Archive for April, 2009

Anselmo’s Pizza

anselmos2

On Friday night Jim and I drove over to Red Hook to check out Anselmo’s, Brooklyn’s newest coal-oven pizzeria and contender in the local pizza wars. With opponents like Lucali’s and South Brooklyn Pizza in Carroll Gardens, there’s currently some fierce competition in the neighborhood. We wondered if this highly anticipated spot could hold its own in the gritty artisanal pizza bracket.

Anselmo’s is simply decorated and well-lit, with some small improvements—such as the wall hangings and exposed lighting—still in progress. Small tables line the left side of the room, while a bar along the right provides additional seating and leads to the coal-burning oven at the back. The attractive wood floor is actually constructed from old ceiling beams found in the space. Pizzaiolo Anselmo Garcia and his family bought the building intending to turn it into a bakery, but after finding the pre-existing brick oven, they shifted their dough-related plans to include tomato sauce and mozzarella. From what I tasted, they made the right choice.

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Pies come in two sizes, the 14-inch ($14) and the 10-inch ($6). Calzones are also on the menu. Extra cheese, vegetable, and meat toppings, as well as some changing daily specials, are available ($1.75 per topping on a large pie). Jim and I ordered a 14-inch pie and loaded it up: hot peppers and cherry tomatoes for him, artichokes for me (of course). Anselmo’s is awaiting approval for BYOB privileges, so at the moment the only drink options are fountain sodas. 

The first thing we noticed as we bit into our pie is that Anselmo’s produces a deliciously saucy and slightly spicy slice. Creamy, fresh mozzarella tempers the heat, with slivers of fresh basil as welcome accents. Jim and I both enjoyed our toppings, but after a few bites, we turned our attention to the crust.

Coal-burning ovens are notoriously difficult to control—look at the criticism South Brooklyn Pizza received about the intense char on its first coal-fired pies and the problems once faced by Lucali’s with its wood-fired oven—but our pie was expertly cooked, with just the slightest amount of char on the crust. As for thickness, the crust on Anselmo’s pies is not very thin nor too thick. Unfortunately, it winds up in the non-distinct middle, with somewhat of an identity crisis. I am sure that with some time, Garcia will figure out the ideal thickness, but a decision needs to be made. Apart from this issue, these pies definitely show promise.

If I had to choose, I’d say that Lucali’s is still the hands-down champion in the Carroll Gardens/Red Hook pizza challenge. But Anselmo’s, with its distinct brand of pie and family feel, is an up-and-coming opponent. Lucali’s and South Brooklyn Pizza better keep their eyes on this young upstart.

Anselmo’s, 354 Van Brunt Street in Red Hook, Brooklyn. T: 718-313-0169. Anselmo’s does not deliver and is cash only. It is closed from 5 to 6 pm so that the oven can be cleaned.

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Artichoke Christina Barcelona

I am dying to go to Spain, particularly Barcelona. I’ve been obsessed for months now, reading Mark Kurlansky’s Basque History of the World and Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s amazing mystery The Shadow of the Wind. The movie Vicky Cristina Barcelona, viewed on my last plane flight, only fueled the fires of my travel bug.

Unfortunately I don’t see this trip happening in my near future, so I’ve tried to indulge in the next best thing: food. I started by experimenting with Food & Wine’s squid- and chorizo-infused farro salad, a recipe that emits its own particular brand of Spanish spirit, at least in my mind. Although farro is usually associated with Italian cuisine, the addition of smoky chorizo and plump squid transforms this dish into something that might be inspired by the Iberian Peninsula. I’m not expecting to find this meal in Spain, but in my Brooklyn kitchen, it did just fine.

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This dish has an almost mysterious edge to it, introducing me to exotic flavors I don’t normally encounter in my everyday life. Jim and I used more squid than called for in the original recipe, as our fishmonger sold it by the pound and we didn’t want to waste it. We substituted dried oregano for fresh marjoram, and at the end we couldn’t resist throwing some fresh arugula into the mix. The peppery greens added a welcome note of freshness to the combination of smoky meat, chewy squid, and nutty grains.

We ate this for two nights in a row before heading out with friends to Soccarat, New York City’s new paella bar. Jim and I had amusingly observed that although our salad used farro instead of rice, the rest of the ingredients were quite similar to the traditional paella we were about to enjoy. No matter. At this festive sliver of a restaurant, we shared the arroz negro, a pan of luscious short-grain, squid-inked rice filled with shrimp, scallops, and cuttlefish. After one bite, I can honestly say that it transported us—in mind and spirit—to Spain. The word “soccarat” actually refers to the caramelized rice on the bottom of a perfect paella, and it was indeed the best part of the dish. Our waitress even scraped the pan for us with a large spoon, to make sure we didn’t miss any of it. As we ate one forkful after next, leaving nothing in the pan, I realized that my Spanish obsession isn’t over. Between the farro salad and our visit to Soccarat, I am more than ready to go. Where’s my suitcase?

Recipe for Farro Salad with Squid, Chorizo, and Arugula (adapted from Food & Wine magazine, April 2009)

  • 1 cup farro
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup dry chorizo, skinned and sliced (about 2 small links of chorizo)
  • 3/4 pound cleaned squid, bodies cut into 1/4-inch rings, large tentacles cut in half (We used 1 pound of squid, but 3/4 is probably just right)
  • salt
  • 1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1/2 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 small bunch arugula, washed
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • freshly ground pepper

Place the farro in a bowl and cover it with cold water. Soak for 20 minutes. Drain. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Add the farro, cover and simmer over low heat until the farro is al dente, about 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chorizo and cook until sizzling, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the squid and cook, stirring, until just white throughout, about 2 to 3 minutes. The edges of the rings will start to turn in a bit when cooked as well. Do not overcook the squid. Remove the pan from the heat and season with a bit of salt.

Using a slotted spoon, add the chorizo and the squid to the farro. Add the tomatoes, parsley, oregano, vinegar. Tear the arugula leaves in half and add them to the salad. Add a few glugs of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss. Serves 4. Enjoy!

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Artichoke Heart Hits It Big…But No One Knows It

Wednesday morning started like any other day. I arrived at work, struggling to balance my massive purse with my leaking cups of coffee and steel-cut oats. I settled into my desk, turned to my computer screen, and opened my RSS reader so that I could catch up on my favorite food blogs while eating breakfast.

I clicked on this New York Daily News link about five New York City Greenmarkets set to open this weekend. Oh good, I thought. Maybe the Carroll Gardens one will start soon. I can’t wait. I scrolled through the list, and there it was, right at the bottom: The Carroll Gardens Greenmarket would indeed begin this weekend.

But as I took a closer look at the short paragraph about the market, my eyes widened. Déjà vu. The blurb talked about how the market had recently expanded. Hmm. I once wrote about how the market had recently expanded. The article also mentioned several very familiar details: 

  1. A chocolate croissant from Amy’s Bread
  2. Spicy Angus sausages from Grazin’ Angus Acres
  3. Pasture-raised eggs
  4. The occasional local honey stand

Double hmm. It read suspiciously like my post about the Carroll Gardens Farmers’ market that I wrote back in November. As I pulled up my post and compared the two links, I had little personal doubt. The specific details listed above mirrored my market experience and were even presented in the same order that I had written them. Even more interesting, the Daily News offered little additional information besides these familiar observations.

There seem to be two camps on this: Some people say I should be flattered, while others insist that I should be upset. I am just unsure and confused. Readers, what do you think?

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Dinner at Prime Meats

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There’s a powerful duo transforming Carroll Gardens these days. The partners in crime sport beards, are known simply as “the Franks,” and are opening restaurants left and right on Court Street. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m talking about neighborhood wonder twins Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli, the owners of local Italian favorite Frankies 457 Spuntino. With the recent openings of Prime Meats and the Viennese-themed Cafe Pedlar, a soon-to-open retail store, and plans for Delightful Coffee Shop in Red Hook, the Franks have casually built a Brooklyn empire over just a few months.

None of these new projects has aroused more curiosity than Prime Meats. Although it will eventually operate as a full-scale restaurant, the smaller bar room opened a few months ago as a sort of underground speakeasy, serving Prohibition Era style drinks that Jim adores (his favorite is the absinthe-fueled Sazerac). I’m not much of a cocktail person, so while I’ve enjoyed hanging out among Prime Meats’s exposed brick walls, beautiful pressed tin ceiling, and dark wood bar for the past few weeks, what I’ve really been waiting for is the food. When we heard that the gas was finally turned on last week, Jim and I excitedly walked over to sample the abbreviated Germanic-themed menu.

As at Frankies, Prime Meats lets simple, high-quality ingredients speak for themselves, albeit with a focus on Central Europe. Even the wine and beer menu reflects this regional slant, with German beer and Alsatian, German, and Austrian wines. An abundant salad of raw red cabbage, lightly seasoned with lemon, balsamic vinegar, and sunflower oil, and crunching with walnuts, was a refreshing start to our meal ($7). Jim indulged in the säkrüt garnie, an overflowing platter of pork belly, kassler, and smoky sausages served with potatoes on a bed of tart sauerkraut ($14). I hadn’t seen this much pig on a plate since our vacation in Alsace eight years ago. Prime Meats plans to make its own sausages—the new kitchen at the back of the restaurant will be equipped for on-site butchering—but the wursts are currently procured from experts in Yorkville, Manhattan’s once primarily German neighborhood.

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I went with the Hungarian style pork gulyas, a peppery, tomato-infused pork stew served with a side of buttery, creamy, herb-infused spätzle ($12). Did I mention that the spätzle were buttery? Topped with friend onions, they were wonderfully decadent and authentic, better than some that I’ve tasted in Germany. We’ll have to make another trip to try the weisswurst ($9), the homemade pretzel with Bavarian mustard ($3), and the desserts (currently limited to a selection of artisanal cheeses).

Once the main restaurant opens in a few months, the menu will expand with more similarly-themed Central European selections, as well as additional vegetarian options. If the Franks are indeed building an empire, I am more than happy to live in it—as long as I am guaranteed a table at their restaurants.

Prime Meats, 465 Court Street  in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. T: 718-254-0327

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The Tart That Changed Everything

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A few months ago I made a firm and definitive statement on this blog: I don’t like yogurt. I told you how throughout my entire life I had attempted to make my peace with this sour dairy product by mixing it with granola or fruit, but to no avail. I simply hated it.

Well, today I am here to openly recant my anti-yogurt diatribe. I’d bow my head in shame except I’m so happy about my recent conversion I can’t hide it. And it’s all because last weekend I made Food & Wine’s glorious Honeyed Yogurt and Blueberry Tart. A smooth sea of honey-enhanced yogurt nestled in an electrically spicy graham cracker crust and dotted with plump, fresh berries has finally vanquished my yogurt-related negativity.

You may be asking why I would even attempt to make Food & Wine’s tart, given my professed aversion to the contents of its cool and creamy center. Honestly, I made this dessert because the recipe looked easy. All it requires is a quick whir of graham crackers, candied ginger, salt, sugar, and one egg white in the food processor. After being shaped into a tart pan, the crust is baked for a mere 20 minutes. (Actually, next time I think I will bake the crust for a few minutes less, as it was slightly overcooked and too crisp after 20 minutes.) The whole process takes less than half an hour and the crust can even be prepared the day before you plan to serve the dessert.

After mixing a few tablespoons of honey into the yogurt, spread the mixture into the cooled baked shell and top it with the blueberries. The slightly sweetened yet still tangy yogurt is perfectly complemented by the ginger-spiced crust and fresh berries. As I cautiously tasted my first bite, for once I was not overwhelmed by the sour flavors I usually associate with yogurt. It may have been the addition of honey that made the difference, or perhaps it was the powerful crust. Whatever the reason, I can’t wait to make it again when blueberries are actually in season. Try this tart. I promise, it will change everything.

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Blogworthy or Not: Skirt Steak Fajitas

One of the more stressful aspects about maintaining a food blog is determining whether or not a dish is “blogworthy.” Every time I consider writing about a meal I’ve cooked at home, I ask myself if it’s fascinating enough to blog about or if it’s a dish everyone has seen before. For example, a meal as novel as Goan shrimp curry is absolutely blogworthy and posted about immediately. But weeknight staples like spaghetti with garlic, parmesan, and olive oil, or turkey burgers? They don’t usually make the cut. To be honest, sometimes I experiment with a new recipe just so I have something—anything—to blog about.

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But often the most familiar dish in the world is all I want to cook. And in rare instances, an ordinary, almost banal meal is even worth writing about. That’s how I feel about the skirt steak fajitas I made this week. After a weekend of eating out, I was anxious to cook, and to create something simple and full of flavor. I turned to skirt steak, a tough cut of meat that tenderizes wonderfully when marinated while also taking on the flavors of the marinade’s ingredients. I rely on three staples for my marinade: olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and lime juice. Because I had made this recipe a million times before (ok, maybe 10 times), I knew I could rely on this powerful mix of flavors.

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Let’s get one thing straight here: This is Tex-Mex via my Brooklyn kitchen. As you can tell, my skirt steak fajitas are not exotic or elegant, and I make no claims to fajita authenticity. But wrapped in a soft corn tortilla with fresh guacamole, crisp cilantro, charred onions, and smoky peppers, the lime-infused steak more than satisfied my need for a fresh, simple dinner. For me, that was enough to make my fajitas blogworthy.

Recipe for Christina’s Skirt Steak Fajitas

  • 1 2-lb skirt steak
  • juice squeezed from 1/2 of a lime
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 red pepper, sliced lengthwise
  • 1 yellow pepper, sliced lengthwise
  • 1 onion, sliced lengthwise
  • fresh guacamole
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves
  • 6-8 large corn tortillas

In a shallow baking dish, mix together 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, and the fresh lime juice. Season with salt and pepper. Add skirt steak, turning once to coat. If you need to, you can cut the skirt steak into smaller pieces to make it fit in the baking dish. Marinate for 1 hour in the refrigerator, turning the meat after 30 minutes.

When the meat is almost finished marinating, take it out of the refrigerator. Preheat the broiler. Heat remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until they start to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the peppers. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until onions have caramelized and peppers start to soften, about 10 -15 minutes, stirring once in a while. Set aside when done.

While the peppers and onions are cooking, remove the meat from the marinade and cook it under the broiler. Cook for about 5 minutes per side. (The meat will be about medium to medium-well done at this point. Adjust cooking time to your preference.) Remove from the broiler and let it rest for 5 minutes. Slice the meat into thin strips, at an angle.

Wrap your tortillas in aluminum foil and warm them in the oven for about 10 minutes. Remove and assemble the fajitas to your liking: Place a few spoonfuls of peppers and onions with 3-5 slices of skirt steak in the center of the tortilla. Top with fresh guacamole and chopped cilantro. Wrap. Serves 4. Enjoy!

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A Pause

I apologize for the sudden pause in posting last week. I can’t say much about it except that real life has once again gotten in the way of my food-related thoughts and blogging. This time it crept up on me out of the blue. It could be the weird weather shifts—Will it ever stop raining?—or just a recent turn inward that has kept me from updating Artichoke Heart. Maybe it’s just a two-year itch. I can’t believe it, but mid-March marked the second anniversary of my little blog. Perhaps after two years I don’t have much left to say.

cookbook

In any case I’m hoping to get back in the groove soon. Yesterday I treated myself to David Tanis’s beautiful cookbook, A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes, and I think it will provide me with the inspiration I’ve been lacking. I’ve heard about this book by one of Chez Panisse’s head chefs for the past few months, but a stroll through Williams-Sonoma gave me my first opportunity to thumb through it. Page after page of elegant photographs and seasonal, family-style recipes called to me, and I bought it. Now I just have to decide what to make first: spinach cake with herb salad or lobster risotto? I’ll let you know.

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