Monthly Archives: June 2008

Artichoke Basille’s Pizza

It’s been a bit of a trying weekend in the city. Bus delays, subway re-routing and two freak thunderstorms have been just a few of the more dramatic aspects of my attempting to get my errands done on the couple of days that I have as a respite from my hectic work week. Sometimes, though, Serendipity (not the sweets shop) takes things by the hand and we just have to roll with it.

For weeks, ok, a few months now, I’ve been reading the ravings about a pizza place down in the East Village. Normally, I’m not one to go all ga-ga over the new hottest place, especially when the words “standing on line” are involved. Yesterday, fate took things in her own hand to conspire that I should try this place, at least once.

The bus delays and longer-than-should-have-been-wait in the sweltering summer sunshine meant that by the time the M15 Limited lunged and lurched its way down 2nd Avenue towards 14th Street – my end destination – I could start to hear the slow grumbling of my stomach. The breakfast toast with peanut butter and my usual extra-strength cappuccino would not keep me going much longer. Then, it occurred to me. I’d, in fact, gotten on the wrong bus. Well, not exactly the wrong bus, but one that had taken me further east than I’d meant to go.

What had happened instead was that I’d ended up at a stop not far from Artichoke. I had been a bit peeved at myself once I realized that I should have taken a bus two avenues over from where the bus that I was on, but then I realized a misstep could be turned into good fortune. As I’d mentioned previously, it was hot, I was at that point before being hungry turns into being cranky, and, well, I was in the neighborhood after all so I decided to give it a try.

The line turned out not to be all that bad. There were about 4 or 5 people in front of me. (I wish the line at Shake Shack would be that short whenever I craved one of their burgers.) Like most NYC pizzerias, you order your slice, pay and wait for your order to be reheated. Slice NY has pictures of the options here. I selected their specialty, the spinach and artichoke. The guy on line in front of me said that that was a good choice.

Then, you know how it is in a restaurant, you’ve ordered, but then you see all the food on other people’s plates and wondered if you made the right choice. We were standing there, waiting on our pizza, and then started gazing at the margarita and the sicilian slices there in the cases in front of us. Red and white blobs with slashes of green basil leaves baked on top. The char of the crust just visible from our vantage points. I could just feel the tang of the tomato sauce as I bit into the crunch of the dough.

My companion in waiting assured me that that variety is every bit as good as the reputation for their signature slice. He’d had it before. He couldn’t even put it into words but explained it in sounds: “It was soooo gooood it was like aaaaahhhhhhwwwwww.” Which I’m sure has a technical description somewhere, but I put it down to Pizza Lust. Then, we started examining the other pies coming out of the oven with their gorgeous golden brown crusts and meltingly hot toppings. I love the fact that you can watch them make and pull the pizzas out of the oven. It reminds me of when I was a kid and we could watch through the window at our local pizzeria.

When my slice was ready, I took it piping hot and ready to eat on a paper plate with a fistful of napkins. I bit into the cheesy tip. The creamy spinach sauce and molten pockets of mozzarella created this wonderful ooziness. The artichokes were flaked randomly and added their flavor as a balance to the richness. This is pizza that will make me take the wrong bus downtown again.

This is also the pizza that a random guy stopped me at the corner of 14th Street and 2nd Avenue to ask me where I bought it. I think I might have even caught sight of someone ogling my slice as I made my way westward to the Greenmarket for my weekly shopping trip. On my next detour, I think I’m going to go for the sicilian. Let’s see if that gets me even more attention or maybe even a date.

Buon appetito!

Artichoke – located on East 14th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues on the south side of the street, about mid-block. Their hours are about 12:30-ish to sometime early a.m. You can expect a line, and the place is very small with one stand-up counter and no tables. Plan to get your slices to go.

Reds and Greens – Greenmarket Seasonal Produce

For those of you who’ve been reading this column over the course of its brief life, you know how much of a fan I am of the Union Square Greenmarket – and of the NYC Greenmarkets in general. After having lived in Italy for several years, I really came to appreciate the seasonality of food. When I returned to the States many years ago, after my time in Europe, I knew that I just couldn’t go back to the way I ate before I’d left.

Although sometimes it can be difficult, I still try to keep my food intake in line with the seasons. I also try in this blog to stick to recipes where the ingredients are reflective of the time of year. Not being an expert in food production, it can be a minefield just trying to sift through all the information behind what we should be eating when in order to get the most nutritional benefits out of our diets. I know that I definitely am not perfect in this regard.

The tomato-salmonella scare of this year, along with the spinach one of a couple of years ago, about which I’d also blogged, just reinforce some of the other news that we’ve been hearing in the food press. Food miles, carbon footprints, knowing the source of your ingredients: those are components of the things we’re asked to consider these days when shopping for our weekly meals. If you haven’t managed to pick up The United States of Arugula, I highly recommend it. It brings up some of the issues behind our current food policy dilemmas.

The truth of the matter is that, aside from hydroponic tomatoes, of which there were some for sale yesterday at Union Square, or greenhouse ones, which are also sold there sometimes, fresh tomatoes aren’t even in season yet. We’ve just become so used to things being available when and where we want it, that, in my opinion, we’ve sort of lost sight of the fact that everything really does have a season. Now, with this latest food scare and the increase in prices for everyday goods, it seems like more questions are being raised about from where our food has been coming.

Maybe it’s the fear that there will be nothing left to eat. I really don’t think that is the case. Here’s my photos of what was at the market yesterday to prove that there’s so much else out there that is in season and tastes great. I got there too late in the day to get any of the last-of-the-season rhubarb (no loss) or any asparagus (drat), but there were lots of other things that I did find:

Piles of white-tipped French radishes and round red ones


Look at these lovely sugar snap peas – no shelling required!

Several varieties of chard to cook up
Garlic scapes – something new to learn to use
Freshly-grown lettuces just waiting to be made into salads

Oh, yeah, did I mention, it’s now strawberry season – look at these!

Buon appetito!


Old Bay Chicken with Cool-As-A-Cucumber Sauce

This year, it is unlikely that we’ll get together to do the family crab feast, at least from what I’ve been told so far. Part of the reason for this is that the crab stock in the Chesapeake Bay is dwindling and so crabs have gotten more expensive and are smaller. One solution, the press has noted is to let the Bay rest for a year so that the crabs can come back. I’d gladly hold off for a summer, if it meant I could have some to eat the next year.

This raises the question, though: How to get one’s Old Bay fix? Just opening the can brings back memories of crabfeasts past and boiled shrimp cooked in these spices. The smell is like a great sailing day on the Chesapeake Bay with the cool wind mingling with the salty water on one’s face. It just smells like my old summer camp – with the added bonus of there being no jellyfish around.

When going through my mother’s recipe file a few years ago, I discovered this dish. It came about long after I’d moved out of my parent’s home, but it seemed to be come a new favorite. It wouldn’t have made it to the card file if no one had enjoyed it. I wish I could have found the author of it, but the Internet couldn’t turn up the source.

It comes from The Washington Post “Food” section. Each week, they feature a speedy, flavorful meal to put together for dinner. I’ve pulled quite a few of their suggestions and prepared each successfully. I have to applaud their recipe-tester for this. I’ve had almost no misses in that category and have come up with some new favorites.

In this dish, the spices mingle with the Old Bay and cornmeal to create a light but spicy coating for the chicken. The meat ends up having a nice kick to it. The cucumber-yogurt-sour cream sauce cools it down for a great counterpoint. I wouldn’t say that this meal is kid-friendly, but it might bring to mind summers spent on the Eastern Shore for Mom and Dad.

Old Bay Chicken with Cool-As-A-Cucumber Sauce

Prep-time: 30 minutes
Servings: 4 adults

Sauce Ingredients:
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and coarsely shredded
1/2 c. plain low-fat yogurt (Greek yogurt is best)
1/4 c. low-fat sour cream
1/4 c. minced fresh chives OR
2 Tbsp each minced green onions and minced fresh dill
salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper to taste

Shred cucumber on the large side of a box grater. Don’t worry if seeds get in there. To remove seeds entirely, cut cucumber in half prior to grating it and scrape out the seeds with a spoon. Squeeze liquid out of shredded cucumber and put into a bowl.

Add the rest of the ingredients, except for the salt, pepper and cayenne. Fold together. Sparingly add the remaining three ingredients. This may be prepared ahead and put in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to meld together. Stir again before serving.

Chicken Ingredients:
1/4 c. cornmeal
2 Tbsp Old Bay seasoning
1 1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
4 boneless chicken breast halves, sliced into strips
2/-3 Tbsp vegetable oil

Mix together everything except for the chicken and the oil.

Dredge (i.e., dunk in the spices and completely coat) the chicken breast strips in the dry ingredients. I actually did a double coating for this step.

Heat oil in heavy pan. Place chicken in pan and cook for 3-5 minutes per side until the strips are cooked completely through. A cast iron pan is great for this and makes the dish one that you could even cook outdoors on a grill, rather than heating up your house.

Serve immediately, with cucumber-yogurt-sour cream sauce on the side.

Buon appetito!

Spinach Salad

Before you turn up your nose or click away from this post, I ask you to at least consider trying a freshly-made spinach salad. This is still from the series of recipes from the family card file that I’m testing once again. Like usual, I’ve made some minor tweaks to it but really nothing drastic.

Like you, I was turned off from this vitamin-packed leafy green as a child. Poorly cooked, drained of all flavor, and lifeless, it was really not one of my favorite vegetables. I’m not sure that you could have paid me to eat this when I was growing up, and I remember it appearing only a couple of times at the dinner table. Now I realize that crisp, bright green, seasonal leaves make all the difference in this salad.

The Greenmarket did not fail to deliver when I was shopping there today, looking for something wonderful to pair with my leftover flank steak. Just see how amazingly fresh and full of life these leaves look. A few strips of meat alongside the lightly dressed spinach topped with toasted walnut pieces and a glass of red wine and I’m in iron-packed, anti-oxident heaven!

Spinach Salad*

Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Servings: 4-5 adults

4 cups loosely-packed and thoroughly cleaned spinach leaves (baby are best)
1/2 cup walnut pieces, dry toasted and cooled
2 Tbsp good white wine vinegar
1 medium garlic clove, crushed
1 Tbsp dijon mustard (not grainy mustard)
1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Place walnuts in a non-stick pan on low heat or on a baking tray in a 300 degree Fahrenheit oven. Let roast for about 5-10 minutes until lightly browned but not burned.

While the walnuts are roasting, prep the spinach leaves. Rinse completely, possibly several times, to remove all traces of dirt and grit. Trim off the woody ends (if using larger leaves). Run through a salad spinner or pat dry with paper towels and put into a serving bowl. Check the walnuts to see if they are done. Remove them from the oven and set aside to cool.

Stir together the white wine vinegar, garlic, and mustard. Whisk in the olive oil in a thin stream until the dressing is fully combined. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour the dressing over the salad. Top with the walnuts, and toss everything together until it is fully incorporated.

*There are two things to add to this recipe. One is that my mother makes a version that omits the walnuts and, instead, takes sliced mushrooms, adds them to the dressing, lets them sit for about 30 minutes or so, and then pours everything over the spinach leaves. Why she didn’t then also add bacon to it is one of life’s culinary mysteries. This would make a good steakhouse type salad.

The other addition is an attribution. My mother thinks that this recipe actually came from one of Julia Child’s newspaper columns. She’s going to do some research for me on this, as I couldn’t come up with anything online by way of substantiation. Aside from the tweaks I made about toasting the walnuts, which I think bring a heartier flavor to the salad, I am not going to claim that this is my own creation, rather it is something that found its way into our family card file, and I’ve decided needs to be kept in mine as well.

Buon appetito!