Recipe below: Focaccia with Tomato, Rosemary, and Pancetta

Last night all the restaurants and bars in New York City were ordered closed. This creates an especially strange feeling, since food places are the soul of the city, at least for me. No more hanging out. While I try to wrap my head around that development, I’ve decided it’s time to make dough, with a long, slow rise to turn suffocation into coziness.

It seems I’ve almost always got on hand canned tomatoes, and pancetta, and garlic, and smatterings of fresh supermarket herbs. I might not have milk (or Windex, for that matter), but at least I can usually make a pizza, or, as I decided this time, a focaccia. I like focaccia less spongy, more pizza-like than they make it in central Italy. Mine is similar to a New Haven tomato pie. No cheese; very sparse but highly flavored condimento on top. If we were still allowed to congregate, I could feed a crowd with it.


Focaccia with Tomato, Rosemary, and Pancetta

For the dough:

3 cups unbleached flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 package instant yeast
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup warm water (around 115 degrees Fahrenheit)

For the top:

1 26-ounce can chopped tomatoes, very well drained (I used a 26-ounce box of Pomi chopped Italian tomatoes. I find that if I drain them really well and scatter them over the focaccia, it’s almost like using fresh. Really good taste.)
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 thick slice pancetta, chopped into little cubes
1 long sprig rosemary, the leaves chopped
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon allspice
A little piment d’Espelette pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
A few drops of Spanish sherry wine vinegar

To make the dough, put the flour in the bowl of a food processor. Add the sugar, salt, and yeast, and pulse a few times, just to mix everything. Add the olive oil and the water, and pulse until it all comes together in a ball.

Dump the dough out onto a floured work surface, and knead it until it’s smooth, about 5 minutes.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover it with a towel, and let it sit until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Punch down the dough, and then flatten it and press it out onto an oiled baking sheet. It should pretty much cover the entire pan, but it doesn’t need to go to the ends. Press down with your fingertips over the surface of the dough to form little indentations everywhere. Let it sit for about 45 minutes so it can rise a bit.

In the meantime, mix all the ingredients for the topping together in a small bowl, seasoning well with the salt and black pepper and Espelette.

When the dough has risen again, smear the tomato mixture over the top. Bake until the rim has browned, about 12 minutes or so. Serve hot or warm, cut into small squares,


Still Life with Artichokes, by Toni Silber-Delerive.

Recipe below: Scialatielli with Artichokes, Lemon, Tarragon, and Parsley

At a time like this, one of the best things to do is cook. Being semi-housebound in fear of a raging virus is an excellent opportunity to expand your culinary horizons by tackling something that has always made you nervous, like skinning live eels or boiling up a whole beef tongue—or dealing with a pile of thorn-covered artichokes.

One of the problems most people have with artichokes is confronting the waste. If you want to prep our big globe type to eat, not with drawn butter but in a pasta dish, you have to throw out almost everything except the most tender leaves and a snip of the stem. I have a hard time coping with that myself. And all the work it takes to get to that tender little edible pile can be discouraging. The solution is baby artichokes. I’m now finding them in my markets again. What a gift. So easy to clean, and quick, too. No chokes. Excellent flavor. The little ones are from the same plant as our globes. They’re just miniatures that pop out lower down on the stalk. A bonus. For me, unless I’m making my grandmother’s humongous sausage-stuffed artichokes (a meal in itself, although it never was for her), I go for the babies.

This time, for pasta for four, I used about two dozen. I sat in front of the TV watching the latest coronavirus news and had the whole batch cleaned in about 15 minutes. I set up my usual (for artichokes) big bowl of lemony water (even though these are small, they still oxidize quickly when cut). With each artichoke I pulled off two or three layers of tough leaves, trimmed the top down about ½ inch, scraped the stem a bit, trimming it if the end looked tough, and them cut it in half or quarters lengthwise, depending on its size (I went for the really small ones). That’s it. Now they were ready to braise or to roast. I love these babies with pasta. Here I made a gentle springtime sauce using soft herbs, wine, and Parmigiano.

Don’t ignore spring artichokes. Just find yourself the runts. They provide a delicious shortcut.

And just a word about the pasta I used here. Scialatielli was originally a fresh pasta from along the Amalfi coast, sometimes with milk in its dough. It’s often served with seafood sauces. To me it’s like a much thicker, shorter, chewier linguini. I’ve never made it fresh, but the dried Setaro brand I used was delicious. You can substitute pasta alla chitarra or fettuccine, but keep an eye out for the real thing.


Scialatielli with Artichokes, Lemon, Tarragon, and Parsley

(Serves 4)

About 2 dozen baby artichokes
2 large lemons
Sea salt
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 shallots, cut into small dice
Black pepper
A few grinds of fresh nutmeg (about ½ teaspoon)
A big splash of dry white wine
¾ cup light chicken broth or vegetable broth (or just use water)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
A handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, very lightly chopped
About 6 or 7 large tarragon sprigs, the leaves chopped
1 pound scialatielli or pasta alla chitarra or fettuccine or bucatini
A chunk of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Halve one of the lemons, and squeeze its juice into a big bowl of cold water.

Sharpen your knife (dealing with any type of artichoke is easier with a good sharp blade, as the vegetable can be slippery). Grab an artichoke, and pull off and discard its tough outer leaves until you get to the tender lighter green ones. Slice off the top about ½ inch from the top, and discard that. If the stem looks tough, give it a light peel, and trim the bottom if you think it will be chewy (often it’s tender all the way down). Now halve or quarter the thing lengthwise, and drop the pieces in the water. Do the same with all the rest.

Set up a  pot of pasta cooking water, add a good amount of salt, and bring it to a boil.

In the meantime, get out a big skillet, and set in over medium heat. Add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and let it heat through. Drain the artichokes well, and add them to the skillet. Scatter the shallots on top, seasoning everything with salt, some black pepper, and the nutmeg. Sauté until the vegetables have softened a bit, about 3 or 4 minutes. Grate the zest of the remaining lemon over the top, and squeeze on about a tablespoon of its juice. Add the white wine, and let it bubble for a few seconds. Now add the broth or a little water, partially cover the skillet, and simmer until the artichokes are just tender, about another 6 minutes. Turn off the heat, and let the sauce rest.

Drop the pasta into the water, and cook it until it’s al dente. When it’s done, drain it, and pour it into a big serving bowl. Add the butter and a drizzle of fresh olive oil, and give it a toss. Add the artichoke sauce, the parsley, the tarragon, and a few big gratings of the Parmigiano.  Season with a little more salt and black pepper, and toss. Serve hot, bringing the chunk of Parmigiano to the table for grating.




Women with Fish


How did you know where to find me?


Here’s a simple quickly thrown together treat I made with odds and ends I found in the fridge. Sometimes the most wonderful dishes emerge from the need to clean house.

What you’ll need for a salad for two is two celery stalks, chopped, with their leaves; a fennel bulb, chopped, including some of the fronds; a piece of good salami, cut into small dice; a piece of caciocavallo or another not-too-hard cheese such as provolone, chopped; a handful of olives; and some fresh herbs. I had parsley. Fresh marjoram would have been great instead or in addition. A little pickled pepper or cauliflower would also have been nice. If you add any of those, just see that everything is about the same size. For some reason that makes it taste best.

Put everything in a pretty bowl. Make a vinaigrette with a smashed garlic clove, a little vinegar, salt, black pepper, and your best olive oil. Toss, and serve with good bread.


Winter, by Anselm Kiefer.

Recipe below: Dead of Winter Salad, with Celery, Fennel, Raw Cremini, and Moliterno

February in New York can feel stagnant. White gray hangs in the air. Depending on how you look at it, it can be creepy or contemplative. I work on contemplative, but I don’t always succeed. Staring at paint color charts and drinking too much red wine is usually how I get through. But this time around I’ve found that eating raw food helps, too.

Anything I can get down raw, I do. Wet, crunchy, bare, for flavor and for beauty, a life force when most things are at rest. Raw mushrooms, for the most part, have pretty good flavor. Sometimes the button types taste a bit like toothpaste to me, but not in an altogether bad way. Cremini and portobello, blown up versions of the button variety, can taste that way, but they’re good with a simple vinaigrette. Unfortunately most of their nutrients emerge only with cooking, so I eat them infrequently.

I really wanted raw the other night, and I remembered the classic Italian salad of celery, raw mushrooms—often porcini—and Parmigiano, sliced thin and dressed with a little olive oil and vinegar. Treat yourself to an excellent olive oil this winter. It’ll help, I know this for a fact. I just got a new bottle of Ravidá.

So this salad got made, with the addition of fennel and Moliterno cheese (see note below). It tastes like a crisp, sunny winter day, which we haven’t had much of around here lately.

A note on cheese for this salad: Moliterno is an aged pecorino laced with truffles. I bought myself a chunk as a special treat, and it wound up in this salad. It certainly adds another dimension, but any not-too-sharp pecorino should work, such as a cacio Toscano or a manchego. Maybe not Romano, as most of that that we get here is harsh.


Dead of Winter Salad, with Celery, Fennel, Raw Cremini, and Moliterno

(Serves 4)

4 tender celery stalks, thinly sliced on an angle, plus the leaves from a whole bunch
2 fennel bulbs, thinly sliced, plus a handful of fronds
About 10 cremini mushrooms, very thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, peeled and lightly smashed
1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Black pepper
A chunk of Moliterno or another not-too-sharp pecorino

Choose a good-looking, relatively wide, and not so deep salad bowl. Put in it the celery, fennel, mushrooms, fennel fronds and celery leaves.

Whisk the garlic, rice wine vinegar, olive oil, and soy sauce together, adding a little salt.

Pour the dressing over the salad, grind on some black pepper, and toss gently. Pull out the garlic. Shave the Moliterno or another pecorino over the top. Serve it forth.


Attempting to Capture Taste (Movement #2), squid ink applied by tongue on paper, by Christopher Reynolds.

Recipe below: Squid Ink Spaghetti with Tomatoes, Anchovies, and Saffron

If you have followed my cooking over the years, you know I love anchovies. As my style continues to evolve, anchovies endure. Pizza, to me, means anchovy pizza. Mozzarella with anchovies, ricotta with anchovies, spaghetti with anchovies, anchovy butter on lamb chops, anchovies eaten straight from the jar at 3 a.m. when I can’t sleep. For cooking, I prefer the deep musky taste of good oil-packed ones. The salt-packed are wonderful too, best marinated and eaten almost like fresh, but mostly when I want anchovies in a pasta, oil-packed are what I crave. I know you’re asking which ones I like best. Well, for me the best supermarket brands are Ortiz, from Spain, and the Italian Agostino Recca. You can spend more on fancier ones, but you really needn’t. Both of these are excellent to cook with.

Squid ink pasta cooks up slippery black, with a subtle salinity. I find it extremely attractive. It’s wonderful with an anchovy-based sauce like this one. I used Rustichella d’Abruzzo brand pasta. Setaro also makes a really good squid ink spaghetti.

Despite the amount of anchovy in this sauce, the dish is surprisingly sweet and gentle. Butter, shallots, saffron, and pine nuts give it luxury. Tomatoes and white wine add acidity. I like food with this kind of balance.


Squid Ink Spaghetti with Tomatoes, Anchovies, and Saffron

(Serves 4 or 5)

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large shallot, cut into small dice
8 or so thyme sprigs, the leaves lightly chopped
10 oil-packed anchovy fillets, roughly chopped
A palmful of pine nuts
1 pound squid ink spaghetti
2 pints grape tomatoes, halved
A big splash of white wine
A large pinch of saffron threads, dried and ground and then dissolved in a few tablespoons of warm water
½ cup chicken broth, or possibly a touch more
Piment d’Espelette to taste
A handful of basil leaves, lightly chopped
Salt, if needed

Set up a pot of pasta cooking water, add salt, and bring it to a boil.

While the water is heating, set a large skillet over medium heat. Add a tablespoon of butter and a big drizzle of olive oil. Add the shallot, thyme, and anchovies, and sauté until everything is soft and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the pine nuts, and let them go golden, about a minute longer.

Drop the pasta in the pot.

Turn the heat up a bit under the butter and pine nuts, and add the tomatoes, letting them sear until they give off juice, about 3 minutes. Add a splash of white wine, and let it bubble out. Add the saffron water and the chicken broth, and simmer on low heat for a minute or so. Turn off the heat.

When the pasta is al dente, drain it, and pour it into a large serving bowl. Add the rest of the butter, and toss. Add the anchovy tomato sauce, a hit of Piment d’Espelette, and the basil. Add a bit more chicken broth if the sauce seems to need moisture. Add a little salt, if you want, and toss gently. Serve right away.

And for your listening pleasure, here’s a little tale by the J. Geils Band called “No Anchovies, Please.”


Recipe below: Pasta Puttanesca with Fresh Cod, Black Olives, and Tarragon

When my first book, Pasta Improvvisata, came out, I did an interview with Erica Marcus, the food writer for Newsday. As the book’s theme was improvisation, she showed up at my apartment with a grab bag of ingredients I had no advance notice of. My job was to make an improvised pasta from it all. And she didn’t make it easy. One of the ingredients was fresh tarragon. That concerned me. Tarragon is not an herb used in Southern Italian cooking, and since my goal in the book was to create new pastas while staying inside the Southern Mediterranean orbit, I didn’t think it would work out very well.

I can’t remember exactly what kind of dish I came up with. I think it contained prosciutto, maybe cherry tomatoes, fettuccine, and, of course, the dreaded tarragon. All I can remember was being relieved that it tasted pretty good. We both enjoyed a nice Italian lunch with a bottle of Orvieto.

I happen to love tarragon. I now often try it when my Italian mind might say add fennel or basil. The flavors are not dissimilar, all being on the fennel-anise spectrum. Tarragon is to my palate more anise than fennel, but it goes really well with almost all things tomato, like this sauce.

So here’s an improvised puttanesca. I’ve added olives, capers, and anchovies, all standard. I had a great looking thick piece of cod that I needed to use immediately, and I had tarragon. So there you go. This came out better than expected. Delicious even. Don’t you love when that happens?

Note: There’s an important thing to remember about tarragon, if you’re buying it in a grocery or farmers’ market, or you want to grow it yourself: Make sure you get true French tarragon. That’s the superb culinary variety. Tarragons labeled Mexican (also known as Mexican marigold mint) or Russian are different. Both are harsher and lack that sweet  anise aroma. And they look a little different, too, having fatter and darker leaves. Those herbs, in my opinion, aren’t great to cook with, though I’d take the Mexican over the Russian in a pinch.


Pasta Puttanesca with Fresh Cod, Black Olives, and Tarragon

(Serves 4 or 5)

1½ pounds thick cod fillet, skinned and cut into approximately 1-inch chunks
Black pepper
A big pinch of fennel pollen or ground fennel seed
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, cut into small dice
1 celery stalk, with the leaves from 3 stalks, chopped
3 oil-packed anchovy fillets, chopped
¼ cup dry vermouth
½ cup chicken broth
1 28-ounce can plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
A palmful of salt-packed Sicilian capers, soaked and drained
A palmful of black olives, pitted and pulled in half (I used the wrinkled Moroccan type)
2 tablespoons butter
1 pound gemelli or penne
Aleppo pepper
About 8 or so large tarragon sprigs, the leaves lightly chopped
About 8 or so large sprigs of flat-leaf parsley, the leaves lightly chopped

Toss the cod chunks in salt, black pepper, and the fennel pollen or seed. Drizzle in a little olive oil, and let sit unrefrigerated.

Set up a pot of pasta cooking water, add salt, and bring it to a boil.

While the water is heating, set up a large skillet over medium heat.  Add a tablespoon or so of olive oil. Add the onion and celery, with the leaves, and sauté until softened and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the anchovies, working them in. Add the vermouth, letting it bubble out for a few seconds. Add the chicken broth and the tomatoes. Add a little salt and black pepper, and simmer at a low bubble for 10 minutes, just long enough to bring the flavors together.

Start cooking the pasta.

Over low heat, add the capers and olives to the tomato sauce. Add the cod chunks, and simmer just until they’re tender, only a minute or so.  Add a sprinkling of Aleppo and the tarragon.

When the pasta is al dente, drain it, and pour it into a large serving bowl. Add the butter, and toss. Add the cod sauce and the parsley, and toss gently, so you don’t break up the cod. Serve right away.

Pork Bracciole, a new video


Fish and Tomatoes, by Chaim Soutine, 1924.

Recipe below: Sautéed Hake with Butter, Ginger, and Pine Nuts

Fish fillets sautéed in lots of butter. I get pleasure just writing that. Fish with butter is perfect. It isn’t something I grew up with. Fish was always cooked in olive oil then, unless my mother was making her Gourmet magazine version of trout amandine, which I loved. But I seem to have been eating fish cooked in tons of butter in restaurants forever. Much butter, a little salt, a shot of acid. It’s easy to do at home, too. You just continuously spoon bubbling hot butter over fish fillets until they’re cooked. The fish gets infused with butter, and thus with richness and tenderness. It is extremely good.

I used hake for my version here because that was what looked freshest at my market. Mild white fillets work best, and you could use sea bass or halibut. The natural oils from salmon or mackerel would overwhelm the butter. And for this particular technique you’ll want skinless fillets, so the butter can easily infuse the fish, soaking in for an opulent taste.

The butter left over from this cooking technique is often a bit strong-tasting, so I usually make a little sauce or condimento separately. This time I seared grape tomatoes with fresh ginger and rosemary. Ginger might seem a weird spice to pair with tomatoes, but as you’ll see, it works well, adding depth and a spiky sweetness. And rosemary is surprisingly good mixed with ginger. I never knew that before I tried it here.


Sautéed Hake with Butter, Ginger, and Pine Nuts

(Serves 2)

2 skinless fillets of hake or another white fish such as sea bass, bronzino, halibut, or cod
Black pepper
½ teaspoon ground ginger
A pinch of sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
½ teaspoon allspice
1 pint grape tomatoes
A splash of white or rosé wine
A handful of pine nuts, lightly toasted
A few large rosemary sprigs, the leaves chopped, plus a bit more to garnish the fish
Piment d’Espelette to taste
The juice from 1 lemon

Dry off the fish fillets, and season them with salt, black pepper, ground ginger, and a pinch of sugar. Let them sit while you prepare the sauce.

In a medium sauté pan, heat a tablespoon of the butter and a drizzle of olive oil over medium high heat. Add the shallot and the ginger and the allspice. Sauté until the shallot is softened a bit, about a minute or so. Add the tomatoes and the rosemary, season with salt, and cook until they just start to crack their skins but are still holding their shape, about 4 minutes. Add the wine, and let it bubble for a few seconds. Turn off the heat. Add the pine nuts and a little Espelette.

In a wide sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of butter over medium high heat until it’s bubbling. Place the fish fillets in the pan, presentation side down, and cook them, without moving them at all, until you can see that their edges are browning nicely. This should take about 4 minutes. Shake the pan a bit. If the fillets move around and aren’t sticking, they’re ready to be flipped. Give them a turn with a spatula. Add the rest of the butter and the lemon juice, saving a squeeze for the tomatoes. Continue cooking the fillets, spooning the lemon butter over the top repeatedly, for a few minutes more until the fish is just tender. Season the top of the fish with a little more salt, a sprinkling of Espelette, and the rest of the rosemary. Lift the fish out of the pan and onto plates with a slotted spatula.

Turn on the heat under the tomatoes to reheat it a touch. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and a splash of water if it seems dry.

Give the tomatoes a taste to check for seasoning, and then serve them out next to and slightly over the fish. Serve right away.

Women with Fish

Steve Thornton

The have and the have nots.