wouldn’t keep them in the freezer for more than a few months.
In addition to the fresh and filled varieties, Raffetto’s stocks a selection of imported dried pastas, including spelt, farro and quinoa, and a huge assortment of shapes. If you aren’t a pasta eater, there are plenty of delicious red and green sauces, olives, anchovies, condiments and seasonings to buy for yourself or for a gift. Arriving with a bag full of groceries from Raffetto’s (easy to make dinner) would make you a dream house guest!
Raffetto’s was one of many Italian food stores in its West Village neighborhood and you can still find a few others open. Faicco’s Pork Store, dating from its first incarnation on Thompson Street in 1900, operates a couple blocks away on Bleecker Street, as does Pasticcerio Rocco, which opened in 1974, the youngster of the group. Caffe Reggio, claiming to have served the first cappuccino in New York, has offered espresso to generation after generation of NYU students and tourists since 1927 on MacDougal Street.
Unfortunately, other old establishments in this little “Little Italy” didn’t make it. Joe’s Dairy, across Houston Street, produced and sold the best smoked mozzarella I’ve ever tasted, but they moved to New Jersey where costs were less expensive. Balducci’s, which started in Brooklyn in 1900 and moved to the Village in 1946, had a large bustling market on 6th Avenue, about 10 blocks north, but it closed after being bought out by a big food company. (Incarnations have opened and closed and opened in various spots around the city). The charming Cafe Dante on MacDougal, with a case full of more than a dozen flavors of gelato before gelato was a household word, closed last year, a victim of surging rent, now replaced by an upscale restaurant of the same name.
Fortunately, Raffetto’s survives, possibly because it keeps up with what people want, continues to innovate, provides quality products and maintains a knowledgeable, efficient and friendly staff. In order to meet wholesale demands, they expanded by opening a small factory, first nearby and now located in New Jersey. It probably doesn’t hurt that they own their own building on Houston. But whatever the reasons for its success, I hope Raffetto’s continues producing delicious pastas and sauces far into the future.
Black Pepper (or Rosemary, Whole Wheat or Parsley-Basil) Pasta with Vegetables
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a big pinch of salt. Shake the cornmeal off the pasta and add to the boiling water, stirring immediately to break the starch bonds and avoid clumping.
Check for doneness after 2 minutes and again at 3. Just before the pasta is cooked to your liking, add the peas and greens and cook 30 seconds and then drain.
Heat the oil and butter or ghee in the now empty but still warm pan over medium heat and then add the garlic with a pinch of salt. As soon as the garlic is softened, about 1 minute, turn off the heat, add the drained pasta and vegetables and toss to mix. Add additional salt to taste. If you like, sprinkle with freshly grated cheese. Makes 4 starter or 2-3 main course servings.
Note: Preparing the fresh pasta or ravioli makes one of the easiest dinners ever. It cooks much faster than dried pasta so watch it carefully – a few minutes is really sufficient. To fortify, you can toss in some small pieces of broccoli or cauliflower and some cooked beans, with or without cheese. Alternatively, use a tomato sauce or pesto (the garlic scape pesto recipe from a few weeks ago would be delicious with the whole wheat pasta), add some cooked chicken or shrimp, sprinkle with fresh parsley or basil and you’ve amped up your main course to restaurant status.
Barbecue isn’t something for which New York has always been known but that is changing. We now have several great barbecue restaurants dotted across the boroughs but the epic annual BBQ festival in and around Madison Square Park is where New Yorkers can really satisfy their cravings for smoked and grilled meat.
The Big Apple Barbecue Block Party took place last weekend and was so successful that when we arrived in the late afternoon, but almost 2 hours before the event ended, many venues were completely sold out of food. We were fortunate to get tastes of ribs and chopped, smoked pork from 3 of the more than the dozen participants who were cooking that day. Pit masters from New York establishments were joined by those from Illinois and many southern states, providing us different styles of regional barbecue. There were beer tents and tastes from local bakeries along with some live music, both bluegrass and jazz.
New York has lots of outdoor events during the summer months but this has to be one of the tastiest, plus it is a fundraising benefit for the park. Here are some photos to entice you to next year’s party.
I first saw garlic scapes in a tangled heap at a farmers’ market and wondered what they were. I soon found out plus how to use them by chatting with the farmer who grew them. I don’t remember seeing scapes before 10 or 12 years ago but now they seem much more common, even if only at a Greenmarket.
Garlic scapes are the above ground green shoots of the garlic plant, something like a bud of a flower. They appear in the spring with the leaves of the plant and farmers prune them off so that all of the energy of the plant can go to the growing bulb, not its shoots. Think of them as the vegetable part of the garlic plant – another tasty green thing to enliven our cooking!
Scapes can be used just like garlic – sliced, diced or minced – to add garlic flavor to all kinds of foods. They are a bit like dense, crunchier green beans that taste like milder garlic. I think scapes are especially good sautéed with other spring vegetables, like asparagus, bok choy, baby greens and radishes but can be cooked and mashed with potatoes, steamed with broccoli or used anywhere you would add green garlic. Scapes make delicious chartreuse-colored pesto, both as the main ingredient or just as the garlic part of a basil or other variety pesto. They can be blended into a vinaigrette or added to an omelet, frittata or stir fry. There are seemingly endless ways to use scapes and they keep for several weeks in a refrigerator drawer.
Fortunately for us, many farmers at our greenmarkets now sell garlic scapes. It is the beginning of their season so they are just appearing and should be available for a few weeks. If you make pesto out of them this month and put it in your freezer, you will be rewarded with an easy green vegetable to use come winter. Right now garlic scapes are a fragrant, savory green addition to our late spring meals.
Garlic Scape Pesto
Put cut up scapes and salt in a food processor and pulse until finely ground. If using nuts, parsley or cheese, add and pulse until completely ground. With the motor running, add oil until the pesto is the consistency you like.
Use right away or pack in small glass containers or jars with a very thin layer of olive oil on top (to keep it from oxidizing) and refrigerate or freeze for future use. We use about 1/2 – 3/4 cup for a pound of pasta or tofu – I also add a little more salt and some black pepper – just taste and see if you think it needs more. You can add a squeeze of lemon just before serving.
Don’t forget that pesto is not just for pasta (although it is delicious that way): It is wonderful on baked fish, chicken, tofu, potatoes and summer squashes and also enlivens rice, quinoa and many vegetables.