Posts tagged pizza

Finally. . .Ramps!

I’m not sure if you remember, but last spring I wrote a rather pathetic post about my futile search for ramps. I had never tasted these coveted spring onions before, and visits to both my neighborhood and Union Square farmers’ markets were busts. Reading other bloggers rave on and on about ramps without knowing what was so special about them spun me into a ramp-related tizzy, and I remained so for the rest of 2009.

Well, I can finally relax. Over the weekend Jim came home with a bag of these slender greens from one of our local fruit and vegetable stands. With the help of this recipe, we took some whole-wheat dough out of the freezer and layered the ramps into a quick pizza bianca. With just olive oil, mozzarella, and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese acting as the base of the pie, Jim and I were able to revel in the pure, onion-like flavors of spring’s first sprouts.

While I’m happy to declare the end of my ramp-infused innocence, I’m not sure I understand the frenzy that begins when ramps hit the farmers’ market every year. Sure, they are only available for a few short weeks in early spring. And I understand that by the time ramps arrive everyone is sick of winter root vegetables and any sign of fresh spring vegetables is a welcome relief. But the fetishization of ramps seems to have reached a fever pitch in the past few years; David Kamp, the author of The United States of Arugula, agrees. He recently declared ramps the new arugula, in the way this formerly little known food product was once over celebrated and scrutinized back in the eighties. Last week Steve Cuozzo of the New York Post went further and said ramps are simply overrated. Of course, these are just a few dissenting voices in a sea of ramp enthusiasts, so I suppose I should keep my griping to a minimum.

What do you think, readers? Do ramps deserve the hype? Am I just a grump? Don’t answer that last question…

Recipe for Pizza with Ramps (adapted from The Kitchen Sink Recipes)

  • 1 ball of your favorite pizza dough, white or whole-wheat
  • salt
  • 1 bunch of ramps, washed, with the bottoms trimmed
  • cornmeal
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 oz. mozzarella cheese, grated
  • a small amount of grated parmesan cheese (less than 1/4 cup)
  • freshly ground black pepper

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. (I use a pizza stone, so I am basing this recipe on this method.) Place your pizza stone in the oven so it can preheat.

While your pizza stone heats, put a medium size pot of salted water on the stove to boil. While you wait for the water to boil, roll out your pizza dough into a circle on a floured surface.

When the water is boiling, add the ramps. Let them boil for a minute or two, then drain and set aside.

Remove your pizza stone from the oven and sprinkle it with cornmeal. Place your circle of dough on a pizza peal. Brush it with olive oil. Sprinkle it with the mozzarella cheese. Place the ramps on top of the cheese so that they radiate out from the center of the pie. Sprinkle the pie with parmesan cheese. Drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil across the top of the pie. Season with black pepper. Carefully transfer the pie to your pizza stone.

Bake the pizza for about 10-15 minutes. Remove it from the oven when ready and top with another tablespoon of olive oil. Let it cool for about 5 minutes before cutting. Serves 3 to 4 people. Enjoy!

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Artisanal Junk Food: Roberta’s and Bark

Last weekend was all about the junk food: pizza and hot dogs, I am sorry to say. Now, before you get all upset about my unhealthy gluttony, can I explain that said junk food was made from primarily local and seasonal ingredients? That the purveyors were true artisans who cared deeply about their high-quality hot dogs and pizza? After all, transforming once lowbrow food items into more gourmet fare—such as the fried chicken craze currently storming the city—is certainly the trend right now. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at what we sampled last weekend:

robertas

Roberta’s
Jim and I began our weekend on Friday night at Roberta’s in still-gentrifying (yet very hip) Bushwick, Brooklyn. Open only since January 2008, Roberta’s immediately garnered attention for its pizza topped with high-quality, seasonal ingredients in unique flavor combinations. Its young owners Carlo Mirarchi, Chris Parachini, and Brandon Hoy even shipped a wood-burning oven back from Italy in their quest to make a great pie; it occupies the front of the long, warehouse-like space. Although the menu has gradually expanded to offer more refined items such as hen of the woods mushrooms and orecchiette with duck ragu (Roberta’s now offers a fried chicken platter as well), Jim and I were there for the pizza. But in a concession to slightly healthier eating, we started with the kale salad. The deep-green, curly leaves were adorned with thick chunks of guanciale, sweet pickled onions, and pecorino cheese that packed a flavorful punch with each bite ($9). For our pies we decided to stick with the house-suggested flavors instead of creating our own combination of toppings. I selected the RPS, which came with creamy mozzarella, tomato, roasted red peppers, and soppressata, while Jim ordered the Crispy Glover, a pie covered with tomato, taleggio cheese, guanciale, onion, breadcrumbs, and pepperoncini oil (both $14). We both found the flavor combinations a little too strong overall—in particular, the red peppers on my pie overwhelmed all other flavors, and Jim’s guanciale was burned—but we agreed that the crust was practically perfect. Light and crispy, with just the right amount of char at the edges, it was the best part of our pies (gourmet toppings included). 261 Moore Street at Bogart Street in Bushwick, Brooklyn. T: 718-417-1118

bark

Bark Hot Dogs
The next day we finally tried the artisanal hot dogs at Bark Hot Dogs in Park Slope. Made from a combination of pork and beef by Hartmann’s Old World Sausages in the Finger Lakes, and basted with smoked lard and butter, these were some serious wieners. Owners Jeff Sharkey (formerly of Cafe Grey) and Brandon Gillis (formerly of Franny’s) have put their personal touch on every aspect of the place, from the house-made toppings to the recycled wood tables. As at Roberta’s, instead of choosing my own toppings I let Bark guide me: I started my lunch with the Pickle Dog, which was covered with house pickles, mustard, and mayonnaise ($5.50). The tart toppings didn’t obscure the light, almost sweet flavors inside these snappily cased sausages. Jim and I also split the NYC Classic Dog with mustard and sweet and sour onions, while Jim’s Bark Dog came with sweet pepper relish, mustard, and onion (both $4.75). Each delicately flavored hot dog paired wonderfully with the Bark-suggested toppings, and I was grateful that I didn’t strike out on my own. The onion rings, on the other hand, were a bit of a disappointment. Coated with too much batter, I was left searching for the onions within ($3 for a small order). As a quick side note, I did find the list of food and beverage sources on each table a bit precious. I am all for organic, locally farmed produce and free-range meat, but putting this extensive list on repeated display seemed like overkill to me. But damn, those dogs were good. 474 Bergen Street at Flatbush Avenue, in Park Slope, Brooklyn. T: 718-789-1939

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Farmers’ Market Find: Mushrooms from Madura Farms

A few weeks ago I sent Jim to the Carroll Gardens farmers’ market by himself. I don’t remember why I didn’t go with him; I was probably busy cleaning the apartment or getting ready to run somewhere else that Sunday morning. In any case, when Jim returned to the apartment, laden down with various bags and packages, he had quite a surprise for me. Take a look:

mushrooms

He had picked up two gorgeous and ruffled mushroom pom-poms—oyster at the left side of the photo and maitake at the right, to be exact—from the new Madura Farms mushroom stand at the market. Together they cost about $13. I had wanted to write about them earlier this month, but it took me until this past weekend to stroll by the market and chat with the vendors myself. Within a few minutes, I learned that Madura Farms cultivates these mushrooms on their farm in Goshen, New York, and sells many other varieties such as button, shiitake, and portobello. Afterwards I wanted to kick myself for not specifically asking how Madura’s mushrooms are grown, but Under the BQE describes how the farm raises its various fungi in mushroom “houses,” and that they are farmed in tune with organic practices. At least someone around here is doing their research!

I found these mushrooms almost too beautiful to cook; I wanted to admire them for every angle, indefinitely. But we finally decided to break them apart, piece by piece. We sautéed them in olive oil with just a bit of salt and pepper, and added them to one of our famous homemade pizzas with some spicy sausage from Esposito’s. As predicted by the folks at the Madura farm stand, these massive mushrooms cooked down significantly, and we were left with just the right amount for our pie. 

pizza

The meaty texture and smoky flavors of the two mammoth shrooms paired well with the pie’s fiery sausage, creamy mozzarella, and slightly sweet, whole-wheat crust. With every bite, Jim and I tried to ferret out the mushrooms from the meat, enjoying each element on its own and then together. Jim determined that the maitake was his favorite of the two, as he enjoyed its nutty, full flavors more than the milder oyster mushroom.

In retrospect, I doubt I would have picked up those imposing mushrooms if I went to the market on my own; in many ways I am not as adventurous as my husband. Perhaps I should send him to the market alone more often. Who knows what he will bring home next?

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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.

anselmos1

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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Dinner at Tarry Lodge

On Saturday night Jim and I hopped in the car and headed out to Port Chester for dinner. What made us break our usual weekend pattern and leave Brooklyn for Port Chester? Well, a few months ago Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich—of Babbo, Esca, and Del Posto fame, to name a few of their many restaurants—brought their formidable talents to the suburbs and opened a casual Italian eatery called Tarry Lodge. We were celebrating my birthday, and knowing what a fan I am of Mario Batali’s cuisine, Jim had surprised me with the reservation.

We arrived at 6 pm for our 6:30 reservation. Tarry Lodge has been around for over 100 years in various incarnations, at one point even operating as a speakeasy. Each room of the massive, sub-divided space was already packed from wall to wall and from one end of the beautifully restored bar to the other. Although we were early, we were quickly seated in a warmly decorated room near the kitchen on the second floor.

appetizers

We made our selections from the traditional offerings of antipasti, pizza, pasta, and secondi, and noted signature Batali ingredients such as fennel pollen, chiles, and guanciale on the menu. To our disconcerted surprise, the appetizers arrived about three minutes after we placed our order. I turned first towards the marinated calamari, always one of my favorite dishes ($8). Mixed with small, pearl-shaped pasta, capers, tomatoes, and garlic, the squid exuded a refreshing lightness of flavor and texture. Soft chunks of fennel soaked in blood oranges were accompanied by briny olives and pomegranate seeds that popped with each bite ($5). Although obviously pre-made, both of these Mediterranean-infused dishes had me reaching for more. I looked for our waitress, as I wanted to ask her about the pasta used in the calamari salad. “Excuse me…” I began, as she rushed passed the table. A few minutes later she walked by again. “Excuse me…”

linguine

Jim and I both decided to go with pasta for our main course. I settled on the linguine with clams, chiles, and pancetta ($17). To be fair, our waitress had warned me that the dish would be salty, but I was overwhelmed with its saltiness from the first bite. A brown broth mixed with the pasta was obviously contributing to the effect. As my waitress drew near, I loudly said, “Excuse me, I was wondering about this broth…” I almost felt the wind on my face as she breezed by without a second look.

Jim enjoyed his black fettuccine with lobster and chiles ($24), and a quick taste confirmed that it was a more gentle and luxurious pasta than mine. As I neared the end of my bowl, I suddenly realized that our artichokes with mint had never made it to the table ($7). Somehow we got our waitress’s attention and the artichokes arrived a few minutes later. From the first choke we could tell that they had been hurriedly thrown on the stove and then onto our table; they had absolutely no flavor whatsoever.

artichokes1

By the time we ordered dessert—a decent if unremarkable chocolate cake with pistachio ice cream ($8)—it was obvious to both Jim and me that we were being rushed out of the restaurant. This was more than confirmed when our waitress took our check and ran to process it, not noticing that she had flung our credit card across the room in her haste. I scrambled after it and asked someone else to return it to our waitress. As expected, she was long gone.

I’m sure you can tell that at Tarry Lodge I was let down by both my meal and the service. I felt that the food was prepared in the simplest manner possible for maximum efficiency. Every effort seemed directed towards getting me out the door quickly so that the tables could turn over. Perhaps my expectations were too high: In this interview Joseph Bastianich states that Tarry Lodge is meant to be a spot for casual, trattoria-style dining in Westchester. If that’s indeed the goal, then the restaurant is fine and solid. But there are plenty of other Italian restaurants in Westchester filling a similar purpose. To me it seems like a lost opportunity that could have brought a special destination Italian restaurant—perhaps on the level of Blue Hill at Stone Barns—to the area. In any case, I expected more from one of my favorite chefs. I’ve never written a negative restaurant review on this blog before, and I’m sorry to do so now. I didn’t come close to sampling half the dishes on the menu, and I don’t think I ever will. I’ll return to Babbo one day, but for now, Tarry Lodge is off my list.

Tarry Lodge, 18 Mill Street, Port Chester, New York. T: 914-939-3111. Reservations are recommended but not required. 

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Neighborhood Newcomers: South Brooklyn Pizza and Annabelle’s

After a quiet winter of culinary openings, spring has sprung several restaurants here in Brooklyn. So before Jim and I received our first CSA shipment on Saturday and became inundated with fresh vegetables, we ventured out into our neighborhood last week to see how these upstarts measured up.

South Brooklyn Pizza

South Brooklyn Pizza: Located in the space adjacent to popular neighborhood pub P.J. Hanley’s, Carroll Gardens’ newest coal oven pizza joint opened about a month ago. Both locales are owned by real estate developer Jim McGown, who is also South Brooklyn’s pizza maker. Ten minutes after Jim and I sat down at our table, our oblong, thin crust pies arrived on individual wood planks ($12). In addition to a sauce of San Marzano tomatoes, a sprinkling of fresh basil, and an ample amount of olive oil, South Brooklyn’s pies are topped with a mix of mozzarella, fontina, parmesan, and asiago cheeses. The four cheese combination creates an almost salty mix of flavors nicely tempered by the less assertive tomatoes and olive oil. Toppings are not offered, although they are supposedly in development. The crust on our pies was thin, light, and crispy, with little char to be found. Despite the lack of ambiance in its dimly lit dining room, South Brooklyn has some fine pizza to offer, and I’m certain I’ll be back when I’m in need of a quality pizza fix and don’t feel like waiting on line at Lucali’s. Thank goodness it’s right around the corner from my apartment. 451 Court Street between 4th Place and Luquer Street in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn  T: 718-852-6018

Lobster Roll at Annabelle\'s

Annabelle’s: The Red Hook IKEA opens on Wednesday, surely bringing more foot and car traffic to Red Hook’s often desolate streets. Perhaps banking on this influx of shoppers, chef Neil Ganic has opened Annabelle’s, a new restaurant/bar in the old Lillie’s space (which happens to be right across the street from the blue and yellow behemoth). Befitting a chef known for the seafood spots La Bouillabaisse and Petite Crevette, Annabelle’s casual menu of soups, salads, sandwiches, and entrees leans heavily towards offerings from the sea. Jim bypassed the fish this time around and went with a pulled pork po’ boy ($13), while I couldn’t resist the lobster roll ($22). Ganic’s version employs luscious chunks of lobster meat coated with a creamy, tangy dressing served on a crispy baguette with salty fries and a side salad. I’ve heard rumors of an upcoming iteration of La Bouillabaisse next door to Annabelle’s, but I saw no sign of it. In any case, the scene in the backyard garden was pretty quiet for a Friday night at 9 pm, but I’m guessing the tranquility won’t last long. Who needs IKEA’s Swedish meatballs when you have lobster rolls across the street? 44 Beard Street at Dwight Street, in Red Hook, Brooklyn  T:718-643-1500

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Pizza and Freedom, via Di Fara’s

Although Jim and I love strolling around Brooklyn, we recently took another step forward on the path to adulthood and bought a car. I already have several excursions to new restaurants and neighborhoods in mind. In fact, Jim and I didn’t wait long before we made our first one. As soon as we signed the bill of sale on Friday, we fastened our seatbelts, turned the key in the ignition, and drove straight from the car dealership to nearby Di Fara’s in Midwood, Brooklyn.

Di Fara\'s Pizza

Like many New Yorkers, I had read that Di Fara’s serves the best pizza in the city. Its fans are pretty convincing, directing their enthusiastic praise towards the seventyish-year-old Domenico De Marco, who has been making his thin-crust, Neapolitan-style pies in this gritty corner shop for over 40 years. He personally rolls out the dough and assembles the ingredients for each pizza in front of the eternal hungry masses waiting at his counter. 

When Jim and I walked up to the shop on Friday night around 7 pm, I was expecting a line out the door. But the scene was eerily quiet, with only a faithful few stalking the counter while De Marco worked his magic in a white apron and newsboy cap. He started by slowly and deliberately pushing dough for a new pie into a circle. Next he carefully spooned San Marzano tomatoes, three types of grated mozzarella cheese, and parmigiano reggiano onto its surface before drizzling olive oil from a copper kettle on top. When the cooked pie emerged from the massive steel oven, De Marco reached for a plastic container of fresh basil, snipped some fresh leaves with a pair of scissors, and sprinkled them across the pizza’s surface. He also applied a second dose of olive oil across the pie. Once it was boxed up, the cycle began again with a new batch of dough.

Instead of ordering a pie, Jim and I decided to order our own slices with different toppings. We sat in the green-hued, rather grungy room and silently sipped our Cokes with the rest of the eager patrons. My first slice of plain arrived in a few minutes. As soon as I bit into it, I noticed the sharpness of the parmigiano cheese ($4). The crust was thin and light, the sauce sweet and fresh. But if I have to be honest, I enjoyed my slice with artichoke hearts more than the plain, and not just because I love artichokes ($6). It came to me piping hot, with the hearts tender, fresh, and silky.

Artichoke Heart Pizza at Di Fara\'s

I’m already planning my next visit, when I will order a full pie. I’m trying to figure out whether to go with the classic round or the Sicilian-style square. If being an adult with a car means I can get to Di Fara’s anytime I want, then I’ll happily accept it.

Di Fara Pizza, 1424 Avenue J between 14th and 15th Streets, in Midwood, Brooklyn. T: 718-258-1367. You don’t need a car to get there; take the Q train to the Avenue J stop, and the shop is about a block away.

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