Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Spanish Tortilla as Autumn Comes to Restoration Farm

You can feel it deep in your soul, even if the weather isn’t quite cooperating. Aromas seem more intense, the harvest moon and stars seem infinitely brighter and every breath you take fills you with anticipation. Autumn has arrived. And, although the thermometer is still flirting with 80 degrees, the vegetables at Restoration Farm have changed – darker flesh, thicker skin and deeper, earthier flavors.

Countless pounds of potatoes have been plucked from the soil, some rose pink and others burnished gold.  How do you describe the taste of a freshly harvested potato?  Words seem inadequate, but you know that all previous potatoes were pale imitations of this rich, creamy flesh and nutty aroma.

These potatoes require a recipe that offers simplicity and a showcase. I chose a traditional Spanish Tortilla – a potato omelet – comprised only of potatoes, eggs, olive oil and salt. Using a 10-inch non-stick skillet, two-and-a-quarter pounds of red and gold potatoes are sliced thin and sautéed in two cups of olive oil until tender. The finished potatoes are seasoned with salt and white pepper and drained. They are then combined with a mixture of 8 eggs beaten vigorously with a pinch of salt. Add two tablespoons of olive oil back into the pan, heat over medium heat and then pour in the egg and potato mixture. Press down the potatoes, and shake the pan periodically as the eggs set, so that the omelet doesn’t stick to the pan. After about 10 minutes, invert the tortilla onto the lid of the skillet, and then slide it back into the skillet with the cooked side up. Continue to heat until the bottom is set and golden. Transfer to a serving plate and serve at room temperature.

It seems fitting to eat the tortilla where the potatoes were grown, and I bring the dish to the Pot Luck Dinner celebrating the autumnal equinox at Restoration Farm.   The heat – and the flies – makes it feel a bit like early August, but the conversation is lively and there is music and an endless array of good food to share.   I think I experience real happiness from the gatherings at this historic farm, where the past, the soil, people and fresh food unite in one community. 

It is quieter as you walk in the field after the meal.  There are still some plum tomatoes on the vines, but the fields seem sparser and the sunflowers have closed and bowed their heads.  

The late afternoon sun hangs lower in the sky.   Is it really possible that the end of the growing season is just beyond the horizon? 

©2010 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved  

Sunday, September 19, 2010

You Say Tomato, I Say Yes!

We're feeling kind of tomato-wealthy here on Long Island. Last year - nothing. Bupkis. This year, we are reveling in a bevy of heirloom beauties from Restoration Farm. Our head growers, Dan and Caroline are certainly smiling.

These varieties have wonderful, evocative names, but I don't even know what they are. I'm just eating and enjoying. Does that make me cheap or sleazy? I don't think so.

How do I love thee, tomatoes from the vine? Let me count the ways. I sure am spending a lot of time cooking with tomatoes - crostini, slices, salads and tarts (for the fabulous tomato goat cheese tart recipe pictured here check out the September issue of Everyday Food).

In keeping with the mania, I even painted my new dining room "tomato red."

But, who said tomatoes had to be just one conformist shade of red?

Color my tomato world zebra green, with just a sprinkling of Kosher salt!

©2010 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Curbside Pizza – The Eddie’s Pizza Truck

A couple of weeks ago, Zany comes into my office with a colleague. They’ve just returned from a lengthy restaurant lunch. She is agitated.

“There’s a new food truck downstairs,” she says. “They serve pizza. I think I could go for a snack around three o’clock.”

“Znap out of it!” I tell her. “You just had a full, sit-down lunch. I think you need a time-out.” Reluctantly, Zany consents to a cooling off period and we make a date to check out this new entry into the food truck fleet at a time when we’re both actually hungry.

Now, the agreed-upon day has arrived and we are standing curbside in front of The Eddie’s Pizza Truck -- an eye-catching, fire engine red vehicle staffed by a team of attractive counter people in snappy baseball caps. Note the emphasis on The in the title, suggesting that one should accept no imitations.

We are joined by our pal Marie Antoinette, who is auditioning to replace the dearly-departed Mad Me-Shell. Marie Antoinette’s favorite food quote is “Let them eat cupcakes,” and she’s not too happy about having to audition. Still, she’s gamely approaching the challenge. She’s dressed in a smart summer ensemble and she’s ready for her close-up. There is a group of well-groomed, professional types clustered around the truck, waiting for their orders. It’s like pizza in reverse. Instead of dialing for a delivery, you pick it up at the curb. How old school. We approach the menu board. Zany’s been craving the Fried Zucchini Sticks we spotted on the online menu.
“What about the combo meal?” asks Marie Antoinette. “Pizza, a side and a salad?”
Zany gives her a look of utter contempt. “We’re not here to eat salad,” she says in a menacing tone.
I don’t get it. There isn’t a mean bone in Zany’s body. What’s going on?
A word about The truck. It’s the automotive offspring of Eddie’s Pizza, a restaurant in New Hyde Park, Long Island. After many request to open a restaurant in Manhattan, Eddie’s decided the easiest way was to take the menu mobile and the customized truck hit the streets of the Big Apple earlier this year. The vehicle is equipped with four Cecilware ovens used to make the signature dish, “The Bar Pie.” For those of you watching your weight, a Regular Bar Pie – a 10 inch cheese pizza – is only 270 calories.

We decide to go for a selection and order the Bar Pie with Whole Wheat crust and one topped with Sausage, Meatballs, and Pepperoni. Zany is peeved to learn that the Zucchini Sticks are no longer offered, but she perks up when one of the staff offers us a free sample of their Sweet Potato Gnocchi.
“They get extra points for freebies,” she notes, and orders a serving for our dessert. While we wait for our order, Marie Antoinette leaves us to go to the ATM machine. She is gone for some time.
“Where is she?” wonders Zany. “She’s missing the opportunity to drink in all this ambiance. It’s the best part. I don’t think she’s doing very well.” I decide to reserve judgment until the food is ready.
Marie Antoinette returns and with our order in hand, we sit down a few feet away and inspect the “meat lovers” delight. The Bar Pie features a crisp, paper-thin crust with a molten coating of savory cheese and a respectable layer of sausage, meatballs and pepperoni.

The Whole Wheat Bar Pie is, well, healthier, but with a nice, nutty flavor. Marie Antoinette asked if they have knives and folks. Zany just snorts.
We pass around the slices.
“Do you fold your slices?” asks Marie Antoinette.
"Folding is lame,” pronounces Zany.
I feel like I’m having lunch with Oscar and Felix.
Then, the unspeakable occurs. Marie Antoinette takes a napkin and blots the top of the pizza. Zany makes no attempt to mask her look of horror. I’m thinking we should have given Marie Antoinette a briefing on street food etiquette, as in no manners required.
“Mad Me-Shell would never have done that,” declares Zany. Now, I think I get it. Zany’s hazing her. It’s all part of the initiation. Marie Antoinette mutters something under her breath about being "sick of these damn comparisions," but takes the cue, and does not blot her second slice of pizza.
We’re impressed with the food. The Bar Pie intoxicates with a crisp-tender crust, and big aroma and flavor. Most important, it delivers that authentic pizza buzz. We like them both, but decide that the Sausage, Meatballs and Pepperoni is particularly crave-worthy. Marie Antoinette notes that she is an avowed carnivore and the combination works for her. A carnivore, eh? Maybe she’s got potential here.
We decide to give her one more test. We challenge her to approach the blonde woman in pigtails staffing the counter, and ask her if she is Eddie. Resolute, Marie Antoinette heads on over, and returns momentarily with the answer.
“She said she gets that question a lot,” we’re told. “Eddie started the restaurant about 75 years ago, but he’s no longer with us.”
We give Marie Antoinette extra points for her gumption, and ability to ferret out interesting food history anecdotes. That puts her over the top. She’s in, and we are a trio again. Zany and I have to decide who’s going to tell Tyler Florence he didn’t make the cut.
By the way, if you ever find yourself in front of The Eddie’s Pizza Truck, don’t even think of passing up the Sweet Potato Gnocchi. They remind us of fried delicacies like funnel cake, and Zany is correct that they make the perfect dessert. Hot, chewy, nuggets with a hint of cinnamon, you can’t eat just one. We certainly don’t.

©2010 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fade to Black …

There was a time when – for me - the new school term marked the change in seasons. New pencils, loose leaf binders, and perhaps a shiny lunch box, all signaled the fact that summer was over. Fortunately, I’m well beyond having to endure the mental anguish of a new school semester. Now, the transition from summer to autumn is more likely to be marked by a change in seasonal produce, which generates a whole different range of emotions.
At Restoration Farm, the blackberries have bid us farewell for another season, although during a recent visit, an unknown picker had managed to collect the last of the choice berries (pictured above). His – or her – harvest seemed a fitting image to remind us of what was, indeed, a splendid berry season.
As the blackberries fade to black, I manage to pick enough to bake into this tart and buttery Apple-Blackberry Cake.

To pair apples with blackberries is the perfect transition of seasons. The blackberries glisten atop the cake like rare, dark jewels, which now they are. Yet, there are just enough still tucked away in the freezer – to be baked into a crisp in the dead of winter – promising a precious reminder of the sweet rewards of Saturday morning berry picking at Restoration Farm.

©2010 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Seaside Wedding Cake

A few weeks back, my cousin Wendy married John on a cliff overlooking Long Island Sound. It was one of those brilliant and blissful summer days. Family was present in abundance and the afternoon sun cast a warm, golden glow over the bride and groom, the celebration and the beach below.

Wendy and John’s talented friend Joey Italiano created this whimsical wedding cake that tied the celebration to the exquisite location. A four-tier extravaganza in turquoise blue, the cake was studded with alabaster scallop shells and assorted jewels of the sea. How delicious to celebrate their sweet union with a confection that so perfectly captured the magnificence of the surroundings!

©2010 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Harold McGee and the Keys to Good Cooking

Frankly, science always confounded me. It just didn’t connect, until I made a critical link. Cooking is science. Switch light bulb on.

Now, granted cooking is a lot of things beyond just science. In the introduction to his new book, Keys to Good Cooking, food scientist Harold McGee writes “Cooking can be one of the most satisfying things we do in life. It’s a chance to make things with our own hands, nourish and give pleasure to people we care about, and choose exactly what we eat and make a part of ourselves.” But underlying it all, McGee has shown time and again that an understanding of kitchen science can make you a better cook.

In Keys to Good Cooking, McGee has taken years of kitchen research and observations and compiled a substantial manual on the basic facts of food preparation, covering pantry ingredients, tools, heat and basic cooking methods and kitchen safety tips. Consider these tips on vegetables which intrigued me:
  • Fresh vegetables and herbs are alive and breathing and should look like it. The best-quality fresh vegetables are the most recently harvested and most carefully handled.
  • At farmers’ markets, avoid vegetables and herbs that have been sitting in full sun and are hot to the touch.
  • Choose packages of frozen vegetables from the coldest corners of the market freezer and just before you check out.
  • Avoid potatoes with any green color. Green surfaces and sprouts contain bitter and toxic alkaloids.
Keys to Good Cooking will be published on October 28, 2010 and TLC Book Tours is providing a copy of the book for me to review. I’ll post the review on Culinary Types on Sunday, October 24.

©2010 T.W. Barritt all Rights Reserved