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Today’s Slice: The Broccoli Rabe

10 May

 

 

 

 

In the previous  installment of “Today’s Slice,” here on Fried Neck Bones…and Some Home Fries, I visited Full Moon Pizza on Arthur Avenue for the Spinach and Artichoke Slice ( see Artichoke and Spinach Pizza). In that post I mentioned Cafe al Mercato and the mini pies and square slices they sell from their booth  inside the Arthur Avenue retail market.

Cafe al Mercato

The preferred slice at Cafe al Mercato is, undoubtedly, the broccoli rabe slice. And I’m not alone. When I last visited, the broccoli rabe was piled high on top of the booth counter in anticipation of being applied to many thin, square slices.

mercato

What makes Cafe al Mercato’s broccoli rabe slice so good starts with the broccoli rabe, cooked tender, but not overdone, topped with slivers of fresh mozzarella. All of this is applied to a thin, yet durable, crunchy crust cooked in a traditional “slice” pizza oven as opposed to a fancy, imported wood Neapolitan stove.

Cafe al Mercato

If you have an aversion to broccoli rabe or anything green, the simple, “regular” slice with tomato sauce and mozzarella will bring back memories of “homemade” pizza. And when I say homemade, I mean what my grandmother used to make in an old cookie pan, rolling out the dough, topping with her sauce and adding a few slices of  Polly O Mozzarella. All of it cooked in her basement oven. It wasn’t pizza as we were used to from the pizzeria, but we never complained.

The Cafe al Mercato unbeatable combination.

The unbeatable combination at Cafe al Mercato.

Cafe al Mercato
2344 Arthur Avenue
Bronx

 

 

Today’s Slice: Artichoke (and Spinach) Pizza

12 Apr

artichoke slice

 

The array of pizza slices available at so many pizzerias here in New York is staggering. I usually just glance at them and wonder at the sometimes bizarre combinations. I judge a good slice on the basics; crust, sauce, and cheese. My pizza education was very specific. I was weaned on either “regular” or “Sicilian”  slices.

Sicilian slices

Sicilian slices

Despite my pizza purist upbringing, I’ve now learned to not totally disqualify a slice that is excessively decorated. I am a big fan of the “salad” pizza if done right. Louie & Ernie’s “white” slice is a Hall of Famer, as is the broccoli rabe pizza from Fratelli’s on Hunt’s Point (see A Slice of Ernie Ottuso Square and Bronx Broccoli Rabe From a Brother From Corona respectively).

I strayed again recently and again in the Bronx, this time when admiring the pies inside the Full Moon Pizza on Arthur Avenue.

I first experienced Full Moon Pizza probably the first time I experienced Arthur Avenue. But recently I’ve stayed away;  not because there was anything wrong with Full Moon Pizza, but preferring instead the mini-pies at Cafe al Mercato inside the Arthur Avenue Retail Market. The last time I was on Arthur Avenue, Cafe al Mercato was closed so I returned to the Full Moon. When I did, I noticed the artichoke and spinach pie under glass.

I wasn’t sure how long the pie had been sitting under the glass, but the slice did have to be reheated, something I am very wary of.  In this case, however, reheating did not diminish the taste. The spinach was tender, the cheese fresh, the crust baked perfectly, and the artichokes also tender and briny. But there was something else I tasted I could not identify. Something creamy, almost like another soft melted cheese addition to the mozzarella. I wanted to know what it was.

The artichoke and spinach pie minus one slice: mine.

The artichoke and spinach pie minus one slice: mine.

Behind the counter there was a man in chef whites. I can’t recall ever seeing a pizza chef wearing whites…not even the legend, Dominic DeMarco from Di Fara wears them while preparing his pies.

To the man in chef whites, who said his name was Sal (of course it had to be, see The Many Pizzas of Sal’s), I asked what went into the artichoke and spinach pie.

“We use spinach, fresh mozzarella, imported artichokes, roasted garlic, and an artichoke spread,” he told me.

So that what I was tasting that melded with the cheese: artichoke spread.

Despite my traditional pizza sensibilities, I am against any rules on what can or cannot be put on a pizza.  Some of those rigid Neapolitan pizza societies with the strict regulations on how big to make a pie; what type of sauce and cheese to use and how hot it should be cooked take it much too seriously. Not that I ever complain about the results. The addition of the artichoke spread was a welcome innovation. And I credit Chef Sal, if he was the innovator, with another revelation in my slowly expanding pizza slice world.

Full Moon Pizza

Full Moon Pizza
600 E 187th St
Bronx

 

 

 

 

 

Your Gravy is My Sauce: A Concession to the Dark Side

2 Apr

Sauce

Sauce

In the latter quarter of the previous century when I was in college, my dorm buddies and I had many bong and beer fueled discussions.  Subjects ranged from who was the better detective, Kojak or Baretta, what was the best bathroom reading—and why, Penthouse or Hustler, or which album, Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” Steely Dan’s “Aja,” or Earth Wind and Fire’s “That’s the Way of the World,” would make it into the top five of best albums of all time list (see the photo below for my pick).

Most of the time, the discussions remained semi-civil. When the subject was the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry, it could get very heated. In the hot category, though not as hot as the Yankees-Red Sox discussions, was the debate over sauce or gravy. For some reason, for the Italian-Americans I roomed with, myself included, calling tomato sauce gravy, or vice versa ignited personal passions that boarded on the irrational.

My grandmother immigrated to the States when she was 22 and settled in New Jersey. The sauce she made each Sunday with braciole, meatballs, sausage or any other meats that were around was called sauce or, as she would say, “sugo rosso.” So  I am clearly in the tomato sauce corner and, really, until I got to college, never could have imagined that what my grandmother made each Sunday could be called anything but sauce, much less something so…um…earthy…as “gravy.”

When you call it gravy, it makes me wanna holla.

When you call it gravy, it makes me wanna holla, throw up both my hands…

In the gravy corner were my friends from Massachusetts and New Jersey. The sauce contingent seemed to be from Connecticut and New York, where I was from.  How, I asked when I heard it for the first time, can you put gravy on pasta? Gravy, I always knew as something brownish in color and layered on turkey, roast beef, or meat loaf. This was an affront to my Italian-American sensibilities. The corruption of a basic known culinary term. A gross misuse of nomenclature.

“If you’re really Italian, you call it gravy,” was the insult that was thrown back at me when I confessed my disgust at the vulgarity.

“All I know is that my Italian grandmother calls it sauce…” I insisted.

“You sure she’s Italian,” someone cracked.

At that, a bong might be tipped over. And beer was definitely spilled.

“Come to Worcester and my Nonna will make you a nice gravy,” someone from Mass joked.

“Should I bring the mashed potatoes?” I would shoot back.

Gravy

Gravy

The arguments were endless and had no resolution.

“Oh, and one more thing,” a bleary voice from the sauce crowd would chime in. “The Red Sox most definitely suck.”

And just like that, we were onto another of our favorite topics.

Since those days, I’ve still maintained my allegiance to calling sauce what it is…sauce.  But over the years I’ve mellowed. I am no longer appalled when I hear someone mistakenly label what my grandmother referred to as sauce as gravy. I get it. It’s what the ill bred were taught. It wasn’t their fault. They were just poorly misinformed about worldly culinary matters.

A gravy/sauce altercation.

A gravy/sauce altercation.

As I said earlier, my Grandmother made Sunday sauce with an assortment of meats; pork, beef, sausage, etc. But on a very rare Sunday when none of the above were on hand, she would make the sauce with chicken. Chicken in a Sunday sauce might seem like an anathema, but if you’ve never tried it don’t knock it. The flavor from the chicken, different from the usual meats, gives the sauce heartiness equal to what you might get from red meats but with a slightly smoother taste. It works and not only as an enhancement to the sauce, but also as a way to enjoy the chicken which, after slowly cooked, remains amazingly moist, the sauce practically absorbed into the meat itself.

As part of my willingness to be more accepting to those not as cultured as I, I’ve decided to make a concession by naming what most definitely is a sauce, as gravy. I hereby extend my magnanimity to those I spent countless wasted hours trading insults with and present here, as I sit on my hands so I don’t hold my nose, my recipe for—Pasta with Chicken Gravy.

Ingredients:

3 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes

4 chicken parts (I used two chicken thighs, and two drumsticks, skin on and bone-in)

6 cloves of garlic, chopped

Two tablespoons of olive oil

Quarter cup of red wine

1lb of dried pasta (rigatoni, penne, ziti, preferable)

Salt and pepper to taste

You can make this sauce on the stove top, in fact, it’s probably the best way. If you don’t have the time to stick around the kitchen for hours, a slow cooker works and that’s how I made mine for this recipe. The result, I learned, was equal to what you would accomplish on top of the stove.

In a large frying pan, heat one tablespoon of the olive oil.

Season the chicken parts with salt and pepper. Drop into the hot pan and brown on each side. About two minutes per side. Once the chicken is browned, put it to the side.

Browning the chicken.

Browning the chicken.

Pour the crushed tomatoes into the slow cooker

Throw the garlic into the same frying pan you used for the chicken and cook on medium heat until just lightly brown; two to three minutes. If the pan is dry, add the other tablespoon of oil.

Scrape the oil and garlic into the tomatoes in the slow cooker. Return the frying pan to the stove, turn on to medium-high heat, add about a quarter cup of red wine to deglaze the pan.  Cook for about five minutes tops or until the wine cooks down.

Pour whatever liquid and bits from the chicken and garlic remain into the tomatoes in the slow cooker.

Add the browned chicken to the slow cooker.

The "gravy" is now ready to be cooked very slow.

The “gravy” is now ready to be cooked very slow.

Turn on high for one hour and then set to low for about six hours.

After six hours, if the sauce is too thin for your taste, remove the top, turn to high and cook for another hour or so with the top off until the sauce forms your preferred consistency.

Remove the chicken pieces to a separate platter.

Chicken Gravy (3)

Serve the sauce…I mean gravy…over your favorite pasta.

Top with grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano.

Enjoy, take a look at what’s in the bowl and keep repeating to yourself: “I am eating gravy. I am eating gravy. I am eating gravy.” Say it enough and you might even believe it.

Pasta with chicken gravy

Pasta with chicken gravy

 

The Fusion Files: French Pizza in Harlem by way of Africa.

1 Mar

French Pizza

I’ve noticed a few pizzerias in Harlem that have a French accent.

oui (7)At first glance, crepes and pizza might seem like a natural mix.

oui (5)And at Oui Oui there was a French/English menu where one of the crepes  was named for the largest city in Mali. Was I on to something here?

oui (6)Why order a pedestrian “Italiano” pizza when a merguez was available?

oui (9)And so I did. Not expecting much, I was pleasantly surprised that the piquant sausage made of lamb and beef gave the pizza a very welcome kick to it and was, in my estimation, a worthy substitute to traditional Italian sweet sausage.

crepeThe “Harlem” crepe, however, was another story and one not worth dwelling on.

oui (3)Still, everything was made in Harlem. And what could be better than that?

 

The Astoria Ash Wednesday Fishing Expedition

20 Feb

Astoria Seafood

We got the email from Zio several days before we were to meet. That we were notified of his choice for our food group so far in advance was unusual for Zio. His normal procedure was to glean help from anyone he can and then, just a day or so before the assigned date, come up with a destination. So confident was he of his choice of Astoria Seafood that in his email to us he even did the research about the liquor status of the place.

“They don’t serve alcohol, but you can bring your own beer,” he wrote as if beer or something stronger was one of the criteria for our group. It wasn’t, but it was nice of him to think of what was truly important to us.

Eugene’s concern was more spiritual.  Eating meat, he explained, also by way of email, would be in conflict with his Ash Wednesday obligations. It was too late to reschedule to Fat Tuesday, and the next day was Valentine’s Day, so we stuck with the original Ash Wednesday date and assured Eugene that since we were eating at a place called Astoria Seafood, there should be no conflict.

To further assure Eugene, Zio dryly added:  “Wednesdays they serve tilapia from the Gowanus Canal.”

“Yeah, and don’t worry Eugene, it’s BYOA. Bring Your Own Ash,” Gerry quipped.

And so Eugene did—the ash in the middle of his forehead—its mark adding to his already shadowy complexion.

When I arrived, Zio was in the process of securing our table in the combination seafood market and restaurant. The place was bustling; maybe others were observing Ash Wednesday by confining their diet that evening to fish. I could hear Spanish, Greek, and Arabic spoken from the customers (mostly men) at the restaurant’s tables as Zio and I surveyed the offerings on ice.

Seafood restaurant/fish market

Seafood restaurant/fish market

A young man wearing a Yankees’ baseball cap came over.

“Hey, how are you? “ Zio said to him.

The man smiled and stared somewhat dumbfounded.

“You remember me?  From the last time I was here?” Zio asked hopefully.

“Oh yeah, sure I do,” the man, who said his name was Matt replied as if he actually meant it.

From then on, Matt served as our guide and host in the somewhat complicated maze that was Astoria Seafood.

Our fishing expedition guide.

The guide of our fishing expedition.

“You pick out what you want,” Zio tried to explain to me. “They weigh it and then you tell them how you want it cooked.”

It wasn’t as easy as it sounded mainly because it was almost impossible what fish to choose much less how to prepare it. Should we stick with a whole fish? Something filleted. Fried? Broiled? Grilled? Raw? And what about shellfish? Those oysters, wherever they were from, were tempting. There were just too many options to consider.

We had to go through the procedure with Gerry and Eugene, but not Mike from Yonkers, who we learned when Gerry arrived wasn’t coming and had no other excuse than that he just forgot that we were scheduled to meet. There was no word at all from Rick and after waiting about fifteen minutes, figured he was a no show as well. The next day he attributed his not being there to what he called a “brain fart,” thinking Ash Wednesday was the following week.

So there were just four of us and we tried to order accordingly. Zio decided on a large freshly caught fluke that he asked to have deep fried. I saw others at a table sharing a platter of scallops and shrimp that looked like it was prepared scampi style. I asked Matt if he could put together a total of two pounds of shrimp and scallops and make up a scampi for us. He assured me he could.

Fluke before

Fluke before

I also noticed that everyone eating at the tables were indulging in a salad served on a large platter and coated in a feta laced dressing. “We have to have one of those,” I told Zio.

“Oh we will,” he said with confidence.

“And what about a cup of fish soup,” I said hopefully.

Matt our server looked at me.

“Fish soup for all of us,” I said to him. No one argued.

The soup came out first, a light tomato broth overflowing with pieces of white fish.

“There’s a lot of fish in here,” Zio said to Matt.

Matt smiled at Zio, his new”old friend.”

“I made sure of it,” he said.

Fish soup

Fish soup

The salad came out next along with a platter of toasted French bread coated with olive oil. It tasted as good as it looked. The fried fluke, filleted and battered in a light coating of bread crumbs, followed. The fish was big enough to feed six, but we were just four. Not that there was a problem. We worked through it with ease.

Fluke after

Fluke after

From behind the counter, one of the chefs was calling to Eugene. It was very noisy in the place and he cupped a hand to his ear. “What?” Eugene mouthed back to him.

The chef called out something again and Eugene nodded.

“What’s he saying,” I asked Eugene.

“I have no idea,” Eugene said.

Another waiter came over. “He wants to know if you want the lemon potatoes.”

Lemon potatoes? How could we resist?

The potatoes quickly appeared, halves of skinless potatoes, tender and tinged with lemon.

Lemon potatoes

Lemon potatoes

The addictive crunchy bread had long since disappeared and when the shrimp and scampi arrived on a gargantuan platter swimming in garlicky oil also flavored with lemon, we knew we needed more bread to soak up the “juice.”

“I’m sure I said two pounds,” I told our group as we stared in disbelief at the quantity of crustaceans in front of us.

“You did. I was there.” Zio remarked as he speared a scallop and swirled it in the sauce.

Multiple pounds of shrimp and scallops prepared scampi style.

Multiple pounds of shrimp and scallops prepared scampi style.

The mercury level in our blood rising fast, we were nearing exhaustion. Despite our best efforts, the four of us just could not finish the scampi. In fact, there was enough left for a substantial snack.

Matt brought our tab. We were considerably over our usual budget of $20 per person. Eugene deciphered the scrawl on the tab.

“They charged us for almost four pounds of shrimp and scallops,” he said shaking his head.

“That’s not right,” I said. “I told him two pounds.”

And then we just shrugged it off. The food was very good. And we could justify going over budget because we were minus two of our members. With six in attendance we wouldn’t have had to order anything else and would have easily come close to our $20 allotment.

We had the remains of the scampi wrapped up.

“Take it,” Gerry said to Zio. “You deserve it for picking this place.”

Zio grabbed the bag. “Now I know what I can give the Colonel for Valentine’s Day,” he said. “Who needs chocolates when you can have day old shrimp and scallop scampi.”

Zios Valentine gift for the Colonel.

Zios Valentine gift for the Colonel.

Astoria Seafood
37-10 33rd Street
Astoria

And the Answer is…

18 Feb

Most times you need to…

namethat (3)

 

To be able to buy delicious Italian delicacies such as these…

Prosciutto de Parma

Prosciutto di Parma

and these…

namethat (9)

in this place.

DiPalo'sLocated on Mott and Grand Street for 87 years.

Di Palo'sAnd for the bonus question. The cheese below sold at DiPalo is,,,Caciocavallo cheese

Caciocavallo 

 

DiPalo’s
200 Grand Street
Little Italy

 

Poultry Panic Postponed

1 Feb

chickwings

This past week panic gripped the nation when rumors of a chicken wing scarcity went viral. Was it a conspiracy to jack up prices on the eve of the greatest consumption of chicken wings: Super Bowl weekend? Would we have to settle for the abomination that is the “boneless” chicken wing as a substitute? Today, a country’s fears were allayed when it was reported that there will not be a chicken wing drought for Super Bowl weekend. That the estimation by the National Chicken Council that approximately 1.23 billion chicken wings will be consumed this weekend should be realized.

“There will be no shortage,” said Tom Super, National Chicken Council spokesman. “They might be a little more expensive. But there is and will be plenty to go around.”

broccoli rabe

A few weeks earlier, another headline made me quaver with fear. This one read: “Broccoli Rabe Shortage Ravages Philadelphia.” I don’t live in Philadelphia but if there is a shortage of broccoli rabe just a ninety minute drive away, then it must be here in New York as well.

Upon reading the news, I quickly checked my local market. The  whopping $4.99 per pound for what was available of the bitter leafy treasure confirmed that the ravaging had spread to New York and beyond.

The distressing news reports above were preceded by another in September of last year when, those who care about such things, myself included, were alarmed by what was predicted to be a shortage of bacon.

baconOn their website,Time asked: “Start Hoarding Now: A Global Bacon Shortage Is Coming?” This of course, sent thousands, no millions into panic and premature grief over the possibility of converting to turkey bacon.

A week later, however, Fox News refuted the reports with a headline of their own: “Bacon shortage may be hogwash, but prices will still rise”

So all is well in the world. Chickens will still have wings. The B in a BLT will not be from a cow or turkey.  And in Philadelphia they will never substitute a roast pork and broccoli rabe hoagie with sauteed spinach. They all just might be “a little more expensive.”

 

Eat Your Luck

31 Dec

Every New Year’s there’s another food I’m supposed to eat that will bring me good luck. I think I’ve tried them all.

New Year 1

I’ve done the Southern thing with the black eyed peas.

Southern luck thing.

Southern luck thing.

I’ve even tossed in a ham hock to make sure the Hoppin’ John concoction would be more effective.

The ham hock luck guarantee

Ham hock luck assurance

Based on something I read,  I once tried collard greens on New Year’s.

Collard greens

I can’t say that eating greens brought me any luck. And I know if I ever hit the numbers, I would have remembered. Whatever, the greens were delicious…and healthy too.

Collard greens

As long as you have your health….

The Italians have their superstitions too, that’s for sure. I bought into the lentils and sausage scam a few times thinking that maybe by eating them on New Year’s,  the following year would be truly remarkable.

A lucky legume?

A lucky legume?

If the year after the lentils and sausage was particularly amazing, I can’t remember.  Not that it mattered. They were so good I would eat them again even if they meant a mess of bad luck.

Eating fish on New Year’s is another superstition. I tried that one too.

Eat a fish head, get good luck.

And you would think that eating a fish’s head would give me some serious good luck mojo.  Sadly, though the fish head was memorable, any luck derived from eating it was not.

Since I’ve tried them all, this year I’m going with something not even on the New Year’s luck radar.

fried dough1

And I promise, if I have a particularly bad year, I’m not pinning it on fried dough.

frieddough1

When it comes to luck,  in reality that old sports cliche, “you make your own luck” is probably most  true. Just make sure that whatever luck you make tastes good.

Happy New Year!

On Pizza, Pomodoros, Putin, and Putinka

27 Nov

I’m a purist in many ways. With few exceptions, I don’t like fusion—unless I’m creating the fusion. When given the choice, as I always am, tap water works for me at a restaurant. I scoff at all the sauces presented to compliment a broiled or grilled piece of prime meat that should need no compliment.  I don’t buy flavored seltzers. If I want lemon or lime, I can easily add my own to plain seltzer.

And the same can be said for vodka. Who needs cranberry flavored seltzer when a splash of cranberry juice will suffice? That is, unless I’m in the outstanding Russian Samovar, sitting at the bar and trying to decide which of their house made infused vodkas I should order. Maybe start with a shot of ginger followed by the coriander? See, there are exceptions. I’m not totally unmovable on this.

The Russian Samovar Collection

The state of today’s pizza, I’m afraid, has been a serious blow to my purist sensibilities. You enter a pizzeria now and the cold, congealed varieties presented under Plexiglas counters are staggering. The pies are covered with everything from broccoli to kale, from barbecued shrimp to Buffalo chicken strips.

I like my pizza with tomato sauce and mozzarella; preferably more of the former and lighter on the latter. I have been known to throw on some anchovies to improve a mediocre pie. Beyond that, I have no interest in sausage, pepperoni, meatball, mushrooms or any of the usual toppings.

Adding to the ever-growing assortment of pizzas is pizza with “vodka” sauce—the spin on penne a la vodka. I know pizza with vodka sauce is not a new phenomenon. I guess I just put it out of my mind,  desperately trying to deny its existence despite it’s increasing popularity.

I’ve made penne a la vodka myself. It’s not something I’m particularly proud of. I use cheap, local canned tomatoes. Who cares about the quality of the tomatoes if I’m adding cream to it—and vodka? And when I go into my vodka stash just to have it fuse with the sorry canned tomatoes and cream I cringe. It’s one thing to waste a few splashes of red wine in a sauce, it’s quite another to use some of the precious Russian clear stuff.

Well, not always Russian. Sometimes it might be Swedish, Danish, or even from some place in Texas.

Penne a la vodka is an amiable and infrequent diversion. It’s like the undercard of a heavyweight bout; the opening act for standouts like Neck Bones Tomato Sauce  or  Neck Bones Anchovy Sauce, pesto, or the perennial champ: marinara sauce.

So why would I ever be interested in the undercard of a topping for pizza? I wouldn’t. Or I thought I wouldn’t until recently. The lure was drawing me in. Was I missing something here? And how could I comment on something I’d never experienced?

The sign said it all: “Home of the famous vodka sauce.” There was even a banner flapping in the wind above Spring Street advertising “vodka pizza.” The place was called Pomodoro and apparently vodka sauce was their trademark. If I were ever going to experience a slice of pizza with vodka sauce, I would guess this would be the place.

I surveyed the countless array of already made pies under the Plexiglas counter for the vodka pie, but my eyes, inexperienced at least regarding vodka pizza, could not identify one.

I asked the man behind the counter for a slice of vodka. He took out a pie that looked like any other “regular” pie and cut out a slice which he threw into the oven to heat. A few moments later it was presented to me.

Vodka slice from Pomodoro

My normal reflex whenever eating a slice of pizza is to grab for the red pepper flakes and sprinkle generously over the slice. I did the same here not knowing that the vodka pizza was already spicy.

The slice was coated with chunks of very good, albeit spicy, tomatoes and fresh mozzarella while the only negative was that the crust was a little on the thick side for my taste. It was a more than commendable slice. Still, I was puzzled. I admit to being a vodka pizza virgin, but was this what a slice of vodka pizza tasted like? It didn’t taste anything like my penne a la vodka. Where was the vodka in the vodka slice?

So they called it something other than what it really was. It didn’t matter. I liked the pizza and brought a few slices home to give it another shot. This time I thought maybe, instead of beer, my usual accompaniment to pizza, I would accompany the vodka slice with vodka.

For the occasion I had a Russian named Putinka in my refrigerator. An apparent tribute to Russian president, Vladimir Putin, the Putinka also billed itself as “soft,” vodka, whatever that meant. Was soft vodka the equivalent to light beer? I hoped not. And really, would the former Lieutenant Colonel of the KGB want a vodka named after him that was billed as “soft?”

Soft vodka

Either way, I reheated the vodka slice and poured a shot of Putinka over ice. I sipped and then took a bite. The vodka, soft or not, gave me the familiar and comforting burn that, I discovered, paired brilliantly with the so-called vodka pizza.

I finished the vodka and the pizza a bit too quickly and then realized something that should have been obvious to me—something that conformed to my purist sensibilities. There was no need to search out a pre-made vodka sauce pizza where, most likely, the vodka sauce wouldn’t be up to your own standards. Just like adding your own flavor to your pure vodka, you could do the same with this pizza. All you needed was a warm slice of pizza and a cold Russian in the refrigerator.

Pomodoro
51 Spring Street
NYC

Neck Bones Anniversary Anchovy Sauce

3 Oct

Last year, around this time, on the first anniversary of the launch of Fried Neck Bones…and Some Home Fries, I celebrated with a batch of Neck Bones Tomato Sauce, the recipe I shared on these pages (Neck Bones Anniversary Tomato Sauce). I don’t really consider myself a man of tradition, but when it comes to food, and eating, maybe I am. So to follow tradition, on this, the second anniversary of Fried Neck Bones…and Some Home Fries, I have celebrated with another pasta sauce. This one is meatless, but to compensate any lack of flavor, doused heavily with that favorite little fish; the anchovy.

Speaking of traditions, the origin of my romance with the anchovy began with a Christmas Eve tradition. One of the seven fishes (Seven Fishes for Seven Dishes), prepared for that Italian feast in our family was the anchovy. My grandmother was the chef and when I was young, the featured pasta was spaghetti with anchovies.

But anchovy love doesn’t come easily or immediately. The sight, smell and taste of the little brown oily and spiny fillets could cause a child to retch. I wanted no part of it and I wasn’t alone. My brothers felt the same way and instead, on Christmas Eve, we had our spaghetti with just butter and Parmesan cheese.

Soon after experiencing puberty, our taste buds became more open minded and, though anchovies were still a tough sell, we graduated to the milder, white clam sauce. There was now a seafood alternative to coat the spaghetti with.

I can’t pinpoint the actual date when I converted, but it was sometime in early adulthood. Soon I was actually adding a few of those fillets into my white clam sauce. There was definitely something about that stinky fishy fish that was working magic in my mouth. Friends looked at me in horror when I began to, voluntarily, decorate my slices of pizza with the fillets. It wasn’t long before, given the choice on Christmas Eve, I would take the anchovy sauce before the white clam.

The romance was on and grows stronger with each year. There is no chance I eat spaghetti with anchovies just on Christmas Eve. It’s now a treat I prepare every couple of months—and a simple, inexpensive one at that.

I’m sure many of you might have a prejudice against the anchovy stemming from early encounters when, like me, your sense of taste just wasn’t ready for such an assault of flavor. Try to move past that prejudice and give the little fish another chance. And here, to lead you on to the path of anchovy righteousness is my recipe for Spaghetti with Anchovies.

Some of the ingredients for spaghetti with anchovies.

Ingredients

1 small bottle of anchovies in olive oil.*

½ cup of olive oil

4-5 good-sized cloves of garlic, chopped into large pieces**

½ tsp of dried red pepper flakes or a few slices of fresh chili pepper (for this one I used a fresh chili from the garden)

2 tbs of chopped fresh Italian parsley

¼ cup of dry white wine or water

1lb of spaghetti

*Anchovies come in several forms. There are the tins or bottles in olive oil, or they can be bought packed in salt. The anchovies packed in salt are the most desired, but also the most expensive and most work. The salt packed anchovies need to be rinsed under cold water and then cleaned of the tail and whatever guts might still be attached. Sounds disgusting, but worth the effort in the long run. For this recipe, however, I used imported Italian anchovies from a jar and they’ll do just fine. The anchovies found in the tins work too, but are not quite up to the quality you will find in the jar or salt packed.

What I used.

**The finer you chop or mince garlic, the stronger the taste. For this dish, which already is overflowing with flavor from the anchovies and red pepper, I like a milder taste from the garlic so I keep the pieces coarsely chopped, rather than fine.

Breaking up the anchovies.

In a skillet, heat the oil on a medium flame. Add the garlic, but do not brown. Toss in the red pepper, cook for a minute and then add the anchovies. There will be sizzling. Stir the anchovies around the oil, breaking them up with a wooden spoon. Add the white wine or water and lower the heat. Once the sauce simmers, stir again until the anchovies have melted into the liquid forming a brown, almost gravy-like sauce. It should look a little like the Piedmontese specialty bagna cauda. Taste and if it is too strong, add more water or wine.

The sauce is now ready for serving.

Cook the spaghetti al dente, drain, and then add the sauce, topping with the fresh parsley. If you are an anchovy fanatic, like my father, you might want to also add a few extra uncooked fillets on top of your bowl.

Though the pasta police prohibit grated parmigiano  Reggiano or Romano cheese on seafood sauces, if you choose to indulge, you have my word that I won’t report you.

Spaghetti with anchovy sauce

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