Friday, April 24, 2009
Foraging for Food
Settling into my new neighborhood (Fort Greene, Brooklyn) I’ve discovered new restaurants, grocery stores and other specialty shops.
Last weekend the weather brought everyone outside, the sidewalks were crowded with weekend shoppers, hipsters were hanging out at cafes, every dog owner had their sidekicks in tow, you could just feel the energy of the neighborhood burst out from its winter clothes.
We took the dogs out for a long walk around the ‘hood and headed to Fort Greene Park. Frederick Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed the public green space in the 1860s. The thirty-acre park is also the site of a fort and a monument to Revolutionary War prisoners, who were imprisoned on ships by the British under unbearable conditions. Both Brutus and Zachary love to explore the park and get a good workout on the footpaths up to the monument. There’s also a farmer’s market every Saturday that I plan on visiting very soon.
Our walk winds back down into the heart of the neighborhood passing my new favorite green grocer, Greene Grape Provisions located at 753 Fulton Street. Here I can find the freshest fish, seasonal vegetables and organic foods. They also carry D’Artagnan products such as fresh duck breast and duck confit.
I’ve prepared duck a few times at my new digs and I’ve followed a recipe borrowed from a Parisian restaurant that I’ve frequented on previous trips to Paris. Some people are not huge fans of duck because of the thick layer of fat that accompanies the breast. Culinary school has taught me how to tackle this issue quite simply. To render the duck fat it is vital to score the skin/fat with a sharp knife making diagonal cuts across the fat. Be sure not to cut through the meat. Once the fat is scored, sauté the breast fat side down in a preheated pan. The duck fat will melt away and will leave the skin crispy and delicious.
My favorite part of this recipe is an onion jam or confiture de l’oignons. I caramelize cipollini onions under low heat until they are translucent; I deglaze the pan with vermouth and add fresh thyme, salt, pepper and some confectioner’s sugar to boost the jammy sweetness. The crispy duck served with sweet onion jam takes me back to that little café on the Left Bank every time.
On Sunday we entertained friends for brunch and I made a strata for the first time. The strata, similar to a Spanish frittata has the custardy consistency of a quiche.
I buttered a soufflé dish and sliced brioche rolls into 1 inch thick slices. I lightly toasted the buttery brioche slices and set them into the soufflé dish. In another bowl, I mix together eggs, milk, cream with a dash of salt, freshly cracked pepper, a pinch of nutmeg and a splash of Tabasco. In a sauté pan I crisped up some pancetta and set that aside.
For the strata, I crumbled the pancetta on top of the bread slices, added diced tomatoes, crumbled goat cheese and shredded fontina. I poured the custard mixture over the top and scattered chopped basil over the mixture. Allow the bread to soak in the mixture (about 10 minutes) afterwards I baked the dish at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.
The strata emerged puffed, golden and perfumed with kitchen with Italian goodness. I served the strata with baby field greens dressed with a simple vinaigrette – the dish received rave reviews. It’s an easy brunch dish that can be transformed with a multitude of ingredient combinations.
Entertaining friends at the new apartment has been a wonderful way for me to become more comfortable with my new neighborhood – as I search out ingredients and places to shop I feel more connected to the Brooklyn vibe week after week.
P.S. Here are some articles about Fort Greene, both appearing in The New York Times.
Read about the Fort Greene neighborhood
Read about the new wave of food artisans